20 things I wish I’d known before starting as a student in York

The Lord Mayor's Walk campus of York St John University. Photograph: Rob Smalley

After two years studying in York, here are the things I wish I’d known when I first came here to study.

Jump to…
Advice for when you first arrive
Nightlife
Shopping
Where to study
Where to visit near York
Financial advice
Last thoughts

Advice for when you first arrive

1. Watch out for Fake Fresher’s events
First of all, it is important that you don’t get ripped off before you even turn up at university. Many students get caught out by fake events when they are searching to find events in their fresher’s week.

Be careful when you are looking online. It is important to check who the event is being run by and to make sure you check that your university’s student union’s branding is somewhere on the event.

Also, check to see that the event has a real location and does not vaguely state the location as ‘York’. It is also important to remember that you can buy your fresher’s tickets when you get to University they are not necessarily going to run out straight away.

2. Keep your cooking utensils to yourself
This may seem selfish but this is one of the most important thing I’ve learnt in my time at university. Keep your cooking utensils to yourself. You’ll be amazed at the condition your housemates may return your pans in.

In my first year, one of my housemates left food out in someone else’s unwashed pan for long enough it attracted maggots. Your housemates may be lovely and may have a passion for washing up however remember to wait a little while before placing your newly bought cooking utensils in a communal area. Also remember that a clean fork is sacred in student halls.

Spark York hosts a variety of small businesses

3. Don’t worry if you subject seems boring
Since students study different courses at different schools often the first few weeks of your university course will be spent ensuring that all students are on the same page. Some students may never have studied their subject before coming to university meanwhile others may have studied it already for five years.

This can sometimes make the first few weeks of term a little bland. It may not be the case that your favourite module will be the first one you study. Be patient and the more interesting material will come.

4. You will have a lot of free time – use it
What university prospectuses often forget to mention is how much free time you will have. Even if you have contact hours nine to five every day, as is the case with some STEM subjects, you will be surprised by how much free time you still have.

Many students tend to spend most of their spare time watching Netflix and eating takeaways. But this free time is a great opportunity to do something different. Skydiving, volunteering for local charities, helping to organise club nights or even joining niche societies such as the Louis Theroux Society are all options. And remember, employers often are just as interested in what you have been doing alongside your degree as the degree itself.

Photograph: Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr
The Blue Bell is York’s smallest pub

5. Worried you’ve picked the wrong subject? Don’t panic
Don’t worry if you really hate your subject when you turn up to university. If your degree is not what you really expect it to be then there are various people you can speak to, be it your tutor, a member of support staff in your accommodation block, or other students who have gone through the same experience.

I changed subjects two weeks after beginning university and it turned out to be a great decision for me. Just make sure that you are certain before changing.

6. Don’t fret about where you’ll live next
Remember you do not need to find a house for your second year as soon as you turn up at university. If your housemates start talking about housing within a few weeks of first term do not panic or rush into anything. Student houses are often available up until February or even March.

Make sure you really know who you’re living with before you move in with them. It is also much easier to find a house for four or less students than it is to find a larger student house.

A still from Detour, a film by Anna Radchenko who was a fashion finalist at the Aesthetica Short Film Festival

7. Spend as much time in town as you can
York is a fantastic city with an endless number of things to do. There are more pubs than days in the year, fantastic museums to go to, great bars and restaurants as well as various festivals and events. With only a short space of time in York it’s important to try out as much as you can.

The things I really wish I’d known more about when I first came to York was the Aesthetica Short Film Festival and The Crescent, which puts on a wide variety of gigs, club nights. Plus, it has a free pool table.

Nightlife

8. Break free of university-organised entertainment
The universities in York direct their students only to club nights organised by a company called York Parties. However, this does not mean that this is all that’s on. Nights out organised by students independently often attract bigger acts to perform.

And York has a wide variety of alternative nights out on offer. Students can choose a drink from the world’s largest selection of gins whilst lying down on roman-styled beds at Evil Eye, head underground to listen to a DJ set with a craft ale at Sotano on a Saturday night or mooch to the original House of Trembling Madness for a drink in 15th century surroundings.

9. Explore the varied music scene
There are so many pubs offering music in York that often you will have to try one or two places before finding somewhere to have a quiet pint. Jazz nights take regularly at venues such as the Phoenix Inn, Angel on the Green and The Basement whilst bands perform frequently at The Fulford Arms, the aforementioned Crescent, Dusk and The Drawing Board.

10. Try quizzes, films and food
Furthermore, there’s a pub quiz on every day of the week meaning that most evenings there is something for everyone. If you prefer not to drink you may choose to go to one of York’s two city centre cinemas. Or grab a take away roast dinner wrap from The Yorkshire Roast Co, sit down for something to eat at Pig and Pastry or enjoy Ambiente Tapas.

Photo: https://www.facebook.com/AmbienteTapas/

Shopping

11. Look beyond the high street staples
York has a thriving independent scene so there’s no need to grab a coffee at Starbucks or buy your clothes at Urban Outfitters.

York has hundreds of local businesses for you to choose from including a huge variety of places to eat, drink, buy clothes or find something to do. Many of York’s fantastic shops and businesses have been mapped out by Indie York, an initiative which helps to promote all of York’s independent businesses.

So, if you want to find a new café, want to find some unique clothing or discover an art gallery then Indie York has everything in one place.

The Indie York map reveals many of York’s finest businesses Photograph: YorkMix

Study

12. There’s more to learning than the library
University libraries can become more packed than a sardine tin. Students will get up at ridiculously early times to grab a spot.

But there’s no need to do that. York has some fantastic spots where you can complete your week’s reading. Gatehouse Coffee on Walmgate Bar, and Fossgate Social tend to be favourites with humanities students.

With reasonable prices and free WiFi these can be great places to get some reading or group work completed without feeling like you’re stuck in school again.

On the subject of books and textbooks, check to see if your subject has any second-hand book sales on. My course hosts a buy and sell session at the beginning of every year so that students can sell off their old textbooks to new students.

This is another great way to save money but also to meet people who are a year or two ahead of you on your course. They can provide great advice on module choices and informing you which lecturers are the most engaging.

13. Lecture Capture is a blessing
Missed a few 9am lectures because you were hungover? Not to worry as lectures at the university are recorded on lecture capture. This is a fantastic resource as it enables students to work to their own schedules.

I personally re-watch missed lectures often at a slower pace in order to make sure that I understand a topic properly. More importantly, lecture capture allows you to work at whatever time of day you like so if you’re a night owl you can get a lecture in at midnight if that’s when you work best. Having the freedom to study when you want to is a blessing.

Staying and going

14. Travel outside of the city
Fancy escaping the city walls? You can get to Leeds in just 20 minutes, which means that you have some of the country’s best music and club nights on your doorstep. Some of Yorkshire’s finest attractions are available via public transport. Visit stunning towns like Knaresborough or hit the beaches of Whitby, Scarborough or Robin Hood’s Bay.

York Station is incredibly well connected to the rest of the country and with a student railcard travelling by train is very affordable. If you are looking for some time away from York why not visit friends at other universities?

Robin Hood’s Bay looking towards Ravenscar. Photograph © Allan Harris on Flickr

15. Stay in York for at least part of summer
You will probably spend most of the summer period back at home. However, York is at its best during the summer – plus it doesn’t get dark until around 10.30pm. Festivals and pop up events bring new life to the city. And York’s parks are stunning in summer. Rowntree Park is a great spot to take a picnic. Millennium Bridge is also a popular spot for young people to hang out and have a few riverside drinks.

The stunning Bloom Festival, which decorates the city with wild flowers, is due to come back for a second year and is certainly hanging on for.

Finance

16. Cheap spots for a drink
Beware, if you venture into the centre of York you can fall into a bit of a tourist trap. Drinks can be as expensive as £5 per pint.

However, this does not mean you can’t get a cheap drink in York. The King’s Arms offers cheap pints and is positioned on the riverside so it is perfect for a summer drink. Their Taddy lager costs just £2.30 a pint.

There are also two Wetherspoons, the Punch Bowl and the Postern Gate. I would recommend The Punch Bowl, which is situated on Blossom Street, out of the two.

The Lowther is positioned opposite the Kings Arms. Here you will find dangerously cheap prices. A treble mixer with a loyalty card will cost you just £2.50 making it popular with many students on a night out.

If you’re looking for a quieter evening, the Rook and Gaskill offers various discounted beers and ales. Their price board often rotates with new drinks deals over an evening. So, if you’re looking for a change from just drinking Carlsberg this may be the place for you.

17. ‘Running low on money? Stop drinking’
The best piece of advice I got before I went to university was this statement from my dad. It seemed incredibly obvious when he originally said it to me however these are wise words to go by.

You’ll be surprised by the enormous percentage of your money that you will spend on drinks, nights out or takeaways. One of the best ways to save money is to simply have a few more nights in and maybe not buy as many drinks.

Photograph: Fossgate Social on Facebook

18. Remember to account for rent over the summer period
One of the most painful moments you will have at university is having to pay for rent over the summer period despite you not necessarily being at university.

There is no student finance payment at this point in the year so often students who are renting private houses have to find around £1,250 to pay for three months’ rent over summer. It is important to account for this as early as possible so that you are not caught out when that rent is due.

The Bloom Festival takes place in a variety of locations across the city

Last thoughts

19. University is seriously romanticised
University will most likely be completely different to what you expect it to be. It is often romanticised by those who have previously been to university who have since blocked out the memories of student debt, boring lecturers and being broke all the time.

You will hopefully have the time of your life at university however you will not necessarily be having the time of your life every minute you are there. Learning to live on your own can be a very challenging thing and there can be huge financial or education based pressures.

Be prepared that everything may not be perfect. Also, you may have a completely different university experience to friends at other universities. This does not necessarily make your experience better or worse than theirs.

Millennium Bridge, York. Photograph: Tim Green on Wikipedia

20. Be yourself
Clichéd as this may seem, this is one of the most important things to do at university. There are thousands of students at university and you will almost definitely find friends who have very similar interests to you.

Just because a housemate or a course mate has a different set of interests does not mean you need to adapt your interests to match theirs. Of course, it is important to give everyone a chance and you will certainly meet people with all sorts of interests from not only all over the UK but from all over the world.

However, do remember that you have been housed with other people randomly. It is not the end of the world if your housemates are not your best friends and there are various ways to meet new people such as through a society or during lectures and seminars. Make sure you try everything you want to try at university no matter what others may think.