I’d decided to write this post long before I saw this post but in true student style, still managed to leave it to the last minute.
If you’re reading this as a fresher, well done. You’ve got into university and, to be frank this is a large part of being able to finish university. The fact you’ve started means you have the capacity to finish: you’ll just need to be able to stick it out and focus at certain crunch points over the next 3 to 4 years.
The timing of my post means that Fresher’s Week is now over (unless you’re at some select universities, which have their Fresher’s Weeks at the beginning of October). You’ve managed to get through that repetitive “Name, Age, Course, Hometown” conversation which seems to be all everyone can think to ask during the first week. You may have numerous emails from student clubs and societies clogging up your inbox, inviting you for Fresher drinks and the first ‘meet-and-greet’ of the year.
The initial euphoria is gone: you’re used to the new mattress and lectures are beginning. What next?
University begins! Here’s my advice for this year:
- “Name, Age, Course, Hometown” wears thin very quickly. Have some followups up your sleeve – fave music, famous people you’ve met and signature dish are some I wish I’d used. After a while normal conversation will resume.
- Be ready for the day your laptop breaks, or anything else goes wrong. Get into a habit of backing up the files on your computer, or storing things ‘in the cloud’ (on Dropbox). There’s no point pulling an all nighter if you’re going to lose all of your work in a flash. Protect your laptop with free Avira Antivirus software, get a decent browser like Firefox or Chrome and make use of tools like Google Calendar to make sure you don’t miss a deadline or a lecture.
- Hold on to as many free pens from Freshers Fair stands as you can. As the year goes on you’ll lose the pens you use the most now, and inevitably, some will run out of ink. This isn’t primary school: your parents aren’t around to buy you a new set of felt-tip pens and a brand new pencil case at the beginning of next term. Don’t waste money on free stationery.
- I like food. I can also be picky with my food at times. Being at the mercy of university caterers wasn’t fun for me. Some years I was lucky enough to have a kitchen. Other years the only choice I had was to become very good friends with managers at my local Nandos. If you have a kitchen, bags of dry carbs, like pasta and rice will save you. They can be sent via post in ‘care packages’ from your parents, or are pretty cheap to get from your nearest supermarket and last AGES. They also don’t go off, so are very effective emergency rations for when you’ve spent all of your student loan on…pens.
- Success at University (and beyond) is about your ability to meet people. Join societies, clubs and sports teams that interest you. Meeting those in the years ahead on your course who can help you with navigating zany lecturers’ pet hates – they’ll give you insider ‘secrets’ without realising and invariably can help you prepare for the highs and lows on your course. Meeting others on your course can help you with remembering which piece of work corresponds to which deadline – you are, after all, all in this together: I scratch your back and you scratch mine. Meeting other students can give you someone to eat lunch with and in a couple of years may give you a leg up in the real world.
- Getting to know your lecturers as people is a must. The student-lecturer dynamic is different from the student-teacher dynamic. The numbers ratio means that they can’t have the same depth of aspirations for you as teachers did. The nature of the institution does mean that you will be able to befriend them and talk to them like acquaintances, rather than dinosaurs. Its good to remember that lecturers are people too and they have lives and interests that probably overlap with yours.
- Take notes on your laptop/iPad and look for complementary notes online. There are many ways to skin a cat and most Universities will have overlapping syllabus (especially for the first term – there’s more course diversity the further you are into your course). Read up on other approaches, ideas and vocabulary ahead of lectures. Then lectures become revision. Lectures also become the time for you to highlight and annotate slides – using software like PDF XChange Viewer or even Skitch. If you’re an auditory learner, audio record your lectures – you can edit them into a special revision remix closer to exam time.
As for your new home: embrace it. Student halls are preferable to living in student houses (you don’t want to experience this) and despite being randomly allocated for first years, take advantage of the unique situation of having a cleaner, staying fairly close to lecture theatres and having steady internet access. Don’t fear if you don’t get on with your neighbours – you won’t be stuck living with them forever, and not everyone discovers they’re best friend during Fresher’s week. Mingle and get to know everyone – in a couple of years time, when these people are in the real world, diversity of the people you know will count.
Finally – enjoy yourself. You’re away from home for (mostly) the first time, so things will inevitably go wrong – you’ll mix colours in the wash, lock yourself out of your room, and at some point you’ll probably put metal in the microwave. You’ll also learn to manage your money so that no term is spent eating instant noodles 3 times a day, to make up for 3 course of Nandos every evening during first term.
Learn to cook, on Youtube.
It’s not the end of the world if things go a little awry. At least you haven’t ruined your parent’s microwave…and at least next term brings with it a fresh part of your student loan. By the time you’re done, you’ll be ever so slightly more ready for the real world.