Going to university for the first time is an exciting experience but it can also lead to feelings of anxiety and overwhelm as you figure out how to navigate your first year. Read our guide below to make sure you not only survive but thrive in your first year!
Students come in all manner of mind-sets; some take to university life like a duck to water and others find themselves struggling to swim at all. There is no doubt that starting university is a huge shift for students in many ways, from making new friends and social networks to moving away from home and managing finances. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by the changes, especially in your first semester when you are just starting out. It helps to remember that there is nothing wrong in feeling like this and you certainly won’t be the only person on campus who might be struggling to adjust to your new life as a student.
We have put together some advice and tips below on how you can make your first year not only easier to cope with, but hopefully one that you will enjoy and have fond memories of when you look back years later.
CONFIDENCE AND THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
Being confident and cultivating the right mind-set when you start university is one of the most important things you can do as a new student. It’s highly important that during your first semester you give yourself the space to adjust to student life and see it is a learning curve so that future semesters are easier to handle. It also massively helps to keep an open mind and view university as an opportunity to make new friends, learn new skills, try new things and generally enjoy the experience. Remember, nobody knows (or even cares) who you are and what your past is, so if there are things holding you back from your years gone by- such as failed exams or messy relationships – then now is the time to bury the baggage and start anew; your future self will thank you for it.
MAKING NEW FRIENDS
Going to university is a great way to meet new friends and expand your social network. However, if you are moving to a new town or even a new country, it can feel quite daunting as you try and figure out new people, customs and cultures. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make lots of friends or try and ‘fit in’, especially when you see other students doing the same and maybe feel left out. Instead, be confident in your own self and let things progress naturally; remember you are there to study and get a good degree, not to impress people. Also, resist the urge to make friends with everyone during fresher’s week, it’s not realistic or sustainable and most people are just having a laugh at the start of term without giving much thought to long term friendships. Save your efforts for a few but more meaningful friendships which blossom over time.
JOIN CLUBS AND SOCIETIES
Clubs and societies are a fantastic place for pursuing new interests/skills and meeting people outside of your normal circles. Joining them is a fun way to use your free time and bolster your CV at the same time. Whilst you may not necessarily be thinking about jobs and a career in your first year, it’s worth bearing in mind that being part of a club or society is good for networking and getting a foot on the career ladder as you caneasily strike friendships with students who are years ahead of you in their studies Once you have completed your degree, they may well be able to help you get an interview at your dream job or even help organise a work placement whilst you are still studying.
STUDY & EXAMS
Studying at university is very different to college or sixth form as more focus is given to independent study, making your own notes, reading around the subject etc. The onus is on you to put in the effort and ask for help if you are struggling. Use your first year to get used to the idea of slowly acclimatising to study life. Yes, you can enjoy yourself in year one a little bit more but make sure that by the end of year one that you get all of that wild stuff out of your system and that you are ready to take things seriously in year two, three and beyond. Outside of lectures and assignments, it’s a good habit to make time for studying every day to review notes and catch up on reading so that you are well prepared when it comes to exams and revision. Cramming a few days or even a week before each subject is extremely stressful (both physically and mentally) and whatever your approach to study is, you are unlikely to give your best performance when under so much stress.
The sooner you get used to the idea of being financially independent and accountable for yourself, the better you will be in the long run. Parents aren’t here to clean up after you and pay your bills, so use the first semester to get used to this fact. The best thing you can do is to draw up a budget and religiously stick to it. List all of your monthly outgoings and add on an extra 10% for unforeseen expenditure and try your best not to exceed it. Don’t forget to take advantage of student discounts at retailers, eateries and even online – it all adds up. Stock up on grocery and essentials from the big discounters like Aldi and Lidl as well as local pound stores. Charity shops are also a great place to find hidden gems and are now much more ‘upmarket’ than they once were. Also, eating a good breakfast and taking lunch from home is also a great habit to get into as not only is it time saving but you can make healthier food choices (rather be forced to eat what is on offer at the university café) and save a small fortune in the process. Consider this: breakfast and lunch from a café with drinks will easily set you back around £10-£15 per day depending on where you go compared to a few pounds a day if you eat from home.
Remember, not only do you want to graduate with a good degree and as little student debt as possible but at some point after graduation you may wish to travel, buy a car or get on the property ladder. Therefore it makes good sense to get into the habit of being money conscious now so that you can enjoy yourself later.
ASKING FOR HELP
There is no shame in asking for help when you need it. You might be stuck on an assignment, can’t find your way around campus or need help finding student housing.Or you might be feeling homesick and missing friends, family and pets back home. The key thing to remember is that there are lots of people willing to help – be it classmates, lecturers or tutors. Your student union office can help with a lot of matters and provides free services such as financial advice, counselling and help regarding student accommodation. Family and friends back home are only a call away, so don’t be shy to pick up the phone and share whatever you are feeling – they will probably be happy they can help. The challenges of higher education affect many students at one point or another and with help available there is no reason to feel alone and suffer in silence.
LOOKING AFTER YOUR HEALTH
It’s really easy to let things slide regarding your health as you get busy with lectures, socialising and hangovers! During fresher’s week it’s customary to drink excessively, eat takeaways and sleep late. However, such a lifestyle will soon take its toll on you mentally and physically if it’s not kept in check. It’s very important to quickly revert back to your regular health and fitness regime as soon as you can after the first few weeks of university and if you don’t really have one to begin with, now is as good a time as any to start. Try and eat well (get more fruit and veg in, less junk and less alcohol) and get some exercise in by simply walking to university instead of catching the bus (or if it’s too far then just getting off a few stops earlier). Most campuses have their own gym (with student friendly rates on membership) which you can visit during free periods in your timetable. Also, if you are in a new town then make sure you register at your local GP surgery and dental practice (ideally in the first week of moving) as you never know when you may need such services.
USE TECHNLOGY TO STAY ORGANISED
It’s fair to assume that as a student you will have your phone or tablet on your person at all times, so use that to help you study and stay organised. There are many apps that you can use to your advantage such as ExamTime and Timetable as well as whole host of other apps and built-in phone features which enable you to do things like record lectures, scan your notes, save and share files, collaborate with classmates and more. Also look at lifestyle apps such as journey planners, fitness trackers and budget planners to help you stay on top of things.
EXPLORE YOUR SURROUNDINGS
This particularly applies if you are studying in a new city (or even country). It’s very easy to get used to campus life and not leave your surroundings often, especially if everything you need (shops, library, eateries etc) are within walking distance. However, if you are willing to explore then you will find all sorts of hidden gems to enjoy – from theatres to great places to eat, which will enrich your time at university and perhaps also help you feel less homesick. It’s also very important to be able to easily navigate your way back home after a night out as you can easily get lost and find yourself in trouble, especially if you have had a bit too much to drink.
For the more adventurous amongst you, heading out of the city will reward you with all sorts of unique places that you would never have experienced otherwise. Just an hour on the train and you can be in the countryside, besides the sea or exploring a medieval castle (depending on where you are of course!). If you have a railcard (which gives you a huge 33% discount off fares) then all the more reason to take advantage of it and head out of the city.
Life at university doesn’t have to solely revolve around the campus or the city in which it is located – there’s a whole lot more to discover and your first year is the perfect time to do so before you have to start handling heavier workloads in year 2 and above of your degree.
LEARN HOW TO COOK (NO SERIOUSLY, DO IT)
If your culinary skills start and end at boiling an egg, now is the best time to start developing the important life skill of cooking. If you are used to home-cooked food then very quickly you will start to get tired of ordering food in and surviving off boiled eggs! Not to mention the fact that it will burn a hole through your pocket and expand your waist line faster than you can say sushi! Get to grips with the basics like knowing some simple herbs and spices, which utensils to use and how to use an oven. There are lots of easy to follow videos on YouTube from the likes of Jamie Oliver and Sorted Food which are perfect for students looking to whip up a fast and healthy meal. Don’t forget your mum is only a phone call away so make use of her knowledge (and maybe even surprise her by cooking a family favourite then next time you visit home). Food is also a great way to bond with your housemates (provided you don’t give them food poisoning!) and to use leftover bits and bobs in the fridge – you’d be surprised at how much food is thrown away in student houses due to lack of planning and spontaneous nights out. Make it a regular occurrence and take it in turns to cook for each other. This will help you improve your confidence in the kitchen and the feedback you get will also improve your skills.
Very quickly you will have to learn how to balance all of your commitments; study, work and social. In the first few weeks it’s very easy to get drawn into the culture of going out drinking every night and sleeping in late and this can spiral out of control. Don’t give in to peer pressure and stick to your own limits, which will help you save time, money and your health.
One of the easiest ways of managing all of your commitments is by scheduling everything into your calendar with reminders and doing your best to stick to it. Do this on a Sunday afternoon or evening for 30 mins and plan your week ahead by chunking your time between all of your commitments, starting with your biggest priority first (which is of course study!). Assignments and deadlines always tend to take longer than usual so factor in some extra time so you are not stressing about an impending deadline. Don’t forget that as newbie at university, you are in a very good position to set boundaries early on which fellow housemates will respect.
Meal planning is also an excellent way to save time (and prevent you standing in front of an open fridge wondering what the heck to eat!) and money by doing a weekly shop with a few main meals in mind. A great tip is cooking a larger quantity than is required and freezing a few extra portions so that when you are extra busy or just very tired all you need to do is defrost and heat up.
LEARN HOW TO DEAL WITH DIFFICULT HOUSEMATES
One of the most difficult things to adjust to in your first year at university is living with a new set of friends (or even old friends). Somebody might be real fun on a night out but that doesn’t mean that they will be fun to live with. If you find that a certain housemate is making things difficult and behaving awkwardly then it is better to talk it out before things escalate further and cause a negative atmosphere. Ignoring things doesn’t tend to work so try first to understand why they are behaving in a certain way – it might have nothing to do with you but they are still taking it out on everyone around them. In most cases you will find that both of you feel better once you have had a chat but if you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere, perhaps enlist the help of another housemate to talk to them. On the other hand, don’t be that person who is difficult to get along with or too stuck in their ways to embrace change and challenges – which is what university is all about. Have an open mind and make an effort to get along with everyone as a happy and harmonious environment at home will greatly help you with your studies, mood and overall mental health.
We hope that after reading this article, you will be more confident and relaxed as you approach your first year at university. Good luck!