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Tips for using Excel at university

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Published: 3 April 2020

University of Sunderland in London student using Excel

For new students, lifelong students, prospective students and students just about to graduate, Microsoft Excel is a tool that will help you with your studies at the University of Sunderland in London and on into your career. Below we’ve listed our favourite tricks and tips to help you make the most of the worlds most popular spreadsheet programme.

Quickly make a chart

Ever had trouble making a pie chart or bar graph? If you’re not sure how to best show your data in a visual way, try using Recommended Charts

Highlight your data then click on the Insert tab on the top. Then just click the Recommended Charts button and you’ll get a window with all the possible chart options to choose from. 

Pivot tables

Pivot tables are useful tools when you have lots of data. They basically group together large data sets together so they’re easier to read.

To create your own pivot table, go the Insert tab again. Then click Pivot Table and select the data you want to show. A window will appear on the right of the page. You choose the information areas you want in the top and create the table at the bottom.


Transposing is a fancy word for moving data around, something you’ll need to do if you want to switch your rows and columns. You might be tempted to move each cell individually, which can take a long time. Luckily, Excel has a solution.

Right-click the column or row you want to transpose and select Copy. Then choose where on your spreadsheet you want the new row or column to begin. Right-click on that cell and choose Paste Special. You’ll see a window pop up. Tick Transpose at the bottom and click OK.


Filtering is a great way of seeing only the information you want when you have a lot of data. For example, you might have a data set that includes people in Canary Wharf, Sunderland and Hong Kong but you only want to see people in Canary Wharf. Filters can let you do that without changing anything in the original data set.

Select your data set then choose Home in the tabs at the top of the page. Click Sort and Filter on the far right then Filter from the drop-down. Arrows will appear next to your headers. Click on each of these for a drop-down that lets you filter any way you want.


Autofill is a great timesaver. It’s a way for Excel to guess what you want to add to a cell based on what you’ve written before. For example, if you’ve got the number one in a cell and want the next cell to read ‘2’, then ‘3’ and so on, you can get Excel to do it for you.

Just select the cell you want to start on (that’s ‘1’ in our example), then hover your mouse over the bottom left corner. You should see a small black cross. Click the cross and drag it down or across for as many cells as you need. You should now see a row or column of numbers in order. You can do this for a few other kinds of data too, including dates and days of the week.

Microsoft Excel is a really useful tool. You’ll most likely find yourself using it at some point in your studies, no matter what course you’re on. That’s why, as a student at the University, you have access to Excel and all the Microsoft Office programmes for free. Visit the Microsoft Office 365 website and enter your University email to get started. Find out more by following #WeAreSunLon on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.