7 life skills you'll learn at university

Jemma Smith, Editor
November, 2023

Universities don't just hand out qualifications and prepare you for the working world. Whether you realise it or not, throughout your student experience you’ll develop essential life skills that will equip you for the future

'You'll get huge value and enjoyment from academic study but the three or four years that you spend at university will help shape the following stages of your life, so paying attention to, and reflecting on the life skills you develop will have a big positive effect on the successes you subsequently achieve,' explains Graham Philpott, head of careers consultancy at the University of Reading.

People skills

It's impossible to graduate from university without a raft of people skills under your belt. 'You'll come into contact with an incredibly wide range of people at university,' says Graham. 'For example, students at the University of Reading come from more than 100 different countries.' During your studies you'll meet new people, make new friends and learn to get along and work with those from different backgrounds. 'You'll also deal with academics, programme administrators, and professionals from lots of support services. This means that you get to practice your people skills with all sorts of different cultural norms and preferred ways of communicating.'

Making the most of freshers' week and joining a club or society are easy ways to quickly acquire skills in this area. If you have a part-time job you'll pick up people skills there too.

When it comes to flatmates or housemates you're thrown in at the deep end - more often than not (especially in your first year) you'll live with people you've never met before. Navigating this - bonding with certain flatmates, while learning to tolerate and compromise with others - provides a wealth of people and social skills.

Responsibility and self-motivation

'As a university student you'll have a lot more leeway about what you do and how to do it than you did at school or college,' says Graham. It's likely that university is the first time you've lived away from home and it's probably the first time that you've had to take responsibility for yourself and your own schedule. 'This is much more like working life, and adjusting can be challenging for some.' With no parent there to wake you up in the morning and insist you get out of bed, getting to lectures and seminars on time is down to you. Assuming that responsibility is another life lesson that university teaches you.

As is self-motivation. A lot of university study is self-directed - it's up to you to plan and organise your workload, juggle multiple projects and manage deadlines. Writing essayscompleting dissertations and revising for exams all require self-motivation, as does fulfilling work commitments and social engagements. By the time you graduate your student experience should have given you enough 'get up and go' to see you through your working life.

All that responsibility can weigh heavy though, so if you're struggling read about 5 ways to manage student stress.


The biggest life skill university teaches you is undoubtedly how to look after yourself in a practical sense. As a student living away from home you'll learn how to cook, clean and do your washing. As well as domestic chores you'll figure out how to get around on your own (in the absence of mum's taxi) and how to fund your lifestyle now the bank of dad is closed.

The level of independence afforded by student life is one of its main draws and while some take to it well, others need more time to adjust. Find out what to do if you feel homesick.


This is another essential life skill and by the time you finish university you'll be a pro at it. Throughout your studies you'll have to deal with a number of financial concerns such as tuition fees, student loans, rent, bills, living costs, social outgoings and travel expenses. As a result you'll often operate on a tight budget. Knowing how to manage your money and balance your incomings against your outgoings is a skill you’ll pick up along the way.

'Most university students work part time in order to be able to pay their bills and this really helps develop your ability to prioritise spending and manage your money,' adds Graham. 'At Reading we partner with Blackbullion to offer courses and activities to support learning around money management.'

For tips on saving, student banking and dealing with debt, see saving money as a student.


Whether academic, work related or personal, you'll face your fair share of hurdles as a student.

Maybe you get a lower than expected mark for an important assignment, have to deal with a less than understanding boss in your part-time job, or experience a relationship breakdown. Perhaps you have to battle against mental health or money struggles. Without the safety net of your family and friends from home close by you'll have to stand on your own two feet and be resourceful and resilient enough to solve these issues yourself. You’ll graduate from university with a level of maturity you didn’t have before when it comes to overcoming obstacles.

That being said, there’s always help at hand if you ask for it. Discover where to find help at university.

Organisation and time management

If you were a bit unorganised before you went to university you won't be by the time you leave. To successfully navigate student life you'll need to handle a variety of study, work, social and personal commitments and the only way to do this is with organisation and time management.

Alongside your course you’ll learn how to manage deadlines, balance work and study, schedule time for extra-curricular activities and fit in time for yourself. No mean feat.

Discover our 7 time management tips for students.


'Confidence comes from trying something, seeing how it goes, learning from it and then trying it again. Your university years are full of these opportunities to try things out, and importantly to fail, and try again,' says Graham.

As a student you'll get the chance to build your confidence in a range of ways. Academically speaking you'll work in groupshost presentations, complete work placements and internships, attend careers fairs and maybe even stand for student election.

The social side of university life offers up many more. Parties, pub outings, student nights, summer BBQs and joining a club or society all help to bring you out of your shell.

Even the most introverted of students will leave university more confident than when they started. 'Everyone can find university life a positive challenge that shows what wonders they can achieve,' adds Graham.

Find out more

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