Wow, first year is over! It’s been a busy experience and while I haven’t necessarily experienced enlightenment, I’ve seen how my personality has developed for the better. While I did do a lot of research about what to expect, there were some things I had to learn for myself.
As such, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite lessons from outside the lecture theatre. Whether you’ve also finished your first year, have long graduated or are looking to start your own journey in the near future, there’ll be some points you can relate to
“Whatever you do, NEVER miss a deadline”
I really can’t stress this enough; apart from the actual content of your assignments, the biggest factor affecting the grade you achieve is whether or not you met the deadline.
I’m not familiar with the procedures in non-UK universities, however, there’s usually a penalty for handing in late work. It could be a 10% or even 20% deduction per day missed or in my university’s case, a cap at 40%; this means no matter how great your work is, the most you can get is a pass.
Of course, I’m no stranger to procrastination so I avoided this mistake by scheduling all my deadlines and tasks into my calendar with notifications to make sure nothing slips my mind.
“Chances are, your friends aren’t in that course group chat (or any group chat)”
If you’ve known me for a while, then you’ll know that I’m annoyingly shy. I’ve gotten a lot better at coming out of my shell since I started the year, but a big concern of mine was making friends (which is understandably, a common concern).
In the run-up to the start of the year, I was part of a group chat for incoming students of my course; a few days in, it hit me that the only topic of conversation was about Freshers’ week and potential nights out. One issue- that’s not my thing at all . When we did eventually meet on the first day, everything and everyone (myself included) was awkward, Conversation quickly petered out and met with awkward silence, a tentative voice would pipe up, “You looking forward to [insert random club name]?”
This is not to say that you can’t or won’t make friends within your course (like two of my closest friends), but it’s definitely a lot harder to really get to know people and at worst, things end up becoming a bit cliquish.
In my experience, it’s best to try dealing with larger groups in smaller ‘chunks’ and remember, there will always be people that you just can’t be friends with.
“You don’t have to be friends with your flatmates to live harmoniously”
I know it seems like there’s a need to be friends with everyone you’re going to be in regular contact with at uni, or even that without some degree of friendship, life becomes that much harder. I’d like to make it clear that the absence of friendship is not related to civility and a friendly attitude and it goes the other way as well; just because someone is nice to you doesn’t automatically make you their friend. This might come across a little antisocial, but once you acknowledge this, it’s a whole lot of stress lifted.
It would be nice to form long lasting and real friendships with flatmates or roommates, but it’s entirely possible to support each other and hold meaningful conversations without being friends.
In my case, my (amazing) flatmate and I supported each other in different ways and had a relationship where we were both considerate of each other; whether that was by helping with each other’s washing up, cooking, looking at assignments together and all the works, but there was no pressure to ‘be friends’.
“Join a society of some sort”
Joining a society definitely made my first year experience that much more enjoyable; I’d been determined even before I joined the university and to be honest, I would have been part of the same activity regardless of where I chose to study (if the option was available). Many universities have an abundance of societies, so excuse the cliché, but there really is something for everyone.
The raved about Freshers’ Fair is probably the best place to start (and just about every university will arrange one) however, I’d recommend getting a head start by checking out your university’s Student Union page (or equivalent) and browsing the different clubs and societies on offer. I would also make sure to compare societies’ membership fees to help you make your decision and get yourself mentally and financially prepared.
You’re most likely already aware of some of the many benefits of joining a society so I won’t go into too much detail; but what I will mention is that societies allow you to meet people outside your course and year that can also be an additional support system during your time at university.
“You can’t avoid Freshers’ flu, just get ready to deal with it”
Everyone knows about Freshers’ flu; the stress of moving to a new environment coupled along with the many new germs you’ll be exposed to just by being around new people is a guaranteed prelude to a nasty flu.
I was of the mindset (like many of you might be) that if I watched my health and surrounded myself with vitamins, I would be the very happy exception to the case- I was wrong.
Within 24 hours of moving in, I had fallen victim to a nasty flu joined by swollen tonsils that left me wheezing. The upside was, I had just about fully recovered by the end of the second week and while everyone else was coughing their last breaths in lecture theatres, I was slightly disgusted, but healthy.
Since you can’t avoid Freshers’ flu, the best way to prepare is to continue with your vitamins (especially regular intake of Vitamin C), purchase some cough medicine, stay warm and wait it out.
Oh, and soup. Soup is good too.
“There’s really no need to pay full price if you can help it”
For fear of looking like I’m advocating theft (which I’m NOT), what I mean is student discounts. I’ve covered this before in my post about managing finances while at university but there are plenty of free sites that offer discounts applicable to a vast number of brands, exclusively for students.
10% off sounds tiny, but those little savings really do make a difference.
“Just because you don’t ‘go out’ doesn’t mean you won’t meet people”
This is mainly to put you at ease; we’re in a culture where the narrative is that there is a specific way to enjoy yourself, i.e. clubbing, drinking etc. but I think by now we all know those aren’t the deadset rules of socialisation. There shouldn’t be any pressure to go out, especially when you don’t feel like it (or your finances don’t permit) for fear of missing out.
The great thing about university is the sheer number of opportunities to get involved and chat to people; if partying until dawn isn’t your thing, there’ll be another way.
“Amazon Prime is only £3.99 per month for students”
What can I say? I’m a big fan of next day delivery and random discounts.
“Cooking for yourself will always be cheaper”
This isn’t up for debate. While it might seem that spending £1.99 on a Mackie D’s wrap of the day is cheaper than buying the ingredients to make your own wrap, the value you for money you get by cooking for yourself isn’t a trifling matter (especially if you’re trying to save money).
Of course, there are some days when you really can’t find the strength to stand in front of a hob. In those cases, eating out/ordering in is the go to option.
“Help is always available if you ask for it”
It may not be perfect but whether you need support in your personal or academic life, there’s definitely someone who either knows a solution or can help you find a solution.
If you’re unsure, ask around your university for information about the support facilities in place.
“Set a communications curfew”
This is something that my mum suggested to me when I was beginning to get overwhelmed by my phone blowing up at unholy hours. I set a curfew for calls at 6pm (unless there’s an emergency); that way I limited the number of late night social or assignment calls I was getting. Since text messages don’t often have the same immediacy that calls have, I just check those when I have time (or when I feel mentally ready).
Having some semblance of control of how and when people contact you is essential for maintaining your mental health and keeping your stress levels low. The difference in the structure uni is that unlike being at school, the working day doesn’t really end until bedtime (whenever that ends up being)
“Talk to the person next to you (even if you only mention something dull, like the weather)”
“Don’t leave a conversation without a name or a contact method; it’s called networking“
“What are you even doing if you don’t have a LinkedIn?”
Hopefully, you got the hint; even if you’re not at the stage where you’re looking for employment, having a LinkedIn allows you to connect with other professionals and can give you an idea of the kind of opportunities available out there. LinkedIn also comes as a mobile app, making it super convenient to connect with people on the go.
“Look for reviews on your potential GP before you register”
And this is important for your whole experience, not just with your doctors. Check for any news about the quality of service provided, how student friendly they are and any potential aggravating beauracracy.
“Set aside a little savings pot separate from your main account for emergencies
“Don’t wait until Easter to start thinking about revision”
This is especially important if you have one exam season at the end of the year (in the summer). Easter is usually the last proper holiday before the dreaded exams; after that, the only thing left to do should be practicing techniques and polishing knowledge. Waiting until Easter to start summarising your notes or thinking about the exam format is a really risky move; if you find you struggle with the concept of revision, follow these simple steps.
- Make sure your notes are complete and there are no gaps in your knowledge
- Check that you understand the layout of the exam paper; are there any multiple choice questions? Is there a case study for the exam?
- Find practice papers and work through them; you don’t need to write an answer for every question; I found it really helpful to talk through answers with a friend
“A travel flask will save your hide in the winter months”
“Keep the food that you can in your room”
This is something I learned, not through experience but through my friends’ horror stories. Unfortunately, there are some people in the world that don’t respect boundaries, especially surrounding food.
It’s a lot easier to avoid heartbreak, tears and confusion if you keep as much as you can in your room and only take it into shared spaces as needed.
“Use a budgeting app to keep track of your spending”
Sometimes it’s difficult to see how much money you’re spending, especially when you don’t really dabble in cash. In my case, I find budgeting apps to be really helpful; nowadays, mobile banking apps also offer a more visual representation of statements. For example, Monzo is an online bank that combines a budgeting feature with the other qualities of mobile banking.
“Sign up for loyalty cards where applicable”
“Treat first year like it counts (because actually, it kind of does)”
A common trope is that ‘first year doesn’t count’ and I would strongly encourage you to treat the year as otherwise. Yes, it’s true that first year grades, in most cases, don’t contribute to the final class of your degree, but first year allows you to adjust to a higher level of research and learning. It also gives you the opportunity to hone the academic skills you might not have had prior to starting your higher education journey.
Treating the year as you mean to go on (that means turning up to lectures and actively participating in your learning) relieves some of the pressure as you move up the levels; it’s a lot harder to switch modes and focus when you haven’t experienced that mental state in a while.
University is about new experiences and understanding yourself, sure, but don’t forget the main reason for going to university- to gain an education.
“Step up for positions of responsibility”
“It’s okay to have an off day (or week)”
Part of looking after your health and getting the most out of uni is monitoring your mental health. There will be days when you just don’t have the energy or emotional capability to cope with the outside world and it’s vital to recognise when you feel that way. Take the time you need to recuperate; uni is fun, but also very emotionally draining.
If you find yourself in a slump for an unusually long period of time (I allow myself about a week maximum for a slump), talk to someone. It might even do to check any medication that you’re taking for possible side effects (I’ve had some particularly bad slumps over the years, some of which may have been amplified by period medication I was on)
There we go; a summary of what I think are the most important things I’ve learned this past year. I’d love to hear about your own experiences, regardless of when your first year was, so make sure to comment below!