A Survival Guide: Your First Year at University

I’ve been planning this post for a long time, and this has been requested by a few people. Hopefully by now you’ve found out that you’ve got into uni and you’re now undergoing a huge roller coaster ride of excitement, nerves and stress about heading off and your Mum has got a ‘to-pack’ list in full swing. I wish I had a post like this before going but because I took like a fish to water to university life I’ve put together a handy little (but quite long) guide to surviving those first weeks and months. With a lil’ help from my friends, I hope you find our tips useful and maybe you’ll bookmark it when you need a little help or forward it to someone who does!

1. Making Friends. This is perhaps one of the most daunting tasks for many. If you’re more introvert than extrovert, then maybe this doesn’t come easy to you. Remember that every other person is in the same boat as you. Say hi, introduce yourself, ask them what course they’re doing. This is the best time to find loads of exciting new people that could become friends for life. Don’t limit yourself to just your flatmates either, and don’t worry if you don’t get on! There’s so many societies you can join to suit your interests from Harry Potter appreciation to Tea drinking to Sports clubs so you are bound to find someone in common! Make sure you make the most of the Freshers events too because this is the perfect way to meet people even if you aren’t a heavy drinker. There’ll be lots of other events held by your students union to ensure everyone meets as many people as possible!

“Go to as many things as possible. I’m not talking about club nights – if you hear about a products that’s being put on, poetry or film evenings or visiting lecturers it’s definitely worth going to these things. Not only do you get to build upon your interests or find something new, you’ll get to meet tons of cool people outside of your course!” – Nora, English Lit with Creative Writing, UoB (read her blog!)

2. Independent Living with Other People… Suddenly your parents leave you in your room alone, in a flat full of other people who you’ve just met. How did Mum tell you to make chilli again!? Make sure you keep in contact with home and don’t forget about your home friends. That being said, some will forget about you but every one moves on and you realise who your real friends are. In terms of cooking on your own, I’d suggest a student cookbook – Nosh For Students is a brilliant start to any novice cooks collection!
Living in close proximity to other people 24/7 can inevitably mean arguments arise. Instead of stropping about stuff, talk it through with people. If you live with someone, you cannot hold grudges or avoid them! You’re an adult now, and gone are the days when people deal with stuff in a ‘high school’ manner – ie bitching and fighting. Arguments tend to arise over washing up and cleaning so it may get to the stage where you just do your own. If you have serious issues, speak to your student mentors or personal tutors because they’ll be there to give advice!

“Be tolerant of people. Unless you are super lucky, you are unlikely to see eye to eye with the random selection of people you end up living with. Don’t let yourself get wound up every time someone does something you wouldn’t do. It’s a waste of energy and people won’t change to suit you!.” – Emily, English Lit with Creative writing, UoB. Good Girl Gone Brum.

3. Freshers Week. The best, most tiring week of your life. I had an absolute blast because I went nuts and went out eight nights in a row (resulting in a nap in my first ever lecture…) Go to as much as you can. Yep even the clubby nights, even if it’s just one! You’ll meet loads of people and the fancy dress nights are so much fun. Everyone is there to have a good time and it’s amazing! If an all-club-night freshers week isn’t your thing, then your union will organise events that aren’t just club nights. UoB did pizza and bowling evenings and movie nights! Make sure to go to freshers fair and the society fairs too to eat your weight in free pizza, sign up to unnecessary emails from clubs and get involved in awesome societies.

“Bring more fancy dress than you think you need… You’ll definitely need it!” – Georgia, English Lit with Creative Writing, UoB.

4. Make your room a home! Your flat will be bare when you move in so the first thing I would do in your room is make it your own! Put posters and photos up, buy nice duvet covers… most rooms in halls have a notice board too so cover that with little things from your life! I had a big pin board in mine and just stuck stuff up all over it like tickets, photos alongside my timetable. I put fairy lights around it too to make it feel all chilled when I came back from lectures. You won’t be allowed to burn candles in there, so bring a diffuser to make it smell beaut! Just make it as cosy as possible so it doesn’t feel like a generic room.

“Aside from photos of family and friends, bring something from home like a cuddly toy. It seems silly but will definitely cheer you up if you end up feeling homesick. Fill  your bookshelf with you favourite books too – when you’re tired of something you can read something you want to read!” – Nora, UoB.

5. Don’t come home the minute you feel homesick. This is difficult and kinda brutal but it works. I didn’t come home until November (mainly because I was having a wicked time) but because I knew if I came home too soon I knew I’d want to stay. Now I can’t wait to get back to Birmingham, I literally have two lives now it’s so weird. I remember that about a month in I was so so ill with Freshers Flu (hell, it exists guys – don’t forget the vitamins and flu tablets!!) for a week and I just felt disgusting. All I wanted was home but I stayed because I knew if I could survive that crappy week, I’d be fine. This put my parents at ease too because they knew I was ok and not so ill I had to come home. I think I cried down the phone once because I felt so poorly but I’m lucky to have a mother hen living with me. Plus, there were four of us ill in my flat and I remember sitting round the table wrapped in blankets wallowing in germs and crying with happiness at the fact we had JELLY. Stick together if you’re ill, it works. This little anecdote has doubled up as what to when you’re ill too I guess, so I would add to that: berocca, flu tablets, blankets and all of the TV shows you can find. Disney films also.

6. Finances. UH OH. Students are known for being skint most of the time, but it is possible not to be! Find out how much student loan you’ll be getting and what this will cover of your rent. Budget in food, nights out, toiletries etc. Make savings everywhere you can by using student discounts. Sign up to UNiDAYS for discounts across all your favourite shops online and instore. If you open a student bank account with Santander, they also give you a free 16-25 railcard for three years, which saves you 33% on your rail fares (VERY worth it!!) You may be able to get a job on campus which will give you a bit of extra cash for things you want (rather than need…) and these are great because they fit around your uni timetable. Ready meals are more expensive in the long run and are pretty bad for you, so get your flatmates together and make a few joint meals. (Check out Emily’s ‘Spend or Save’ series)

“Make sure you know what your budget is. Once your loan has come through, work out how long it needs to last and work from there. There’s nothing worse than counting down the days until your next instalment because your fridge shelf is empty and you can’t afford to go to the end of term ball…” – Emily, Good Girl Gone Brum.

“An overdraft isn’t real money…” – Hilary, History, UoB.

“Keep checking your bank balance online. As horrible as it is looking at your finances, it’s good to know where you’re at!” – Emily, History of Art and Italian, UoB.

7. “I forgot I’m doing a degree…” Yeah, remember you’re there to study too… A lot of people don’t realise that university level work is a lot different to school and nearly flunk first year because they think it doesn’t count (at a lot of universities, it doesn’t but you still need 40% to go to year 2!) Work is a lot more independent and you’re required to do a lot of background reading around the course. Make sure you know what reading you need to do before you go (and try and do it – the first few weeks tend to be a little work-less…) Ensure you’re organised by buying folders and a lot of notebooks. I use my Filofax to keep my life organised! My deadlines are usually posted online so I make sure I make a note of these in advance. Get your work and play balance right, and don’t go out the night before your exam because it’s worth 5% of your module. Bad. Idea.

“Two words: Classic FM.” – Alex on his revision soundtrack… Chemical Engineering, UoB.

8. Get to know the city. Where ever you are, make sure you make the most of the location. Most student towns/cities are full of things to do and it’s so not true when people say you have to be in London to be in an exciting place! Birmingham is packed with amazing places you just have to find them! Plus you’ll discover lots of new places to go with your new pals and organise your socials at, right?

9. Enjoy yourself! Make the most of your year, because you won’t get to do it again! The best thing I learnt this year was that people will like you, for YOU. You won’t have to change yourself ‘to be liked’ 99% of people have moved on from the awful high school clique mentality. University gives you the chance to develop your interests and follow your passions so make the most of everything this year. I’m so jealous of all of you for going to the first time!! I had the best first year and I hope you all do too, SO good luck and I hope you found this post useful!

My flatmate would like to say one last word on surviving life in general…. “Cake!”

My friend Emily from Good Girl Gone Brum has also done a post on a Student Survival Kit, with little necessities you may find useful!

*The extra tips in this post are from my course friends
and flatmates! Any questions, drop me a tweet: @sophie_etc_