What I wish I’d known before uni

Next month will make it seven years since I left home for the first time, moved halfway across the country and started my life as a university student. With several of our writers at b**p getting ready to set off on that very same journey,  I wanted to share some advice and some knowledge that would have helped me out in the early days. To everyone moving on to university this year – good luck. You’re at the start of an incredible adventure.

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1 – Freshers’ week is nothing like normal university life. Everybody panics and makes friends with the first people they meet on day one of freshers’ week. In some cases, these people will still be your nearest and dearest years later (*cough* for example, my husband *cough*), whereas some you will never speak to after day eight when you discover they’re a Belieber.

Introverts may also be pleased to hear that the 24/7 socialising stops when the workload starts, which was certainly a relief for me. I was dreading the thought of lots of clubbing, but actually, the freshers’ week timetable at my uni included lots of clubbing-free activities, too (including an ice cream parlour, a film evening and ice skating) for those who preferred a more laid-back style of making friends. Freshers’ week, while intense, was a great opportunity to meet lots of people and visit lots of places in a new city. Wandering around staring hopelessly at Google Maps definitely counts as a bonding experience, as does helping to carry someone back from a club after a few too many.

It’s important to remember, too, that even if you are finding freshers’ week hard, it doesn’t mean you’ll find university life hard. One very shy girl on my corridor left for good before freshers’ week was over; if she’d waited another week, she’d have discovered a completely different atmosphere.

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2 – Clubs and societies are a ticket to a job, too. Take a moment to think about what your current career plans are. Most universities have so many clubs and societies that there’ll be several that will really add a shine to your CV. Getting a job at the end of it all might feel a million miles away, but you want to come out the other end of your course with much more than just a good degree and happy memories. (Disclaimer: some unhappy memories may also occur. Mine mostly involved ‘helping’ a 6’2″ drunk friend  on crutches up the three flights of stairs to his bedroom,  waking up 10 minutes before an important tutorial, and all-night essay crises at least once a term.)

Think about the skills you’re going to want to demonstrate three years from now. For every skill, there’s a great way to demonstrate it. There will be volunteering programmes, student newspapers, radio and theatre, events for which you could join the organising committee, politics, activism and religious groups… the list goes on!

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3 – Look after your mental health. So many new experiences at once can be really stressful, even if your mental health has always been absolutely fine. If you’re struggling with the workload, or with any aspect of your new life, seek help. The university will have support in place, and your GP will be able to help too. Talk to your course mates, too – your friends are going through the same life changes you are, and a good friend will try and be there for you.

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4 – Try and make friends with as many people as possible. Five years down the line, you might really wish that you’d made more of an effort with the people you were at uni with. One day, you might need somewhere to stay in a city you don’t know or you might need the advice of a solicitor/interior designer/business advisor, and the chances are you’re about to meet someone who fits into all of these categories. It might sound mercenary, but networking with people who might be useful is part of what university is for. I went to uni with loads of people I’d love to retrospectively suck up to, but I’m guessing that they’d see through that ploy now!

A wide social circle also means you’ll get invited to loads of snazzy weddings in a few years’ time…

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5 – Choose who you live with carefully. Almost as soon as you arrive at the start of year one, you might have to start sorting out your living arrangements for your second year. Remember that you’ll have to spend nearly all of your waking time with your future housemates, so choose them very wisely. Things to consider (which I didn’t, and which caused me a lot of anguish):

How does your budget compare to theirs? If they’re looking at more expensive houses, it might stretch your budget, and they might have different views to you on what is an acceptable amount to spend on heating/electricity/Netflix. Most houses share bills equally, which can cause problems if certain people use more of the resources than others. Equally, if you’re used to a more lavish lifestyle than your friends, how will you feel about not being able to put the heating on when you want or not ordering pizza every Friday?

How do your routines compare to theirs? If you love clubbing, will they cope if they’re normally in bed by 10pm or vice versa? If your course means you’re in the house a lot, but they will all be out from 9-5 every day, will you get lonely, or feel left out?

How do your habits compare to theirs? Are you meticulously tidy or a bit of a scruff, and will you cope with a house filled with the other type? Do you like to make all your own meals, or cook once a week for the whole house, and would you enjoy the other way around? Do you like popping in and out of friends’ rooms, or would you want to shut the door for some peace and quiet?

Will your relationships survive the ups and downs of the year? Most importantly, choose people you’re comfortable with, and all the other issues should be things you can work out.

(In case you didn’t guess from the hints, I was a poor, tidy, home-loving early riser living in a house filled with rich, electricity-wasting clubbers. I spent a lot of time at friends’ houses!)

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5 – Try and get ahead with your workload. It’s good to get a bit ahead so that you have a clean conscience if you get a cold, your laptop breaks, or you want to go to a last-minute party. It’ll probably make your work better too if it’s not all done at the last minute – easier said than done, I know. Having said that, one of the best essays written on my degree was composed in two hours flat whilst sat at the back of a drama rehearsal, so other approaches might work too!

It can be hard – particularly when faced with so much that you want to enjoy! – to actually get down to the hard work part of your course, but remember that that’s the reason you’re starting your adult life with a big pile of debt. My breath was utterly taken away by the adventure of a whole city to explore (as opposed to a tiny Yorkshire village…), lots of new and exciting friends, the freedom of no parental restrictions and more money than I’d ever had in my bank account. It took a while to come back down to earth, and it would perhaps have helped to be more sensible.

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6 – Remember to eat properly. I lived off instant noodles, custard creams, coffee and alcohol for the entire first term, and unsurprisingly was stricken down with scarlet fever in the Christmas holidays (who knew that was still around!?). I’m not saying you need to buy a copy of Deliciously Ella, but try and remember to get some fruit, veg and protein occasionally. There’s nothing wrong with beans on toast, pasta and frozen peas or peanut butter sandwiches if you don’t have the time or the money to learn to cook before you start. If you already happen to know how to cook, kudos to you!

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7 – Finally, enjoy! For most people, university is a time of utter joy. Try as many new experiences as possible, and don’t forget to phone home every week! Have an utterly fabulous time. I did.

– Sam, editor at b**p