My university experience is well and truly over (unless I do a phd) but one thing I can hopefully do, based on my experience and my friends, is impart some wisdom on some up-and-coming first years (or second or third, hell even MA students). So buckle up kids, you’re in for a wild ride.
1. Be sociable.
Before you bite my head off I know socialising is hard sometimes. The amount of times I’ve made up imaginary plans just to stay in bed and not speak to anyone. I’m not advising anyone go out on the lash every night of the week (unless thats your thing).
What I’m saying is University can be very lonely sometimes and they don’t prepare you for that. You’re flung into a world without your family or friends you’ve had since you were little. So make friends!
Its important especially in your first week to go out and do stuff! Those naff sounding activities you have down in you welcome week pack? DO THEM.
If you’re flatmates have evening plans join them. If you think clubbing is hell on earth thats fine, no doubt people will go to bars around town first, so join them and have a swift coke if alcohol isn’t your bag. People will understand if you don’t want to go on a mad one but they’ll appreciate that you want to try and get to know them.
The worst thing you could do in that first week is lock yourself away in your room even though that might be tempting, first impressions are everything.
2. Join a club or society.
One thing you absolutely need to do in that first week is attend the freshers fair. This is where all the clubs and societies will be handing out leaflets, free pens and often sweets, all to grab your attention and get you to join!
Being in a club or society will give you a ready made social group and make you really feel like part of the uni. I think this is especially important if you’re planning to attend a uni that isn’t based in a big city.
If you’re uni offers free membership join a few and try them on for size. Also the club or society you choose in freshers week doesn’t have to be the one you stick with for the full three years. You can drop out and change club at any time.
3. Get involved with your department.
Start networking early! Get to know your lecturers outside of class by going to department run events like guest lectures etc.
The idea of going to class outside of your timetable might sound like a bore but if you’re genuinely interested in your subject you’ll love it. It’ll come in really handy at the end of third year when you’re looking for references.
I also recommend getting involved as a course rep. You get a real say in whats going on in your school and it’ll mean most people on your course know who you are.
4. Don’t always study alone.
Even if you can’t work where its noisy take time out once or twice a week to chat to your course friends about the work you’re doing for your subject. It’ll give you a fantastic chance to bounce ideas off one another and it’ll make studying that bit more bearable (and don’t forget the junk food).
5. If you need help, tell someone.
Absolutely do not suffer in silence. If you’ve managed to make friends at uni talk to them, you might find they’re in the same boat or can help you through something the way your family would do if you were home.
You need a support system and if they’re genuinely your friends they’ll be there for you always.
If it goes beyond that talk to your personal tutor or a student union rep they’ll point you in the right direction to get the help you need. Whether is this financial problems, mental health or stress, the university will have the tools in place to help you out.
Or ring your mum! There is no shame in calling home if you need a pick-me-up.
6. Take on extra responsibility.
I’m going to lay down some hard hitting facts now. If you come out of uni with just your degree and no other experience you might struggle to impress potential employers. It’s a cruel world out there and most people have undergrad degrees.
Get involved with your club and society at committee level. Run for society chair! You can do it!
Run a blog, volunteer, fundraise, do an internship, get a job!
If you want to work in the field you study in speak to your lecturers ask if there are any internal or external research opportunities you can get involved in. Lecturers don’t just lecture, they might be journal editors or in charge of organising a conference.
Don’t waste time now when you have very little financial responsibilities and your not working five days a week. Because you won’t get this chance again.
7. Don’t be afraid to admit defeat.
If you’ve tried your absolute best but you still can’t get your head around this university crap you need to do whats best for your health and wellbeing. There are plenty of opportunities outside of university. It’s not the be all and end all.
Don’t worry if uni doesn’t turn out to be everything they say it is. It just means its not for you and thats okay. It’s not a reflection on your intelligence or on your worth as a person.
You have to do what makes you happy.
For those of you who will stick it out, I hope you have an amazing time and I hope you don’t take a single second of it for granted. It really is unlike any experience you will ever have again.
I wish everyone starting university in September all the best and I hope you meet as many amazing people as I did and I hope you do well. I have no doubt that whatever your final path is you’ll be amazing (even when you don’t feel it).