University Survival Guide

by Collette McColgan
University graduate by Houses of Parliament

Picture posed by model. © Chiot’s Run

Congratulations! Going to University is a blast. Here's the ultimate Survival Guide!

University and Covid-19

We recognise for many of you that university will be a very different experience in 2020 and 2021. Some of you may be receiving online lessons, or you may even be in full lockdown on campus.

In the UK, most universities are attempting to return to as close to “normal” as possible in September 2021.
However, we have put together a special “University and Covid-19” section which you can find in the links below.


Dear reader,

Starting out at university is brilliant and exciting, and a whole heap of new experiences, friends and opportunities are heading your way.  It will be a great experience with lots of challenges coming your way. But, it can also be quite daunting, especially if you are taking your old friend Arthur with you. I’ve had JIA since I was three-years-old, and when I went to university I realised just how much help I’d had from my parents until that point. During my three years at uni I learned so much about how to look after myself and manage my arthritis, and below are the tips I’d like to pass on to you. If you take good care of yourself, and don’t neglect your arthritis admin, you’ll have an absolute ball at uni; so read on and good luck!!

Love, Collette x


What you may not realise before you go to university – I certainly didn’t – is just how much help you have from your parents with household tasks at home. Looking after the practical stuff could be a shock to the system, but one you can get to grips with in time!


Laundry can be a bit of a pain. If you’re in halls, you’re probably not going to have access to a washing line, and you may not have the luxury of your own washing machine. If it comes to using a laundrette, always take a friend with you – chances are you won’t be doing your laundry regularly, and that washing basket is going to get heavy, especially if you’re carting around wet, freshly-washed clothes. The perk of mates is getting them to carry things for you.

Splash out on the cost of a tumble dryer session at the launderette, to stop your room from getting damp from wet clothes hanging around. You don’t need me to tell you that’s not going to be good for you! If you spend a couple of extra pounds on a quick spin in the dryer, you don’t need to worry about this, plus you can stick on a just-dried jumper afterwards. It’s like a hug.

Household chores

There’s also going to be the responsibility of shared household chores. I was the person in Freshers’ week who insisted we made a kitchen cleaning rota, which no one ever used and was promptly forgotten about after the first term. However, you do have to clean the living space at some point; otherwise you’re at least going to end up with a nasty fine from the residence office at the end of the year.

If there’s something you can’t do – kneeling has never been my strong suit, so that got me out of oven-cleaning duties – let your flatmates know and they can work around it. Just avoiding jobs without any explanation is going to lead to a bit of tension.


Make sure you’ve got your heating on in good time to make sure your home is always going to be warm. I remember one winter in one of the shared houses I lived in at university – in Lancaster, which is the coldest place in the world, fact – the boiler was in one of my housemates’ bedrooms.

Before we went home for Christmas, realising in good time that I would be the first to return after the holidays of the house inhabitants, I asked her if she would leave her door unlocked so that I could put the boiler on when I got back. She switched the boiler off and locked her door, naturally. Cue me sat in my living room, wearing two coats, wrapped in a duvet, waiting for the landlord to pop round and free me from the ice palace.

These are the kinds of things you might forget about when you live with your parents, as they are just so together they sort this stuff out before it even becomes a problem.
Checklist – Have you..

  • Seen your occupational therapist about any aids you may need for living; shoe horns, zip pulls, etc.?
  • Worked out the heating situation; is it something you can control in your room, or do you need to speak to the landlord?
  • Made your flatmates aware of anything you need their help with, or anything you can’t do?


Nights out, if they’re your bag, are going to be a big part of university life. This is good, but don’t over-do it. It is really difficult to strike the balance between looking after yourself and not missing out. It’s always important to have a rough idea of what you’re going to be doing – if it’s a pub crawl covering a mile, that’s not something you’re going to be able to do easily, if at all.

As the notoriously organised one in my group of friends, I ensured that I planned most of the nights out anyway, so could choose locations that were really close to each other, though it was hard to go far wrong in this task in Lancaster: a city of two streets.

Cold weather is also something to take into account here – if you are going to a specific night club, look into queue jump tickets to avoid a long wait in the cold. You can also get disposable heat packs from any good chemist *cough Boots* that will fit nicely under your clothes to keep those bad joints snug and movable on a night out. I once fashioned a black bandage to cover the heat pack under my tights out of an old sock – I was very popular with smokers trying to warm up from the cold that night!

Make sensible footwear and outfit decisions. If it’s cold out take a coat and pay that £1 to check it in at a club; it’s definitely worth it. If you’re going to wear heels, take a handbag big enough to fit some flats in it as well. Don’t overload the bag either, as you’re going to be carrying it all night!

It’s quite easy to be suckered into paying virtually no money for an awful lot to drink, and everyone should be sensible. Bars and clubs have to provide free water; if you feel like you might have over-done things, make sure you get some water down you.

Drinking games can also be a major hazard, as it’s quite difficult to monitor what you’re actually drinking. My main advice would be to avoid them at all costs, specifically shot roulette – if there’s someone else deciding what goes in your glass, you are setting yourself up for a fall. And Baileys and brandy don’t mix.

Checklist – Have you…

  • Bought some sensible night-out shoes, and a bag big enough to fit flats in?
  • Got enough money to pay for entry to a club, coat check and a taxi home?
  • Made a plan of your night-out route?


Really, this is the most important aspect of going to university, especially as you’re paying a lot for it, and it’s certainly not something you should sacrifice for a night out, though I’m not going to pretend I’ve never done that myself.

It’s always best to make sure you have formally told the University in advance that you have a medical condition. You know as well as I do how quickly your wellness can change, and you don’t want to be caught out struggling to manage your workload and having to explain why all at the same time. The University will be able to provide a lot of help if you need it. If you don’t need any help, it’s best to let them know anyway just in case you need time off for doctors’ appointments, or if you have a flare-up.

They will also let you know about applying for extra time in exams and for extensions on coursework if you need it. There will probably be an office at the University which will look after disabled students and they will be able to give you advice on managing academic life.

It’s important to know that you are going to have a comfortable place to work whilst at university. If you’re going to be living in halls, make sure you mention any adaptations you might need when you apply for accommodation. It may also be worth asking if it would be possible to have a look around the halls of residence in advance of you moving in, so that you have chance to sort out any workstation adaptations you may need. Your occupational therapist will be able to help advise you on things that will be able to help you.

You can also look into applying for the Disabled Students’ Allowances from the Government, which will be able to provide you with equipment to work on if you are eligible. You can find the link to apply here: Disabled Students Alllowances

Checklist – Have you…

  • Put your medical condition on your UCAS form?
  • Contacted the University about your arthritis?
  • Looked into the Disabled Students’ Allowance?
  • Spoken with an OT about workstation adaptations?
  • Mentioned your arthritis and any relevant adaptations you may require to the accommodation officer at the University?

Also useful: UCAS guide, Preparing For Higher Education, for students with disabilities.


If you’re living off-campus, or if your University’s campus is out of town, you’re going to spend a lot of your time travelling to and fro. Make sure you have a plan in place for this.

Invest in a bus pass that covers the whole year from the first week – lots of bus companies will provide these with students in mind, and it is likely to save you a lot of money if you buy it for the whole year rather than a term at a time. Investigate what time buses or trains actually leave rather than taking a chance on getting one, and make sure you know how long it’s going to take you to get from the stop or station to your lecture theatre.

If you’re going out late, after frequent services stop, splash out on a taxi rather than wait in the cold. You’ll probably end up with a friend who begrudges the extra couple of quid they spend on a taxi rather than bus fare, but they would probably much rather this than you be glum and moaning about the cold all night

If public transport is not your thing and you’re going to be driving yourself to and from uni, you’re probably going to need a parking permit for campus. Most universities will let you know in advance of your arrival how to go about this, and a lot of places will have a provision in place for students who need to drive. You will probably need to pay for the permit, and you should also bear in mind that these permits can be quite hard to get hold of – most universities will consider the individual circumstances why a student needs a car on campus as well as charging for it, so make sure you get this sorted in good time.

It’s a good idea to get to know the campus on foot in advance of your arrival day – if possible make a visit over the summer with your parents. Take a map and work out where you’re going to be living and how far that is from your main lecture theatres. If you’re not aware of this, an email to your department should be able to point you in the right direction and they will also be able to offer you some tips.

Checklist – Have you…

  • Worked out your transport plan?
  • Looked into bus/train passes or parking permits?
  • Made a visit to campus?
  • Spoken to your department about distances between lecture theatres?

Managing your arthritis

Arguably the most important thing you need to keep an eye on (at university, and in life in general), is managing your arthritis, and this is probably the thing you are most likely to neglect. You need to make sure you’re keeping on top of your arthritis so that you don’t allow your symptoms to worsen and potentially cause yourself avoidable pain and exhaustion in the short term, and more damage to joints in the longer term.

Keep track of your symptoms

I always find it helpful to keep a track of any random questions or concerns I might have in a book and take that with me to my hospital appointments. It is also really helpful to keep a record of medicines you are taking, and any dosage changes, in a diary. You can also put information about your most recent blood tests and appointments in there. There are apps available that do similar things.

Decide where your primary healthcare team will be

Before you leave for university, decide if you are going to keep your healthcare in your home town – this can be easier as they have prior knowledge of your medical history – or move it to the university town? You should certainly register with a GP at university regardless, as a priority, so that you can keep your prescriptions up to date, and so you have a point of contact if needs be.

Checklist – Have you..

  • Started a medicine diary?
  • Started to make notes of any questions you might have for your next appointment?
  • Worked out your point of contact in the university area should you need some help?
  • Registered at a GP surgery in the area?
  • Got a stock of prescription request and blood test forms?

Useful Apps

One You Drinks Tracker


This app lets you easily keep track of how much you are drinking over the week and beyond. It has a Drinks Manager to help you spot when you are overdoing it, gives practical tips on cutting down and shows you how much you are spending each week.
Get the app for iPhone or iPad (Free)
Get the app for Android (Free)



Dosecast reminds you to take your medications on time, and tracks your medication adherence. It claims to be the only medication reminder app with live sync between devices.
Get the app for iPhone or iPad (Free with in-app purchases)
Get the app for Android (Free with in-app purchases)

Pippa’s Guide to University Life

University and Covid-19

The world turned upside down in 2020 and that applied to university life too. We know many students will be worried about starting or returning to uni this year, whether they have arthritis or not.

Remember – all students deserve the right support from universities to ensure that they can continue with their education during this pandemic. And you are not alone. In 2018-19, one in every eight students studying in England declared at least one disability. You are entitled to support and help during this time so please make sure you get it!

Universities UK has published a commitment to support student wellbeing and education during this difficult time:
This includes a new checklist to guide universities that are supporting students who are self-isolating – which includes: “Ensuring that students with declared disabilities should have specific needs supported”. Know your rights!

Who can I talk to?

University or College: If you have any concerns about your course, your accommodation, or the facilities available, contact your university or college. They will have their own support services in place. They may be pretty busy right now – but keep trying. Most universities will also have a lot of information on their own websites.

The Student Space website has a really awesome tool – just type in the name of your uni and it will tell you what support services are available there:

Disability Student Support Services: Your university should have specific support services for students with a range of disabilities.

Students’ Union: Your university is also likely to have a students’ union or association where you can ask for advice and support.

GP: Make sure you are registered with a GP at university as a priority, so that you can keep your prescriptions up to date, and so you have a point of contact.

Friends and family: Don’t forget to talk to the people who know you best. They may be able to send you food parcels if you’re self-isolating, organise deliveries, or just lend you a friendly ear.

Local councils: Your local authority will have information about help and support services available in your area. They will be able to signpost you to all the organisations providing help to local people.

Urgent help: If you need help straight away:

Samaritans – call 116 123 FREE 24 hours a day
SHOUT text support service – text 85258 FREE 24 hours a day
Hopeline UK (for people under 35) Call: 0800 068 4141 Text: 07860039967 Email: [email protected]
Dial 999 in a life-threatening emergency.

Where else can I find useful information?

The Office for Students has answered a huge range of questions in their “Student Guide to Coronavirus”.
The full guide is here:
The FAQs are particularly useful:

They have also produced a briefing note for disabled students:

What other support is available?

Student Minds – the UK’s student mental health charity.
Student Space – a new website set up by Student Minds, full of expert information and advice to help you through the challenges of coronavirus.

Mental health and wellbeing resources: We put together a whole host of useful links on this page here:

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