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Things I Wish I Had Known

By: Katie Riesner

Hello, I am Katie, a recent graduate from Falmouth University. Although I studied BA (Hons) Photography, I wanted to share my experience and advice as it might come in useful to anyone thinking about going into higher education.

My challenges 

To begin with, I’ll break down some of the biggest personal potential challenges I faced, and how I overcame them. I am from Birmingham, which is a 6-hour drive away from where I studied in Falmouth. I was also in a long-term, long-distance relationship and honestly did not know if I could continue this having moved even further away. Having been diagnosed with anxiety, I was worried I wouldn’t cope with being so far away from the people I know and love.

Support networks 

To prepare myself, I attended open days and made sure I spoke to the student ambassadors about my worries. I genuinely believed that remaining in a relationship during university would be impossible – something never done before; however, they reassured me they had friends in the same boat and told me about how cheap coach travel can be (£9 at times, if you book in advance, compared to train fares over £100!).

They also informed me of the Student Mentor Scheme which pairs you with a current student prior to arrival. With my mentor, Lauren, I was able to discuss my worries further and she signposted me to the accessibility and employability services that the University offers. Because of my anxiety, I was encouraged to apply for Disabled Students Allowance (DSA) and was given a support mentor with whom I met weekly to help me set goals and manage my mood levels. This helped me to learn important skills such as time-management and self-care. This meant that earning a degree became less overwhelming and ‘unattainable’ to me. Instead, I thrived.

What works for you? 

It is important to consider what kind of person you are. For example, having shared a room with my sister up until the age of 18, I decided to go into shared accommodation while at university. This meant that from the get-go I had someone in the same boat as me to confide in (and cheaper rent!).  On the other hand, some students prefer their independence and choose to live alone. It depends on what you feel will work best for you – are you an introvert or extrovert? Will you be able to cope having another person living in your space?

Making friends 

The best piece of information I could give is that the friends you make within the first few weeks of university, might not be the friends you stick with. In fact, I made my best friends at the very end of first year! I would also highly recommend getting a job alongside your studies. Working as a student ambassador has helped to increase my confidence, befriend other students on other courses (with a wide variety of skills) and it was a great way of earning a little extra around my studies.

Managing money 

I would also suggest making sure you understand how the maintenance and student finance loans work and opening a student bank account, as these often include interest free overdrafts. Whilst I did all I could to avoid going into my overdraft, there were times when it was difficult to avoid. It really helped to know that that was a safety net available to me.

I was worried I would never be able to afford university, and was worried about paying back my student loan; however, I would recommend finding out information from Martin Lewis’s website, Money Saving Expert, as there is a helpful video that breaks down how and when this is paid back in an easy to digest manner. Essentially, you only pay your loan back when you earn over a certain amount (approx. £26,000 per annum), and normally this is taken out of your pay-check automatically. As well as this, the ‘debt’ is automatically cancelled 30 years after you finish study.

Plans can change 

My last piece of advice is to try to study something you genuinely enjoy or can see yourself doing in the future. But, if you do decide on a different path along the way, it doesn’t mean your time was wasted. Whilst my degree was in Photography, I developed so many transferable skills that it is not the only career path I can take. The skills you learn through higher education, such as independent research, writing, time management, and working within a team, are ones that make graduates suitable for a whole range of careers.

Applying to university 

Take time to think through the essence of why you do what you do (or want to do) and talk about this within your personal statement. For example, in mine I wrote, “It interests me how, as photographers, we can use the lens as a viewfinder and capture the little moments that otherwise might have be missed.” I loved photography and its ability to show and emphasise the beauty of our world.

You do not need to know everything about your subject yet, you just want to show your passion and that you are eager to learn. Be sure to get help from a college tutor, if possible, to proof-read it, but above all else, make sure your personal statement feels true to you.   


Throughout the three years of studying, I have grown an exponential amount. I loved my time in the South West so much that I am moving back to Falmouth as a post-graduate.

I hadn’t quite realised, until I left, how much I was living in my family’s shadow, but moving away and getting a degree has meant I have found out who I am as an independent adult. I have made great friends for life, learned how to cope better with life’s ups and downs, and have developed a newfound confidence that will allow me to spread my wings and soar.

I won’t pretend it wasn’t difficult, but getting a degree was entirely worth it for me, and I am genuinely excited about what the future holds.

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