Welcome to the Prepare for Success blog!

This blog is part of the Prepare for Success website. Through it, we will answer your questions about living and studying in the UK. As well as writing about topics of interest, we answer questions from international students about living and studying in the UK on our blog.

If you have a question, please post it on the Question Wall. One of our team will then answer it through a blog post.

Guest bloggers: from time to time we include posts written by guest bloggers. If you are interested in contributing a blog post on a topic of interest to international students, please contact elang1@soton.ac.uk.

Latest Questions and Answers

15 December 2017

Teaching Syrian and other refugees

Volunteering with Refugees MOOCThis month’s guest post is provided by by Julie Watson, Emeritus Fellow in eLearning and creator of Prepare for Success:

To date the UK has received c. 8000 Syrian refugees through its Syrian Vulnerable Person resettlement programme towards the quota of 20,000 by 2020 set by the government. Vulnerable Syrian families attempting to adjust to life and culture in a different country after the loss of home, livelihood, possessions and community in their country of origin and much other hardship besides, face a level of challenge which is unimaginable to most of us. Resettlement programmes prioritise providing support for housing, finding work and learning English. The latter is a vital step in the process of resettlement. Unfortunately, not all adult refugees are able to start English classes when they arrive in the UK; some are having to wait a long time, even several years, before being able to start learning English. These problems are not confined to Syrian refugees but are commonly experienced by all refugees in various parts of the UK.

ESOL courses delivered by Further Education colleges and by charities and partnerships supported by funding through local councils, the EU and the lottery are typical means of providing English language support. However, there are waiting lists for class places in some parts of the country. Increasingly, volunteers are coming forward to help deliver free classes. These volunteers include very experienced teachers with an armful of qualifications as well as individuals new to teaching, to ESOL or to teaching refugees. A problem commonly faced is the lack of suitable course books for teaching refugees since most publications are designed for an EFL market and are far too Euro-centric in approach, especially for students with no, or very little, English. Where possible, the best approach is to design or evolve a tailor-made course for students following an initial language assessment and needs analysis. Then a ‘mix and match’ approach can be adopted using volunteer-created materials, which include realia and authentic material from everyday life, and mixing these with carefully-selected teaching materials freely available on the internet.

A Google search will throw up lots of websites hosting or sharing free teaching ideas, activities and downloadable practice exercises for all aspects of standard EFL. However, there are also websites which cater more for the circumstances that refugees find themselves in, providing contextually relevant material and an introduction to practical aspects of living in the UK and so-called ‘Skills for Life’. One example is the Excellence Gateway ESOL page. This site is a bit challenging to navigate around but there are some useful resources here. Users need to create an account.

For prospective or new volunteers, or teachers wishing to understand more about volunteering with refugees there are several free and open courses (MOOCs) online. See for example Volunteering with refugees. This MOOC is due to run again from 15 January 2018 or you can sign up to join a later course.

The Crisis Classroom website also offers some useful background for volunteers.

Next month’s blogpost will consider the situation of Syrian students aiming to study in Higher Education in the UK and the resources that are available to help them with this.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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04 December 2017

Should I employ an English tutor to help with my university studies?

ProofreadingThis month’s guest post is provided by Henry Fagg, founder of UK tutor directory The Tutor Pages:

It is becoming increasingly common for international students to hire a private tutor to help them with their studies at British universities. But what are the advantages of this, and are there any pitfalls?

Check what your university offers first

Most universities these days provide very good additional support for students in all areas of academic life. Courses are generally offered in how to develop academic English and your communication skills for the academic environment.

Other courses may be offered in further study skills such as critical thinking, presentation skills, revision skills and exam technique.

Consult with your supervisor or tutor about employing a proofreader

If you do not think that the support you can access is adequate for your needs, you should discuss this with your supervisor or tutor.

If you are concerned that your written English may contain grammatical mistakes, then your supervisor may suggest that you employ a proofreader to help you check your work. It may not be appropriate in all circumstances, and so you should check with your supervisor beforehand.

The role of a proofreader is to identify and correct errors in your written work, and it is likely that you would have to pay for this yourself.

Do not stray into plagiarism

Be very clear that a proofreader must not substantially change the meaning or content of a piece of work. For example, they must not correct factual errors or rewrite your work to improve the arguments you make, or re-arrange paragraphs to improve the structure of your work.

If you ask someone else to write something for you, or if someone makes substantial changes to your work, this is classed as plagiarism. Other forms of plagiarism include copying another student’s work or including a quote from a book or website without referencing your source or using quotation marks.

Universities take plagiarism extremely seriously because the point of university study is to develop the ability to think for yourself. There are serious consequences if you are caught plagiarising, ranging from the loss of marks to being expelled from the university.

The problem of ‘essay mills’

In recent years, there has been an increasing issue of students purchasing essays, often online, to submit as their own work. Companies which provide this service are called ‘essay mills’, and the UK university exams regulator has recently asked the government to introduce laws to ban such services altogether.

What about employing a tutor?

Employing a tutor is entirely different to plagiarising. Tutors will typically offer a range of services. These will include proofreading as mentioned above, but also other guidance which will improve your academic writing overall.

A tutor can help you with such areas as expanding your vocabulary, structuring an essay, developing a convincing argument or improving sentence structure.

You can sometimes find a tutor or proofreader through your university. Other ways to find a tutor include searching for a local or national tuition agency. Finally, a tutor directory – where tutors advertise their services – is another straightforward means to find a tutor suited to your needs.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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21 November 2017

Five ways to kill time without your phone

No phones!This month’s guest blogpost is provided by Oliver Long, a writer for The Student Housing Company:

Who else remembers when killing time involved exactly that; waiting for time to pass, and not doing much? No, we don’t either. Nowadays, any free moment we have is spent with our faces buried deep in our smartphones – a real 21st-century problem.

While it’s true that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even emails work great as time-killing tools, it can be good for the soul to stay off your phone every now and then. That’s why we’ve looked into five offline, productive things to do without your phone – for those who think detox retreats are too much but the Moment app is too little.

Observe Your Surroundings

If you can spare a couple minutes away from your phone everyday, you may notice something amazing that’s happening all around you – real life! Once you’re done observing, you can then get back on your phone and turn all these observations into excellent tweets…if you can condense them into 280 characters or fewer.

Explore the Real World

Inspiration comes from the most unlikely of places, but you wouldn’t know unless you go out and explore the possibilities. Incidentally, taking a walk is also a great way to unwind and declutter your mind of all the study-related stress you may have. Take this opportunity to relax and recharge. You can pay a visit to a local area you’ve never been before; the park, the gallery, or the museum, where you may even learn a new thing or two. Speaking of learning…

Learn Something New

Perhaps you’ve been wanting to take up photography? This would be the time to do it. How about learning a language? Or you could just pick up a book from the library or download an ebook on your Kindle, then you wouldn’t even think about checking your phone. No matter what degree you’re studying, having new skills is only going to enhance your employability in the future. You never know, you may even enjoy it!

Catch Up Over a Coffee

Meet up with a fellow coursemate, go to a Starbucks and just chat and see where the conversation takes you. If you’re really pinching pennies, consider having a friend over for a regular coffee or tea and share ideas over your coursework or something completely unrelated to your studies. Just don’t forget to put your phones away.

Actually Get Work Done

This probably isn’t what you clicked in here for but having no distraction from your phone makes the perfect setting to get some work done. Now you may be thinking “a big part of my studies depends on my phone and the ability to access the internet!”, but if you take a step back from all the technology, you’ll find that there’s more to what you can accomplish without your gadget than you thought.

We hope you’ve found some tips and ideas helpful for next time your phone runs out of juice or when you decide that enough is enough and that the time has come for you to live your life phone-free.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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20 October 2017

Photo competition – International students: changing lives

International students: changing livesTo celebrate UKCISA‘s 50th year of supporting international students, they’re inviting you to enter a photo competition to show some of the excitement, achievements and surprises you’ve faced and how studying in the UK can change lives. They’re welcoming photographs that illustrate any aspect of studying in the UK. Themes include excitement, challenges, hopes for the future and surprises. A full list and further details are available at https://ukcisa.org.uk/competition

How do I enter?

Submit a photo and accompanying statement about what the image represents and how it demonstrates life in the UK as an international student. The photo must be the original file (to ensure printable quality) and in landscape format. Send us your entry by 5pm on 30th October 2017. Those judged to be the best 12 will be featured in a 2018 printed calendar to be sent to all of UKCISA’s university and college members.

The 12 winners will also receive:

  • a £50 Amazon voucher
  • a copy of the calendar
  • a ‘UKCISA Certificate of Commendation’
  • an invitation to our anniversary reception event in 2018 (date TBC)

The best 50 photos and stories will be featured on ukcisa.org.uk throughout 2018. Read the full details and enter!

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16 October 2017

A student’s guide to bills in the UK

Infographic on student billsThis month’s guest blogpost is provided by Emma Croke from comparison website GoCompare:

Moving away from home can be daunting, especially when you have never had to deal with paying bills in the UK before. This can be even more so if you are moving to Britain as an international student and everything is unfamiliar. Luckily, GoCompare has put together a handy guide to the bills you will need to pay as a student in the UK. If you are living in student accommodation, you will likely be given a total cost for the annual rent, and some of your bills, such as water and energy, may be covered. However, if you are moving to private accommodation, you will have to organise and pay your bills yourself. This infographic contains a handy list of essential and not-so-essential bills that you will need to consider, and we have some further tips about key areas to look at:

Bank accounts

If you are staying in the UK for longer than a term, then you should set up a UK bank account to allow you to pay bills, transfer money and keep track of spending. There are a variety of student bank accounts available which may offer benefits over a standard current account, and some are specifically aimed at international students.

Mobile phones

Research whether your phone will work in the UK, and if so, how much it will cost to use. If you are not sure the you can look at what mobile phone deals are available.


It is important that you do not fall into debt while at university, so ensure that your incomings cover your outgoings. Also, if you are living in shared accommodation, try to talk to your flatmates or housemates about bills fairly early on. Decide who is going to be responsible for ensuring the bills are all paid on time, and how much each person owes. It is also worth setting a deadline for transferring your contribution several days before the date the bills have to be paid, in case of any payment delays.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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15 August 2017

Getting Ready for Results Day

A student studyingThis month’s guest blogpost is provided by Amy Hirst, a writer for The Student Housing Company:

So you’ve sent off your UCAS application to study in the UK and now you’re waiting on your exam results! With over 400,000 students starting their new lives as undergraduates in Britain every year, there’s never been a more exciting time to apply.

But what about when it comes to results day? How do you keep track of your application and make sure you’ve got the grades you need to start your chosen course? Read our article to find out and to help you get ready for the big day!

Results Day

You can log into UCAS Track to see if you’ve got onto your chosen course. If you’ve achieved the grades you need, your ‘conditional’ offers will show up as ‘unconditional’ and you can celebrate! At this point, your first-choice university will get in touch to let you know what you should do next.

But remember that your exact marks won’t show up on Track. You will need to visit your school to see how you performed in each exam.

If you don’t get the results you want, try not to worry. When you’re just a few marks shy of getting into your chosen university, you can always call them up to see if they will nonetheless accept you.


If you don’t get the grades you need, you can still go through Clearing. This is a service that allows you to choose a different course and it’s completely free for international students. Just book a consultation (you can do this via Skype), and your consultant will contact other universities on your behalf.

Once they’ve found a few courses that are suitable for you, just pick the one you like the most and add it as your ‘clearing choice’ on your UCAS account. If you want to find out some extra info about Clearing, read The Student Housing Company’s Uni Application Checklist and you’ll stay one step ahead.

Studying in the UK

As excited as you may be, travelling to Britain can seem daunting. The culture in the UK will probably be different from your own, and if you’re leaving home for the first time, being in a new country might feel scary.

But don’t worry, help is at hand. Most universities have student-support officers available to assist you. There are also plenty of social groups you can join. Whatever you enjoy doing in your spare time, there will be a university society dedicated to it. There are loads of clubs set up just for international undergraduates too, so you can make lots of friends!

Finally, if you’re feeling homesick or overwhelmed by being in a different place, mental health support staff are usually available to talk you through your problems. Make use of them so that you can enjoy your time in Britain!

Whatever you study in the UK, make sure you have fun. Remember that you will be working hard, but you will also develop as an individual. So put yourself out there, make new friends, and enjoy your time as a student.

Get Your Accommodation Sorted

Finding sound accommodation is just as important as getting onto the right course. You need to live in a relaxed and comfortable environment where you can make friends. Find out more about the Student Housing Company’s student accommodation options so you can quickly settle into your new life.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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23 June 2017

Aim Higher for UK Education

A course was run earlier this year to assist refugees and asylum-seekers to apply for Higher Education courses in the UK.

The course contains approximately 9 hours of materials and activities, and aims to support refugees and asylum-seekers who wish to apply to study in a UK university. The course is also relevant to those aiming to support students who are currently studying. You can visit the course on the FutureLearn platform at Aim Higher: Access to Higher Education for Refugees and Asylum-Seekers.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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18 May 2017

7 Alternative Study Break Activities for Students

A teapot and teacupsOur latest guest blog post describes seven alternative study break activities for students, and is provided by Jessica Wagstaff from outdoor extreme-weather clothing and equipment specialist DLX:

You’re coming to the end of the semester, your coursework is all submitted and now you’ve got exams to pass – it’s study time. Whether reading up from home or at the library, studying can be intense; there’s a lot of information to learn and you don’t want to skip what could potentially be in your exam. It can be a stressful period, therefore having a break from studying can be just as important as the studying itself. Whilst an energy drink or an extra-large dose of coffee might seem like a fast and easy way to rebuild your energy, these methods can often leave you feeling burnt out. So why not try one of the activities listed to focus your mind.

Cup of Tea

A “cuppa” (cup of tea) is a well-known cure for all woes and ills in the UK – this includes helping you to de-stress from studying. If the classic milk and two sugars tea combination feels a bit strange then you could opt for a green, fruit or herbal tea which will still have a similar soothing effect. Make sure you take the time to completely break away from your work though and enjoy the hot beverage, don’t rush back into working; you could even pop your tea in a flask and go out for a walk.

Colouring books

One of the keys to a proper study break is to switch off from what you’ve been reading to give your mind a rest. Being creative is a great way to do this, but being creative can feel stressful for people who like to have structure. Hence the rise in popularity of colouring books for adults, where you’re given a task to do. These enable you to really put your studying to the back of your mind for a while.

Listen to a podcast

Listening to music is a method of stress release for a lot of people, but Podcasts are a different way to chill out with a number of options available. You can have a book read to you and get lost in a story for a while, or maybe listen to a comedy show and laugh out loud (maybe at home rather than at the library…) You could even listen to something subject related to your studies to step back from your reading for a while and gain a fresh perspective.

Quiet time/meditate

Meditation has been scientifically proven to help people de-stress and is a great study-break choice. It may feel like a chore or even silly at first, but once you allow yourself to be completely transported away by it you’ll soon see the positive effects meditation can have. Focusing on your breathing and the present moment is called mindfulness. It is a process that you can adopt when going back to studying as it helps stop distractions and means you have better quality study periods. Meditation allows you to take your mind off studying so that when you go back to studying your brain is refreshed and ready for the task at hand.


It is well known that Exercise releases endorphins, which make you feel happy, and therefore can be a fantastic study break activity. If you’re at home you could do yoga or go out for a short run. At the library, then getting outside for a 20-30 minute walk is a good choice and you could explore a part of the city you’ve not been to before. Swimming is also great for switching off for a bit as well as a great all over body exercise, see if your local campus has one.

Crafts – knit, make jewellery, cross-stitch

A great way to relax yet be productive at the same time is to pick up a crafty talent. Making jewellery, knitting, or cross-stitching all create lovely little pieces of craftwork that you can use in the future. All the while enabling you to concentrate on something completely different for a while. Just don’t get carried away making the entirety of your extended family a new jumper…

Have a bath

Don’t take your phone, tablet or any other electronic device with you, just sink into the bubbles and relax in a nice hot bath. Our bodies release endorphins as our temperature rises and toxins are released through sweat. Afterwards your muscles will be relaxed and you’ll feel clean and fresh – ready for the next round of studying.

It’s worth mentioning that these breaks work well if you’ve planned your studying in advance and aren’t cramming it in at the last minute – that is a sure way to become stressed! So don’t get bogged down by over-studying this exam period, make sure you reward yourself with proactive study breaks to look after your mental health and increase productivity.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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10 April 2017

Mental Health and Wellbeing at University

A student studyingThis month’s guest blogpost is provided by Amy Hirst, a writer for The Student Housing Company:

University is a very exciting time for most students but it can also be challenging in many ways, especially as an international student. Adapting to a new country and way of life can be tough if you’re a long way from home.

The Student Housing Company’s recent survey into student mental health found that 96% of students have experienced stress at some point at university, that 56% feel stressed constantly, and that 71% have suffered from some form of mental illness. It is important to overcome stress, so that your life as a student isn’t taken over by mental health problems.

Feeling Homesick

Homesickness is completely natural and very common amongst students. If you’re feeling homesick, make sure that you develop a strong friendship network at university, so that you feel more at home. There are hundreds of societies and groups you will be able to join during freshers’ week. Sign up for your favourite ones – you’re bound to make lots of friends this way!

Get chatting to your neighbours in your accommodation complex too. You’ll meet lots of friendly people this way, and just remember that everyone else wants to make new friends too. Don’t forget your family and friends back home either. Even if you’re just skyping or calling them, it will make you feel a lot better about being away from home.

Exams and Revision

Getting used to a new university can be very challenging. To stay on top of your studies and avoid stress, download your lecture timetable as soon as possible. This way, you will be able to plan your studies and your life around your lectures. It is also a good idea to download your exam timetable as soon as you can, so that you will be able to plan ahead, revise for your exams, and fit in plenty of breaks too.

Saving Money

Budgeting and getting your finances in order can be stressful at university, but there are plenty of ways to save money as a student. Here are some top tips:

  • Cook sensibly. By avoiding takeaways and buying ingredients for healthy recipes, you will feel better for eating healthy food and you will save a lot of money too.
  • Take advantage of student offers. There are plenty of offers available to students, like discounted student bars, offers on public transport, and money off in certain shops.
  • Use the library. This might seem obvious, but there are plenty of electronic and physical books available at your university library, so it’s unlikely that you will need to buy many books to complete your studies. Just try to reserve them in advance.

Finding the Help You Need

Today, there is less stigma attached to mental health issues in the UK, so do not be ashamed of getting help if you need it. Sometimes, just talking about your problems with a friend will make you feel better. But if you need further support, most universities have staff on hand to assist you – whether that’s counsellors or wider support staff. To find out more about The Student Housing Company’s latest research into mental health problems, read their mental health infographic.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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15 February 2017

The Benefits of Joining Your University’s Outdoor Activity Clubs

Our latest guest blog post describes the benefits of joining your university’s outdoor activity clubs, and is provided by Maria Mangion from outdoor clothing and equipment specialist Trespass:

After you’ve successfully converted your dream of studying abroad in the UK to a tangible reality, it’s time to think of what’s next. While your studies will be enough to keep you on your toes with a new culture, systems of learning and knowledge to digest, you’ll soon settle into the gentle uphill curve of university life. And what better way to glide over the hurdles with flying colours than supplementing this intellectual journey with a parallel, physically active one?

As you integrate into the British tertiary education lifestyle, you’ll notice that extracurricular activities play an important role in the university establishment. Most universities have clubs or societies dedicated to outdoor activities. In spite of the gloomy weather testing our limitlessness all year round, we have a healthy outdoors culture reflected on campuses nationwide. Students, alumni and sometimes even staff form clusters of enthusiasts who organise events throughout the year, from outdoor expeditions and weekend getaways to social gatherings at the pub.

A little research will help you discover whether your institution currently has one of these clubs, or you can speak to student advisors if you’d like to dig deeper. Don’t let the calendar pages turn until you register; utilise your new university’s resources and inform yourself as early as possible as most clubs have introductory meetings towards the beginning of the academic year.

From the fun, ‘Munro-bagging’ spirit of the Dundee University Rucksack Club to the nurturing, socially eventful environment of the Sheffield Hallam University Climbing Club, there are plenty of benefits to joining such a club, and we’re going to delve into each.

Stay Fit and Active

The most obvious of these benefits – and the effects of which you’ll start feeling immediately – is staying fit and active throughout your studies. Physical activity not only elevates your fitness levels and keeps you energised, healthy and strong, it also boosts brain function and regulates your mood so you’re able to perform better in class – a win-win decision.

Climbing in the outdoors

The advantage here is that you don’t need to plan or schedule your workouts, or train alone. Motivation is included in the mix as you’re given dates and times to stick to on a regular basis, and being a part of the club will encourage you to participate more conscientiously than if you were to attempt to take up an outdoor activity by yourself.

In addition to the excellent short-term benefits, you’ll be whipping yourself into shape in a collectively supportive atmosphere and setting a great precedent for keeping fit throughout your adult life.

Gain Bonus Credit on your Degree

Joining a club can pay back dividends in terms of your final graduating certificate. Some institutions formally recognise involvement in their clubs or societies by adding bonus ‘points’ or ‘credits’ to your degree at the end of your studies, which feature on your transcript.

Even if your university does not maintain this practice, your commitment to outdoor activities will be regarded favourably by prospective employers. You’ll be delighted to include this extracurricular leap of action in your CV as proof of your achievements at university. Having that extra edge over the sea of post-graduation jobseekers will help you to stand out and ultimately be rewarded for not simply doing the bare minimum to get by, as most do. Think of it as an extra accomplishment badge for your future!

Socialise and Make New Friends

This new era can be daunting; with loads to learn and a big move to a foreign country to top it off, the first phase of university life might prove socially challenging. As a student, you’ll find that there is a focus on individual learning and development and solitary research, meaning socialising and making new friends can become a struggle – especially if you’re not a natural extrovert.

Sports is an endeavour that has brought people together since the dawn of history, and it’s easier to meet new people and bond over a common interest in the organised setting of a club. Spending a day climbing cliffs or trekking in the hills gives you ample time to get to know the club members organically. The exciting backdrops will be a stimulant to your interactions and are the perfect grounds for the forging of long friendships.

Get Outdoors and Explore the Area

A fabulous way to familiarise yourself with the area where your university is and explore the city or town’s environs is through a club. You’ll be diving into exploits featuring your immediate surroundings and learning about the place you’ll be calling home.

Most clubs organise activities within their location and peruse the land closest to campus, so you can embark on enjoyable outdoor adventures while absorbing everything about your new base. Being outdoors is healthy for mind, body and spirit, and is the most beneficial way of kicking study stress to the curb. The wonders of the wilderness are the cherry on the cake.

Exploring the outdoors

Learn New Skills

Of course, every outdoor activity is in itself a specialised sport, and especially if you’re a beginner, you’ll be acquiring many useful and interesting skills to serve you for a lifetime. Most clubs will have highly experienced members who can give you training and first-hand advice for free while you improve at your own pace.

Whether it’s mountaineering using crampons and ice axes or hiking across long distances with backpacks and walking boots on to tackle diverse terrain, you’ll be gaining unique transferable skills that can be adopted for a variety of applications.

Make Lifetime Memories

Finally, it’s important to remember that your time at university is a very special period in your life that will come to pass too quickly in most cases, so it’s wise to make the most out of it. The memories you will form through pursuing outdoor activities through a university club will stay with you for life, and with so many landscapes and challenges conquered, you’ll be a richer student and human being at the end.

If you have a question related to academic life and study in the UK and you can’t find the answer in the Prepare for Success learning resources, write it on the Question Wall and we will try to answer it here in the blog next time.

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