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How to survive you first week at university

How to survive your first week at university (and beyond)

Posted on: February 10, 2020

Heading off to university for the first time is one of the most exciting things you will do. For most students it will be the biggest step you have yet taken in life, the first time you have lived away from home, the first time you have been out in the world making all your own decisions. You are about to enter a world of new friendships, new experiences and many new opportunities.

But no new student is being honest with you if they claim there is not a huge amount of nerves and worry bound up in the excitement. It’s a daunting time but one that, with a bit of forethought and bravery can be just as great as everyone says.

'I think it’s important to realise that you are not alone in feeling scared or nervous – everyone is in the same boat and this is a new experience for you all.' - Matilda

Stuffed animal bear coming out of travel trunk

Be prepared!

Getting ready for university starts as soon as you have your confirmation. Believe me, those few weeks will go really quickly! There will be a load of official university stuff to do, registration, choosing accommodation and there may even be some preparatory reading to do. It’s going to be a busy time but there are other things to be thinking about too.

What stuff do you take with you? Remember, your accommodation is likely to be pretty small, so however much you want to take all your possessions with you, just in case you need them, it’s wise to only take the essentials. If you find yourself with room for more, you can easily pick it up on weekend trips home.

Ask yourself what you’ll need to buy; bedding, kitchen equipment, toiletries? Make a list of what you think you’ll need and ask friends who have already been through this experience what they took and what they wish they had remembered. It’s likely they will suggest essentials you haven’t even thought of.

It’s wise to take some kitchen store-cupboard items with you. You may not be much of a cook yet, but you don’t know when you’ll first be able to get to a supermarket and it’s always worth having some back-up items sitting in the cupboard. So, stock up on some basics like tins of tomatoes, bags of pasta, and instant noodles. For the more culinary minded a few basic herbs and spices will help liven up your meals.

Don’t forget to organise some insurance too. It’s a mistake to assume that you will be automatically covered by your parent’s contents insurance. You don’t want to tip a cup of coffee on your laptop and find yourself without a way of replacing or repairing it.

There are some great student bank accounts out there so make sure you sort yourself out with one before you set off. Many offer discounts, railcards or suchlike and can make your life as a student much easier.

Making friends

You arrive at your student halls and you’re suddenly surrounded by strangers. You need to make some food but there’s all these random people in the kitchen.

For even the most outgoing of us that can be a bit scary. Finding the confidence to introduce yourself to people is hard, but there are a few things you can do to make it easier. First, and a tip you’ll hear from everyone, is to leave your door open while you unpack. That way others know you’re approachable and want them to come and talk to you. You can also shout a hello to anyone you notice passing in the corridor.

Everyone is in the same boat. Everyone is in a new environment, learning new things with new people and missing home. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed talk to other students! – Bridget

Remember, everyone is in the same situation here. Take a deep breath, and go door knocking. You don’t need to have a long chat with anyone yet, just introduce yourself, let them know which your room is and that they’re welcome to drop in for a chat when they’ve finished unpacking. That way you can show that you want to make friends without having to deal with walking up to a big group of strangers and trying to join in the conversation.

Life in halls

It’s more than likely that this will be the first time you’re sharing living space with people you aren’t related to. And that isn’t always an easy experience. Chances are everyone will get on pretty well but there will be differences between you that can lead to conflict.

Cleaning and keeping on top of the washing up are probably two of the biggest irritations you will come across. Make sure you do your fair share and always consider others; you may not be bothered about your growing pile of dishes next to the sink, but other people will be.

Try and remember to keep quiet late at night, no loud music, no overly loud conversations at 2am outside someone else’s room. And if you find yourself living with less than considerate people, invest in some earplugs!

Budgeting

Even with a part time job, money is likely to be tight. The key to coping is planning ahead. At the start of the year work out your monthly outgoings and the money you have coming in. Decide how much you can afford to spend on food and don’t forget to keep money for your textbooks. There are some great budgeting apps available to help you keep on top of your spending.

grocery store shelf with hearty vegetables

Food

What’s the most important thing to remember when food shopping? Looking for discounts? Planning ahead? No, it is: don’t shop when hungry. When all you can think about is your rumbling stomach you’re going to buy so many things you don’t need.

Do look out for discounts. Just be aware as often they are on things you don’t really need or aren’t actually good value for money. Think before you buy should be the rule.

It’s always a good idea to shop with a list. Work out in advance what meals you’re going to cook the following week and stick to it. You’ll find you spend much less if you go with a plan. But don’t be too hard on yourself, there’s nothing wrong with picking up a treat or two. Just make sure you can afford it first.

Homesickness

At some point everyone will feel homesick. It may strike straight away, it may take a few weeks. But, at some point you’re going to start missing home, your family, your friends, that nice couple who run the paper shop on the corner. It’s completely natural that however much you are enjoying life at university, you’re going to miss home.

I learnt that everyone is in the same boat. Everyone is in a new environment, learning new things with new people and missing home. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed talk to other students! – Bridget

From day one, make a point of keeping in touch with home. It is so easy to lose touch with old friends when you’re caught up in the new world of university. Your new life is a busy one, but a quick text can remind someone that you’re thinking of them and will help you feel that support network is still there, even though you’re far away.

When homesickness strikes, don’t be embarrassed to tell your new friends how you are feeling. They’re almost certainly feeling the same way. Share memories of home and friends with each other. It will build up your new friendships and help you all to support each other when you’re feeling low.

crowd of people having fun

Get out of your comfort zone

Fresher’s Week will be full of events, chances for you to get out of your room, meet new people and have fun. It can be daunting socialising with a group of new people and going out every night can be exhausting too.

For the two weeks I went to freshers, I found having plenty of sleep to be key. I also went to the gym for the duration which sweated out any potential hangovers, so I could go to the next event in the night! – Daniel

At some point during Fresher’s Week, your university will hold a Fresher’s Fair. This event gives you a chance to find out all about your university’s societies and activities. It’s a great way to find new interests, make new friends and challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone.

Be careful not to sign up to a society without a bit of thought though. Most charge a joining fee and if you aren’t sure you’re interested you may find yourself a member of loads of societies you have no intention of participating in and with much emptier pockets to boot. When you go the Fresher’s Fair, take your time. Walk around, ask questions of the society members manning the stands then take a break, get a coffee and then go back and sign up to those that you’re genuinely interested in.

Fresher’s Week is often filled with a lot of alcohol focussed events but, whether you’re not a drinker or simply don’t want to spend too much of your money on alcohol this early on in the term, there will be plenty of other events going on that don’t involve alcohol. Look out for board game nights, cinema trips or even tours of your new city.

Get down to some studying – start good habits early

With all the fun of Fresher’s Week (and all the admin you need to do), you may not want to get down to any studying yet. After all, you may not have many, if any, classes during this first week. But getting into good habits early is realy important.

First year is the perfect time to start adopting good habits that will set you up for the rest of your time at university, even if it doesn’t count towards your final grade. Go to classes, do the reading, and don’t leave all your assignments to the last minute! – Matilda

As soon as you get your course details make a note of every due date, every exam, every deadline in your calendar of diary as well as the times of all your classes. It’s worth working out when you will need to start work on each assignment too and putting those dates into your diary – that way you won’t be surprised by a deadline you had forgotten about. And it is never too early to start on the assigned reading for your course.

I wish I’d known sooner that doing the extra reading really helps! – Bridget

Many university libraries offer introductory sessions for new students, showing you around and teaching you how to use the online resources. It may sound pretty dull, but the library will be your second home for the next few years so knowing how to get the most out of it will be invaluable.

Help and support

Sometimes a period of big change, or just life in general, can get on top of us. If you’re struggling or just need a bit of advice and support get in touch with your university’s student support services. They’re there for you and will help you through whatever difficulties you’re having.

Find out more:

https://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/preparing-to-go/after-results-day-get-ready-for-uni/top-tips-for-freshers-week/
https://www.savethestudent.org/extra-guides/freshers/30-mistakes-every-first-year-will-make.html
https://www.prospects.ac.uk/applying-for-university/university-life/10-things-to-do-before-starting-university