The Do’s and Don’ts of First Year University

Friday 18 August 2017, 04:52 PM

Michael Briers
Journalist , Freelance

It’s one of the most defining steps into adulthood, but how should you prepare for your freshman year? 

From UCAS applications to clearing, student finance to that dreaded E word (spoilers: it’s employability), ‘University’ is an umbrella term that tends to evoke a rush of feelings from prospective students — fear, passion, anxiety, excitement, curiosity, and a general sense of trepidation. 

Everyone is different, of course, and though a fair portion of young adults will forego third level education altogether in the name of a gap year, apprenticeships, studying overseas, and/or full-time employment, a direct transition to university is still the most popular choice when it comes to life beyond A Levels. Because even after all that stress and last-minute cramming two months ago, l-i-f-e-g-o-e-s-o-n.

But don’t let the thought of university overwhelm you. It’s an inclusive platform designed to bring the very best out of you, even if you’re not quite sure what that is just yet. There is truly something for everyone — and we do mean everyone — so in anticipation of the 2017-18 academic year, we’ve compiled a general guide on how to approach first-year university, whether that involves leaving the rents and taking your first true step into the big bad world, or living at home and balancing a part-time job with full-time education. 

We’ve been there, done that, and worn the t-shirt — quite literally, in this case. It’s also the follow-up piece to our handy revision guide in that it’s tailored to both parents and students. So, without further ado, let’s get to it.

Do embrace Freshers. Ah, Freshers. It’s the peppy prologue to your own university story, and there is perhaps no better time to familiarise yourself with the campus and its facilities. Think of Freshers Week as ground zero — you’ll want to settle into your halls of residence, introduce yourself to your new roomies/classmates, and identify the best route to all your many lectures so you’re not reduced to a flustered wreck by 9:35am on Day One. Even if you’re not the sporty type, Universities typically stage a Freshers’ Fair to provide everything you could possibly need to know about the available Clubs and Societies. 

Representatives will be on-hand to guide you through the process, too, and even if you’re not particularly fussed on joining, say, the film club, a ton of freebies will be available at each booth — from student vouchers to stationery to free food — so fill your boots! Oh, and arrive early. It’s best to start as you mean to go on. 

sleepwalk into a course you’re not invested in. This one is critical, as it can determine not only the future of your degree, but also your personal well-being. Take it from someone who changed their minor mid-way through second year: delve into the finer details of your degree to the point that you know it inside out, that way you’ll circumvent any future headaches about being stuck in a course that makes you miserable. Also, don’t enroll in a particular module simply to follow your friends; remember, you are the author of this story. 

Do seek out clubs, societies, and other extra-curricular activities. Bouncing off our recommendation to embrace Freshers’ Week with arms wide open, our next tip involves sampling some of the many clubs and societies on offer. Regardless of whether you consider yourself to be driven athletic, a studious bookworm, or a prolific debater, there is truly something for everyone. So get out there, have a nosey, and see if there’s something that takes your fancy. University is all about stepping outside the confines of one’s comfort zone, so get used to it!

Don’t be intimidated by the thought of moving away from home. Even if you’re flying solo, leaving the nest to begin university is a rite-of-passage that’s not only tremendously rewarding, it’s practically recommended by leading academics. This is your one-way ticket to adulthood, so you may as well develop some life skills along the way — whether that involves cooking alone, managing finances, or tedious chores like washing and ironing. They’re a necessary evil, after all, and just think of all that daytime telly you can squeeze in while doing so. And if that isn’t enough to tempt you, the sheer freedom of standing on your own two feet is perhaps the biggest selling point when it comes to moving away for university…just remember the unspoken rule of living in halls: a clean home is a happy home.   

Do consider the thought of a year out, whether it be before university, or mid-way through your course. Indeed some undergraduate degrees actively encourage students to venture abroad in order to gather new skills — language courses, for instance, ship students off to spend a semester outside the UK through the Erasmus Programme . So if you’re curious, read up on the Study Abroad Programme. On the other hand, there are those who prefer to spend a year in the workforce instead of launching headfirst into university…and really, that’s okay. Third-level education isn’t for everyone, so at this stage in your career (and indeed your life!), it’s important to come to terms with what you want, rather than settling for a career path that’s chosen for you. 

Don’t view your student loan as an infinite pool of money. When it comes to first-year university and personal finance, in particular, Freshers’ Week really is the real test of one’s resolve. You’ll be pushed and pulled in ten different directions, and there will be enough social events to leave your head spinning and wallet begging. But remember, everything in moderation. That oh-so-sweet first installment may seem like a windfall, but budgeting is vital if you want to avoid counting pennies by week 10 — or, worse, slogging it out at a part-time job that inevitably puts pressure on your studies.

That being said…

Do socialise…within reason. Echoing our advice on Freshers’ Week, DO mosey around campus to discover clubs and student-oriented events. Chances are, the local pubs and clubs will also host special student nights in order to attract Freshers in their droves, and while it would be rude to turn down such an tantalising offer, don’t indulge in alcohol-fuelled shenanigans when it comes at the expense of your studies. Attending a house party is all well and good on a Friday night after a long, hard week, but not when it’s sandwiched in between Monday and Wednesday and you have to suffer through a three-hour lecture with the hangover from hell. Again, everything in moderation.

Don’t let deadlines/assignments overwhelm you. There’s a reason why we’ve saved this one for last. Once you’ve settled into your course of choice, and the days turn into weeks, you’ll be left facing your first of many assignments. Chances are, the amount of independent learning involved in an undergraduate course will be a shock to the system — no longer will teachers spoon-feed you with all the finer details on ‘Subject X’. With that in mind, plan accordingly; an extra hour at the library every couple of days will go a long way to preventing a backlog of overdue work. 

Money-wise, the campus’ Welfare Service is always on-hand to offer support and guidance, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Not only is the service fully confidential, but many of the staffers are past pupils, and therefore know a thing or thing about a student in need.

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