THINGS I WISH I’D KNOWN BEFORE STARTING UNIVERSITY

The university year is about to begin, and with that comes an influx of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed first years. Okay, perhaps a little patronising, but the truth is that most freshers have a lot of ideas about what uni will be like, and have never lived away from home. Some of these ideas might match up to reality, and others won’t. And while your first year of uni will almost without doubt be exciting and fun, there are definitely some things that I wish I could go back to tell my younger self before my first day two years ago.

You are not done making friends after Freshers’ Week

To some this might seem obvious, but let me explain. You first week of term will be a whirlwind of course inductions, health and safety talks, going out, and meeting new people. By the end of it, you might feel like you get how everything works, and you’ll probably think you’ve met your best mates already (alternatively, your brain might be bursting with information about fire alarms and taking out library books). That’s not to say you won’t stay friends, or even good friends, with these people – just don’t rest on your laurels because there are so many more great people you won’t have had a chance to meet yet.

Nourish yourself

Students don’t have the best rep when it comes to culinary skill – but keeping yourself alive for a term is pretty handy. Aside from the fact that eating badly will stop you from working to the best of your abilities, eating shit food is also depressing as hell (“First year ruined tinned tomato soup for me,” sighed a friend of mine once). A lot of kitchens in university accommodation aren’t well kitted out, so learn some good hacks: you can soften up vegetables in the microwave so they don’t take so long to cook in the one-pot dish you’re making because you only have two hot-plates; you can also make rice, porridge, cake, and possibly anything your heart desires in the microwave. Basically, the microwave will be your new best friend.

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You can say no

Arriving at university, I took the advice to get involved very seriously – I signed up for everything, went to everything, tried everything… My friends joked that my degree was in extracurriculars… And then I promptly burnt out and contracted acute sinusitis by the beginning of the 7th week of term. While it’s important and also exciting to try new things, and extra-curriculars are a great way to meet new people, don’t spread yourself too thin, or you’ll end up doing lots of things not very well.

The more time you spend on your degree, the more you’ll enjoy it

Kind of goes hand-in-hand with the above point. And this might sound horrifically boring, but I’d established by the end of first year that not panicking about every deadline, as well as having time to do reading you find interesting, is great. Of course, moving into the library and leaving only to pick up food (to be eaten in the library) is by no means the best way to do things – there’s a fine line between more time and too much time.

Uni can be lonely

It’s strange. In your first year you’ll likely be living in some kind of student accommodation, and will thus be no more than 3 metres from another human being at any given time. But despite this literal proximity to others, university can sometimes be lonely. Particularly at the beginning, when you’ve moved out of your family home, the initial novelty and business of Freshers’ Week has passed, and you’re stressed out about an impending deadline. What’s even more important is to know that this is totally normal, and that it’s actually important to be able to spend time with yourself.

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Call home, occasionally

When I left for university, as far as I was concerned, I was never heading home again. Yes, living with your parents can be suffocating at times (particularly if you grow up in the countryside, miles from a bus stop like I did); and by no means do your parents need to be aware of your every movement (in fact, there are some things that are probably best kept from them). But it’s hard for your parents, and it’s nice for you to check in and hear a familiar voice, even if it’s just once a week. Just don’t go 7 weeks avoiding all contact, like I did (sorry, Dad).

And finally… Don’t worry

When I asked my friends what they would say to their Fresher selves, this is the one that came up the most. Of course starting at university is going to be nerve-wracking at moments, no matter how extroverted you are, or how much you love meeting new people. Whether it’s taking care of yourself, making friends, or the work itself, everyone has something that they’re worried they won’t perform at. But the truth is, once you find your groove, you’ll find that everything is okay. You will make friends, you will find that you are actually able to do laundry and construct meals (even if they’re not particularly gourmet), and you got into your uni because they thought you were capable of the work.

So, from a wise finalist: enjoy your first year and enjoy your degree. You’ll have your final exams looming before you know it.

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