September 1st: the day people who are anything like me start panicking about going to uni, and wondering if being packed up since the middle of August was enough preparation.
I don’t feel like I know very much in the grand scheme of things, but I did manage to survive my first year of university, so I thought I’d impart some wisdom. I got the idea of sharing from this Tumblr post I saw at just the right time last year. It stopped me worrying so much I even printed it off and pinned it on my pin board when I moved in to my room.
It goes without saying that my experience – I was in self-catered halls at a campus uni in the UK – won’t be the same as someone else’s. But hopefully if you’re flapping about moving somewhere new, this list might help, even just a little bit.
TWENTY-NINE THINGS I LEARNT IN MY FIRST YEAR AT UNI
Smile at people. Smile at everyone, because they’re all as nervous as you are.
Thank the staff around you – cleaners, porters, security – because they don’t get thanked enough.
Talk to people, even if they are from Somewhere Else (another street/town/city/country/continent)… especially if they are from Somewhere Else. Uni is a melting pot of people who are Not Like You and it’s a great time to get to know people with different life experiences.
You don’t have to keep talking to people. If they give you bad vibes or say/do something offensive or rude or you don’t feel safe or you just don’t like them, you don’t have to keep talking to them.
You meet a lot of temporary people. There were people I spoke to on the first night of Freshers’ Week that I haven’t seen again, let alone had a conversation with. The people you meet in your first few weeks might become your best friends, but they also might not.
If there is a Gregg’s near you, go before 10am, otherwise the queue will be out the door by a good eleven people. Even better, find a Pound Bakery and become its friend.
Sign up for everything in Freshers’ Week. A Capella? Yep. Pole dancing? Of course. Ski sports soc? Why not? (Although they seemed to get naked a lot.) Your course’s soc (if there is one) is always a good shout, because the people in the years above you have already done what you’re doing and know loads of cool stuff, and their experience is especially good around exam time.
Don’t pay for anything in Freshers’ Week. Go to the introductory sessions and see whether it’s your thing, when they meet, where they meet, how often, etc before you pay. I joined the Baking soc in Freshers’ and paid £5 for the year, and I ended up going once.
Don’t judge people by appearance. The first person in my seminar group I spoke to was the type Cool Girl I’d been intimidated by my whole school life. I totally judged her, and she was lovely. Uni is not mandatory: it’s hard work, and it’s expensive. Whoever is there is there because they got there.
You got there too. Your opinion is valid too. Your comment on a piece of work/text/report/sculpture/research paper is cool. Don’t be afraid to speak up and say what you want to say, because you got to uni and you deserve to get the most out of it.
You will not be rich. If you’re getting money through Student Finance England, your loan comes in three chunks, corresponding to each term. You do not suddenly have thousands of pounds. I had £600 in my first term to live off for 11 weeks, which is more than a lot of people get.
It’s okay to go out! (But that doesn’t make you better than others). Stay out till the early hours! As long as: you have the money, you can get home safely, and you don’t destroy your liver.
It’s okay to not go out! (But that doesn’t make you better than others). Stay up chatting with your flatmates or watching TV on catchup or dance around your room with your headphones in. Do whatever makes you happy.
Go for a walk and get to know your way around, especially in your first couple of weeks – and once you have your timetable, go and see where your lectures/seminars/department buildings are.
Leave at least five minutes before you need to. If you’re like me, you’ll have a pathological fear of lateness.
Get a diary and/or a calendar and keep them up to date. I’ve missed extra curricular talks because I’ve written them down on the wrong day.
The night before a big test/class/report/essay etc there will be a disaster. A herd of lads chanting outside your window. A neighbor suddenly finding the inspiration to write a guitar concerto (can you even do a concerto on a guitar?). Or you will not be able to sleep and will lie tossing and turning in warm covers for hours. Possibly all three. Stuff happens. Just do the best you can.
Keep pizzas in the freezer. Sometimes you just need to stick it in the oven with some smiley face potatoes (or your favourite emoticon-shaped chips) for a quick and easy dinner.
Do your washing up.
If the bin is full, change the bin bag. Don’t stack your milk carton on top of another person’s like some kind of rubbish jenga.
Get some snacks and keep them in your room. I kept a well stocked a biscuit box for emergencies all year.
Keep your desk tidy. Unless you like clutter, a clear space = clear mind.
Don’t feel you have to buy books new – get them from the library, or at least second hand. Often people from the years above sell their books at a discount. Some lecturers upload the required pages to the virtual learning environment.
Coloured pens are good for writing up your notes and making them look pretty. Which is, of course, the main goal, of revising in particular – the Turner Prize worthiness, not learning the content, right?
Back up your work on a memory stick.
Make to do lists.
Do your washing. It’s not scary (but it is ridiculously expensive). Get the detergent. Get a bag to put your clothes in. Dump them in the machine. Set it going. Invest in a clothes airer – I got a £16 one from Wilkos that is amazing.
It will take you time to find your place. Some people might settle in straight away and find their best friend in their next-door neighbour. I didn’t. For the first term of my first year, I didn’t really have any friends. I mean, there were people I talked to, but only really before lectures. I like my own company, but I thought I’d missed my friend-making window and was going to be lonely forever. It was the Friday night of my twenty-fifth week at uni when I finally felt like I’d found my home there.
Whatever you think uni will be like, it probably won’t be like that. And that’s okay.