With A Level Results Day in the UK drawing closer, teenagers (soon to be freshers) across the country are currently going through several stages. These include excitement, denial, terror and acceptance, sometimes all in one day. Most of these students will then find themselves frantically trying to find out what to expect from their new life at university and what steps they need to take to get there. There are some things that you’ll only learn from personal experience, like the best nightlife spots; how you’ll discover that there is nothing that can’t be cooked at 200°C for 20 minutes, and how much you can get away with skipping lectures before you feel guilty about the amount of debt you’re sliding into!
So here are some tips about university life in general, the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions and a few pieces of advice in response to the mistakes I made as a fresher! Here are 20 things all freshers need to know.
1. You don’t need to pack the kitchen sink.
The moment your email to confirm your university place comes through on results day, your mind goes into overdrive. This leads to weeks scrutinizing checklists of what you might need to pack to take with you. The only way to learn this is to go through it – you won’t need or use half of the things you initially pack. My flatmate arrived with three suitcases. Another friend brought her own iron. As for me, I’ve never used the ‘clothes horse’ for its actual purpose, oops.
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2. Make an effort with other people.
It’s a well-known fact that people do not show the true side to university in brochures and on social media. As well as the masses of new friends, opportunities and parties you’ll go to, there are also vast periods of loneliness. This is only natural, you’re in a completely new part of your life where no one knows you well!! The best way to combat this is to make an effort with everyone you meet. I met my two best friends on the first night when I sat near them at a welcome meeting. We then agreed to look out for each other at the first social that evening – the rest is history!
3. You’ll start with good intentions, but let’s be honest: you’ll use the iron once all year.
Seriously who’s going to notice the creases in my jeans in a 9 am? Most things can be sorted out by putting them on a coat hanger and shaking. Or in my case, fallen at the bottom of my wardrobe. (I wasn’t a complete slob I promise, the cleaner said she’d seen MUCH worse!)
4. Register with the medical centre.
When you first move in, this can seem trivial and pointless compared to all of the other exciting things going on. But trust me, it will take a few moments of your time and can be crucial in case of emergency. Trust me, I’ve had better attendance at the medical centre than lectures this year due to various accidents!! But I’d rather be safe than sorry like my friend’s flatmate who burst an eardrum and had to wait for the paramedics in the middle of the night!
5. Go off exploring on your own.
Chances are, after you’ve moved in you’ll have a few days before lectures start. Yes there are Fresher events but these mainly happen in the evening so you can choose to sleep all day or get out of your room and explore your university campus or city. By familiarising yourself with your new surroundings you’ll start to feel more at home and maybe find out about different experiences from here.
6. Don’t romanticise your ideas about university.
The main mistake I made in my first year was that I came to university with unrealistic expectations. It’s easy when you look at pictures on social media and listen to other people’s stories, especially when people tell you that these will be the best few years of your life. They may be, they probably will be! Just don’t have idealised views as you’ll spoil the experience for yourself. Start with no expectations, that way everything is a positive!
7. Don’t offer to wash up – you’ll find yourself with a part time job in the flat.
Although my mum would disagree, I actually can’t stand mess, so the reality of a student kitchen with dishes piled up the wall did fill me with dread! I soon discovered the reality was much worse as I lived with one flatmate who would leave rotting food and leftovers around and come in, heat them up in the microwave and leave again. I couldn’t stand the unhygienic surroundings so was left with the choice of putting up or cleaning. However, once it was all cleaned, the piles got even bigger next time. So we all stopped bothering and got warnings every week from the cleaner.
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8. Manage your money.
University will probably be the first time you’ve had to manage your living costs to this extent. Again this is something you’ll learn with experience and look back with hindsight. Everyone will have a different way of managing their finances; you hear horror stories about people who spend their entire loan in Freshers’ Week! Find a system that suits you to manage your money. This will help you keep track of your spending and will leave you one less aspect of your new life to stress about.
9. Decorate your room the way it suits you, not the way social media dictates.
Another potential stress for students, especially girls, is how they’re going to decorate their new bedroom. This was something I was really excited about! If I’m honest, when I first opened my new bedroom door it did resemble a prison cell. I soon started covering the bare walls with photos and posters then eventually the room became more personal and I started to feel more at home. Looking back, I realise it was actually overcrowded with too many decorations! Another tip: research whether you can take stereotypical student fairy lights for your room; some halls have regulations against them.
10. Don’t leave work until the night before – and back it up!
I’ve put this tip on the list ironically, because I’ll always leave my work to the night before. I’ll probably be frantically editing my dissertation the night before it’s due in. Try not to leave work to the last possible opportunity, you’ll probably just add more pressure and stress on yourself and (unless you’re that incredibly annoying student who is naturally intelligent and doesn’t have to try) you won’t show your best work and potential. Come up with a plan how you’ll tackle your work a few weeks in advance, for example for an essay, choose your title several weeks before, then designate each week before the deadline with a specific task. And always back up your work!! The idea of losing a 3000 word essay makes me feel physically sick.
11. Freshers’ Flu is real.
You’ll definitely find yourself with a croaky voice and a hoarse cough within the first few weeks. This is the supposedly mythical Freshers’ Flu. There’s no way to avoid it, even if you don’t go out partying every night, you’ll catch it somehow! It’s a rite of passage and you’ll be immunised against it once you recover. You soon get used to the cacophony of sneezing and coughing that accompanies the first few weeks of lectures!
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12. Go to the Freshers’ Fairs!
There will probably be lot of events running in during Freshers, my personal favourite were the fairs and events which go on at the start of term. At Loughborough these were split into two: The Sports Fair and The Societies Fair. This is a chance to look around different stalls for what you know you’re interested in or to explore something completely different!! I would advise going down to these events and seeing what societies have to offer, the one I joined has been like my family all year and the people look after and out for me – much needed in such a huge place as a Fresher!!
13. When it comes to relationships, do what suits you AND your partner.
This is one of the major ones for me. Everywhere I look I seem to find the same relationship advice for freshers, “please leave your high school boyfriend and don’t even attempt long distance. You’ll find yourself missing out.” Yet, this depends on how you plan on spending your university experience. Personally, I love my boyfriend to bits and that doesn’t change when he’s far away. The main thing is not to stop enjoying the university experience and living the life you want for yourself because your partner isn’t around. Distance undeniably takes a lot of work and some days are tougher than others, but you have to question the reasons why you are in the relationship if you are going to give your partner up without any effort. My advice would be to do what suits you both, some people make it work, some call it quits, there’s no set solution.
14. Get insurance.
One of the top tips offered before moving in is to get insurance on all your valuable items for a few reasons. Halls of Residence can be a prime targets for thieves as each student will probably have at a least a phone and a laptop in their bedroom. It’s always best to insure in case of the worst case scenario. The other reason for insurance is to protect against damages. My best friend accidentally spilt blackcurrant all over her Mac Book in a lecture once and it wouldn’t turn on. This was in the middle of our assessment period and she had all of her essays saved on there – and hadn’t backed them up. Fortunately we managed to sort everything out, get the laptop repaired and recover the essays but it was a scary time, thankfully the damage and cost was minimised thanks to the insurance.
15. Don’t buy every single textbook on your reading lists.
As an English student I was really (possibly sadly) excited about buying all of my new books to start my course. When they receive their initial reading list, most first years will go out and spend hundreds of pounds on ‘essential’ course text books and additional reading material. However, you will soon realise that not only do you not need to buy every single (incredibly expensive) textbook on the list, you can often buy the books second hand from older students, find fantastic online deals (Waterstones marketplace has saved me on countless occasions) or check your university library as a last resort. You’ll also find that you might not need half the suggested books – but I’m not condoning not reading the books obviously 😉
16. Check for damages when you move in.
One of the first things you should do when you move into your accommodation is check around your room and shared areas, like the kitchen, for any damages. If you find anything out of the ordinary you should report this fault to your hall warden or the Accommodation Services. This is incredibly important as you may find yourself charged at the end of your residence for damage that was not your fault. I was charged for a damaged work surface after I’d moved out of halls; to this day I have no idea what happened or even which surface this referred to? Though the fine I received was only small, you may find yourself hit with a significantly larger fine if you overlook any issues when you move in.
17. Don’t expect your flat to be your family.
One of the things I was most surprised by was that my flat were not particularly close to each other. I’d automatically assumed we’d get on like one happy family. It turned out I was with six other people who couldn’t have been more different. Different ages, subjects and nationalities led to us not bonding as a flat or having the ‘flat Christmas dinner’ which is often seen on social media. To me, this was disappointing as I’d created this picture of what my life with flatmates would be like. Yet I made friends from other flats and it turned out this was just as good. Again, it’s about not having pre-conceived ideas.
18. Learn the best way to go about your food shopping.
For my first year I was in self-catered accommodation so had to navigate the politics of the weekly shop! My first main tip for this is don’t go shopping when you’re hungry! You’ll overspend, then over eat and realise when you get back home that you’ve bought enough for a binge, but not to survive off for the week – then you spend more money!! My other piece of advice would be to investigate delivery options. My friends and I discovered Tesco offered free delivery straight to our front door if you spent over £40. So we did our shopping together and saved the money and the walk into town.
19. Try and do as much as you can – but don’t overdo it.
Do try and seize every opportunity during your first year, otherwise you might find yourself looking back wistfully. This is the one time in your life where you can get involved with university life and experiences – I have friends who visited India and The Artic this year through programmes. It sounds clichéd, but these years are once in a lifetime opportunity, and you’ll have so many rewarding experiences if you throw yourself in headfirst. Just don’t cross the line of doing too much; you’ll burn out and get less out of it.
20. Yes first year doesn’t count but…
And finally, the phrase that gets you through your final year at school or college tends to be “it’s ok, first year doesn’t count at university – I only need 40% to pass.” First year is about making the adjustment from Sixth Form to Higher Education and your work will subtly change throughout this time. You’ll find all the years above you will tell you not to miss out in first year, as all the hard work starts after that. First year’s where you build your foundations both academic and individually, don’t underestimate its importance.