About Freshers’ and Surviving Your First Year of Uni
Exactly this time last year a new chapter of my life began. I can still remember Welcome Week like it happened yesterday and it was such a roller-coaster of emotions that I doubt I’ll ever forget any minute of it. The prevailing emotion was nervousness for sure – nervousness about finding the right room at the right time, nervousness about finding new friends. Nervousness that was unnecessary if I’m looking back now, but nervousness that I’m sure everybody else felt to some extent. It wasn’t plain nervousness though, it was nervousness mixed with excitement about getting a fresh start, working towards a career I was passionate about and finding like-minded people. Whilst freshers was the craziest roller-coaster of all, my entire first year was a big up and down, although the ups definitely outweighed the downs. Uni challenged me in ways I didn’t think it would, made me grow as a person and demanded me to tackle self-doubt and sometimes failure, a scary thing but a side-effect of life. This year I’m no longer a fresher but a mentor for some of them (or buddy as we call it) and last Tuesday a fellow buddy and me had a chat with them racking our brains to give them good and useful advice. Looking back, I could definitely tell my fresher me a few things that would make life easier and I thought I would dedicate this post to sharing them with you. So whether you’re starting uni right now or have been at uni for a while, some of these tips might come in handy.
Freshers isn’t everything. Speaking of freshers, most friends who had started uni before me told me that the friends I would find during freshers week would be the people I’d spend the next 3 years with – a thought that put quite a lot of pressure on me. And although I’m still friends with people who I got to know during welcome week, I met some of my now closest friends during seminars and group projects later. One of my friends even missed the entire first week and spoiler alert, it wasn’t the end of the world. In a way, she is glad to have missed all the icebreakers and the awkward getting to know each other games and me not being a fan of small talk, I get where she is coming from. Although I wouldn’t advise you to skip freshers week – after all, it’s a good opportunity for getting to know the others on your course and learning to find your way around your campus – I would advise you not to stress about it and to just take things one step at a time – friends will come, whether that’s during that week or later in term.
Attend lectures. It can very tempting to watch every lecture from the comfort at home (ignore that if your uni doesn’t have lecture capture) but actually attending them in person will help you stay motivated, will give you the opportunity to ask questions and will make you feel like you’re truly doing this ‘uni thing’. During summer break my friends and me talked about how much we actually missed going to lectures together and rushing outside during the breaks to get a cup of tea or hot chocolate. Also it’s the lectures that truly strengthened my interests in certain areas of psychology and I do believe that you’re a lot more engaged when attending in person. And then there is the routine that comes with them, a great thing to have if you ask me.
It is normal to feel overwhelmed, especially in the beginning. I remember seeing all these reading lists and deadlines and wishing that the day had 48 hours instead of 24. But once I got used to the workload, I was fine and you quickly learn which tasks you need to dedicate more time to and which you can complete superficially. Like most things in life, uni takes some time to get used to and it is completely normal to feel overwhelmed in the beginning, especially if you have moved away from home as well. My best advice is to take things as they come and to try not to judge too quickly – I didn’t enjoy uni for the first few months but after Christmas, I actually started to love it and I’m glad I pushed through the first difficult months.
Seek help if needed. This one goes in line with the one above. One of the reasons I didn’t enjoy uni at first was because my mental health had taken a turn for the worse and because I found it hard to adjust to a completely new environment. Uni can be tough on your mental health and if you struggle with mental illness anyway, that’s not going to make things easier. There is absolutely no shame in admitting that you need help though – actually, I’ve seen statistics showing that 1/3 of students experience mental health difficulties at one point throughout their course – and there are many resources. A lot of unis have a wellbeing programme, offer counselling, disability services and you can always talk to your personal tutor – my uni also has a mental health society which you can go to if you need support. No matter what, always remember that things can and will get better (such a cliché but so true) and that you aren’t alone. And that there is help out there if you need it.
Join societies. Societies are a great way of finding like-minded people and of trying new hobbies and activities. My uni offers a crazy amount of different societies ranging from a Cocktail Society to a Boxing Society and a Language Exchange Society. I wish I had been more engaged in different societies last year and this year I’m vowing to make an effort to be part of at least 1 or 2 societies. My favourite society is the Vegan and Veggie society because pretty much all we do is eat good food – sounds like the dream, doesn’t it? – and I really want to try and attend more events this semester. So yeah, that’s a piece of advice for myself.
Get organised. I bet you read this in every post about uni but that’s because it’s true – organisation is key. I’m a person who is generally really organised and it definitely made life a lot easier last year. What I always do is get a weekly planner and then also write down things I want to get done each day into my calendar. If there is an assignment I’m not sure I can finish in one day I’ll put ‘start assignment’ down for one day and ‘finish assignment’ for the next day – that also gives you a great feeling if you can cross it off a day early. I also tried to organise my days in a way so that I’d finish everything by 6 or 7 – as important as uni is, you also need time for yourself. Which leads me to the next and last piece of advice…
Remember there is more to life than uni. Just like freshers isn’t everything, uni isn’t everything. One thing certainly more important than uni is your wellbeing and therefore it’s important to take breaks and to have some me-time. Since uni isn’t a 9-5 job, it can be easy to lose yourself in it, especially with the pressure of coursework deadlines and exams. That’s why I always set myself a time until when I would work and then spend the rest of the evening doing something else. Another thing I can very much recommend is to keep Saturdays free of uni and other work – you should have at least one day just to yourself. Balance is a simple yet very important word – don’t just do uni, do a hobby like blogging. Blog about uni. No, but in all seriousness: don’t forget that doing hobbies, seeing your family and friends and having a life outside of uni is really important. Let’s end this tip with a really cliche sentence: do more of what makes you happy.