The first month of university is an exciting and challenging time. Everything seems to happen at once, so how do you make the most of it?
For most students, university is the first time they will have lived independently away from home. This can be rewarding and intimidating, especially with the addition of new responsibilities and the huge step-up from the final years of school or college.
This ‘how to’ guide to surviving the first month of university takes you through considerations such as how to make the most of Freshers Week, how to manage your money and how to stay healthy, to help you start off on the right foot. Let’s get started with how to prepare for starting university.
How to prepare for university
The key to university preparation is to plan in advance. It is so easy to leave it until a few days before you go, but this nearly always means leaving essential items at home or even trying to move into the wrong halls.
The best way to pack is by first creating a kit list. Note down everything you may need. You will inevitably bring too much in first year but you can always pack lighter the following year. Depending on your university, particularly for Oxford and Cambridge, you will likely need to bring your belongings home each term, so aiming to pack lighter can be a blessing. The Student Room University Checklist is a good place to start for kit list ideas.
When creating this list, consider how you are getting to university. If you are going by train or plane, you will not want to carry a lot of bags and bring your entire kitchen with you. This is especially the case if you choose to eat three times a day at your Oxbridge College. Although it is usually convenient to walk to the shops from your halls, it is nice to have food and teabags initially at your disposal. This also saves you from having to fit the trip in amongst all the Freshers Week events.
After results day, you have ample time to prepare for moving into university accommodation. Use this time to your advantage and plan ahead. Ensure you know the important initial dates, where your halls are, how you will get there and who will take you if someone is dropping you off. Never underestimate parking availability and if your university is a fair distance from home, the person dropping you off may need to find their own accommodation for the night.
Another tip is to keep a folder containing all of your important documents such as banking and student finance information and print out and bring any details the university has sent to you for registration in your first week.
Studying Abroad or International Students
Preparation is arguably more crucial if you are an international student coming to the UK or a UK student studying abroad. Make sure you have a visa sorted (if required), travel documents printed off and plane tickets booked. Also, consider how you will get to the university from the airport itself. Book a taxi or transport in advance and don’t forget a travel adaptor and exchanged currency for easily available cash.
How to make the most of Freshers Week
Freshers Week is a great opportunity to explore your new town, city or college, meet coursemates, join clubs and societies and start preparing for your first year of studying. Expect it to be hectic and don’t be surprised by the awkward icebreakers – the overall experience is brilliant.
Leave Your Comfort Zone
Make sure you go out of your comfort zone and create/join opportunities with those around you. A strong recommendation is to knock on the doors of your flatmates when you first arrive and leave your door open to introduce yourself to everyone you are living with.
Explore the town or city with your housemates and coursemates to find where your lectures, labs and tutorials will be and locate spots to socialise and relax.
Attend the Freshers Fair and sign up for different sports and societies, even the ones that you have not tried before. It’s a good idea to give something new a go. University is a great time to try new sports and find what you enjoy and don’t like. You may end up rowing for the Cambridge Blue Boat!
Clubs and societies are a brilliant way to socialise and create great friendships, and they often give you the opportunity to get away to other areas of the UK or other countries. For example, in my second year of university, I went with the rowing team to the Netherlands to train for two weeks, and my friends went to the Canary Islands with the Zoology Society for marine conservation.
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How to start your studies
Read through your timetable and ensure you have all the timings in your head, especially if your timetable changes each week. We recommend that you develop good habits early on, which means attending ALL of your lectures, including the Monday morning 9AMs so you stay on top of the teaching and course content. For Oxbridge applicants, remember that the terms are only 8 weeks long so you cannot afford to coast for the first 4 weeks!
Treat each lecture as of equal importance as lecturers will often drop hints and suggestions about exams, and if they do not record the lecture, it is nearly impossible to catch up just by looking at the presentation slides later on.
Following on from this, always make notes and develop a good routine of writing them up neatly when you finish for the day. Scribbles and random words in a notebook are incredibly difficult to decipher when revising for exams.
Supervisions and Tutorials
From day one of first year, Oxbridge Students converse with senior academics which can be intimidating. This mostly occurs during tutorials and supervision. The senior academics are experts in the field you are interested in, so use the opportunity to ask questions and discuss aspects of your degree, or something you learnt from wider reading that you found fascinating.
Make sure you go to all of your tutorials or supervisions prepared with the work set by tutors, but also with any extra questions you may have.
If you find it easier to study in quieter surroundings, scope out the libraries where you can hide away without distractions. Read on here to see what Oxbridge libraries and studying is like. Think of it as an educational investment: the more effort you put in at the start and the more on top of your work you stay, the easier it will be when exams come around. You’ll have more time to revise rather than desperately trying to catch up.
How to manage your money
Students are always excited when Student Finance makes an appearance in their bank account. It disappears rapidly if you do not incorporate a good budgeting plan and keep track of your money.
No doubt, you will have heard the word budgeting hundreds of times during the run-up to starting your degree. It is crucial to do so to allow you to make the most of university and save you from leaving with a large overdraft.
Save The Student suggest an easy approach to budgeting which is to download an app-based bank to allow you to transfer money around. Estimate costs of food, nights out etc.(be very realistic) and then transfer a certain amount onto your card each month. This will stop you from overspending. Track how much you are spending and then adjust your monthly budget accordingly. Also, look for opportunities to make use of your student discount, such as using an NUS Student Card.
Convenience comes at a cost, so skip the takeaways and ready meals and develop your culinary skills. Use your leftovers and plan your meals each week. Try buying and cooking in bulk to save money too. There is no need to finish your last weeks of term eating instant noodles. Always aim to fuel your learning by eating healthy food. There are thousands of recipes online that cater directly for healthy but cheap meals. This takes us onto the next ‘how to’.
How to stay healthy
Looking after yourself is the number one priority at university. Late nights, tight deadlines, stress and poorer diets inevitably takes a toll on students each year – the Higher Education Statistics Agency reported a 210% increase in students leaving university early because of ill mental health.
Universities invest heavily in student support and ill mental health is not something you should struggle with alone. Make sure you utilise this service if you feel you need it. Mind have great information on how to cope with student life.
Which? University asked students about their experiences with finance during their time at university. They reported that more than 30% of students said that money issues had negatively impacted their mental health, which is shown in their interactive diagram below:
It is perfectly normal for students to feel homesick, especially at the start of first year. One of the best ways of overcoming this is to keep yourself busy by surrounding yourself with your coursemates and flatmates. Cook together and explore where you live to act as a distraction. Involving yourself in sports and societies will also help too.
We strongly recommend that you avoid travelling home immediately, you can always arrange to have people visit you at your university or speak to your family on FaceTime or Zoom, but delaying your first home visit will help you pass through the homesickness.
Joining a sports team is a great way to keep you healthy. Getting your heart rate up each week will support your learning, help you focus when studying and it is excellent for your mental health. Ensure you rest and achieve adequate sleep each week to help you cope with the 9AM lectures and late-night studying.
Tips For Staying Safe
Always have precautions in place for nights out. Plan how you will get home and make sure you don’t need to pass through unlit isolated areas. Carrying a personal alarm is a good idea and have your contacts easily accessible on your phone. Let someone know where you are going and when you will likely get back.
Monitor how much you drink – we are not suggesting bringing a measuring jug with you, but it is easy to get caught up in festivities. Drink plenty of water, eat food before you go out and make sure you stay with people you are comfortable with. Remember, at university, you always need to take responsibility for yourself.
Take care of your possessions – insure your valuables and remember to lock your door behind you. If you are cycling around university, always bring your bike lock, there is no point in risking it.
We have covered quite a few different tips and considerations to help you survive your first few weeks of university. Preparing early will provide a smoother transition into your new academic life, and starting your studies with the right approach will give you the best start to your university experience.
As we mentioned earlier, your health is the number one priority during university. By keeping on top of your finances, getting involved with clubs and societies and eating healthily, you will set yourself up well for the next few years of study. Your university experience is a huge part of your life so make the most of it and get the most out of it. We hope you have an amazing time.
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