Nicki Ashworth and Zara Campbell are undergraduate students studying at the University of Southampton. They are part of our Southampton Hub committee and are two of our paid student blog writers, who wanted to use our platform to share their top tips for university freshers. In this blog, they outline ten top tips which got them through the start of university.
It felt like I could never ask enough questions, or get enough answers to feel prepared for university. Everyone feels like this and for good reason – it’s independence most of us have never experienced before. You won’t understand it fully until you get there and that’s part of the fun! Figuring it out with newfound friends and flatmates is a necessary part of the Fresher experience.
That’s not to say you can’t go in with some idea of what to expect or how to handle it, so here are my top tips:
1. Say Yes to Everything* for a Month
To survive university, build yourself a community. You need many different friends and relationships to fulfil your life in a variety of ways. Friends you see most days, friends you study with, friends you see once a term for brunch… You get the picture.
To do this you need to meet people, so for my first piece of advice: say yes to everything (within reason) for a month. Say yes to the coffee and the card games and the parties. Meet as many people as you can and figure it out as you go along.
*This comes with small print, of course. Don’t overexert yourself on time, money or social battery!
2. Join Societies
Societies exist because people love them enough to keep them alive. Hopefully, that makes it clear how much they enrich and bring joy to student’s lives.
It can be really intimidating to head along to the first meeting or training session, but it’ll be so worth it. Remember, all of the older students and committee were freshers once, and are used to welcoming new members. Bite the bullet, put your nerves aside and go – you never know what’ll happen!
Don’t be afraid to try something new, either. It might feel intimidating, but a lot of societies are open to beginners as well as people who have lots of experience! You’ll quickly get to grips with whatever the activity is, and you might even discover a new passion along the way!
3. Leave the Student Bubble
I love university but it’s often isolated from the outside world; you’re interacting with students and academics and rarely anyone else. It can leave you feeling disconnected from the city or place itself and I’d encourage you to bridge this divide in some way. Getting a part-time job (off campus!) or visiting local attractions can be a great way to escape the uni bubble, even just for a bit.
I might be biased but I also think volunteering is a great option – it will get you out into the community and comes with responsibility, fulfilment and a sense of purpose. It’s a unique chance to leave the student bubble and throw yourself into life surrounding university. You’ll get to meet people that you will have not otherwise had the chance to meet, and form some really meaningful connections!
4. Don’t Stress your Social Skills
Sometimes you’ll wake up with regrets. Did you say something silly last night? Do something embarrassing? Everyone has spent a morning sitting in bed, painfully over-analysing your every action.
Socialising is a skill like any other and you won’t get it right every time. Practice makes perfect and people won’t form their opinion solely on a social misstep.
Everyone leaves freshers remembering their own worst moments and (here’s the key) forgetting everyone else’s. Don’t stress it.
5. Look After Yourself
Many of you will be living independently for the first time, and university is much more self-paced than earlier education. Remember to take breaks and time off – it can be easier said than done! Build your resilience toolkit by finding (healthy) coping mechanisms that work for you, such as walks in nature, mindfulness, and time with friends.
When getting home from a night out, it can be tempting to roll straight into bed. Resist this. Take a vitamin, drink some water and eat toast if you can stomach it. Thank me later.
Bring cold and flu medicine for the inevitable freshers flu. Trust me on this, when you’re feeling ill, you are not going to want to run to the shops and get this.
Meal prep! Make more than you need to, and freeze a portion for those days that you don’t have the energy to cook. This will save you spending a lot of money on takeaways, and means you’ve got a cheap ready-meal prepped and ready to bung in the microwave.
6. Make a Chores Chart
You’ll want to implement a chores chart relatively quickly, before everything gets gross. The main things that need to get done are:
- cleaning the bathrooms
- wiping down (and disinfecting!) kitchen surfaces
- emptying bins
It’s a shared flat, which means everyone needs to do their part. It can feel uncomfortable asking people your age to tidy up after themselves, but there is nothing worse than a messy flat, especially when it’s not even your mess.
7. Don’t Move In with the First People You Meet
You will hear people saying that you need to get houses sorted straight away, but this just isn’t the case. Houses will be around for months and you don’t need to rush into a contract.
I know it can seem stressful, especially in cities that move fast but making a mistake with your housemates is far worse than looking for houses a bit late.
It’s so much better to wait until you’ve got to know the people you want to live with better. You’ll definitely hear some second and third years saying how much they don’t get on with at least one of their housemates, and this is often because they signed a contract before getting to know them.
After all, it’s better to have a ‘worse’ house (in inverted commas!) living with your friends, than a ‘better’ house with people you rushed into a contract with, and then realised you don’t really gel with.
8. Maintenance Loans aren’t Infinite
Getting all that money at the start of term feels great but it can be dangerous. Your first loan needs to last you until January – don’t make the classic mistake of spending it all at the start and struggling through the final few weeks.
There are plenty of university budgeting spreadsheets to be found online (see this advice from Student Space on how to make a student budget). Work out how much you can afford on a weekly basis, but don’t forget to put some aside for emergencies and extraordinary events.
Balls and other more expensive events happen towards the end of term, and your first loan will need to cover Christmas and New Year too. Prepare accordingly.
A lot of restaurants, shops and attractions offer student discounts. Ensure you have the main discount apps, UNiDAYS and Student Beans, and check whenever you can!
9. Uni can feel lonely
It’s so easy to see other students you’ve befriended, or friends from home at other unis, looking like they are having the time of their lives on social media. Try to remember that social media is a highlight reel, and while these people might look like they’re having a better time than you, it may not be the case. Don’t compare your uni experience to someone else’s, because the story they’ve shared is a carefully curated fragment of their life.
A lot of people feel lonely starting university and this is completely normal. You’re starting afresh and it can take a while to build meaningful friendships. Put yourself out there, try new things and trust that those relationships will come.
Remember to check in on your friends from home – they might be finding it hard too! Either way, it’s important to maintain these relationships and support each other in this new phase of life.
If you’re still struggling, remember there are people you can talk to. Your university is well-equipped, with teams and resources dedicated to helping you. You can also check our Student Space for advice and information, find support through Student Minds, or reach out to your local Hub in Bristol, Cambridge, Kingston or Southampton.
10. Don’t Forget That It’s University
The excitement of independence is all too easy to get swept up in. You can shower and make curly fries at 4am and nobody can stop you. Freshers will probably be a blur of excitement.
However, you’re also here to learn. First year may not count but it’s knowledge you’ll need for the much tougher second year. University is fun but it’s also hard work and you shouldn’t take that lightly.
After the first month, of course…
Thank you to Nicki and Zara for their helpful tips! Nicki and Zara are some of our paid blog writers, and our submissions are currently OPEN for student writers for this academic year. We pay our writers £40 for their blog submission, and work with them to create and publish their piece. You can see Lucy Bayliss’s paid student blog about her experience of the Social Innovation Programme and Amy Cotterell’s blog about tackling the climate crisis through community and collaboration.