Surviving University 101: Life Advice From a Boring Graduate

Well, now that results day is done and dusted, the crying has stopped and the gap yah wankers’ floral pants and sandals are touching ground Thailand, the rest of the UK’S eighteen year olds are starting that nervous excitement of preparing for uni. I remember it well, packing every item of clothing I owned (even if I hadn’t worn it in years), putting way too much thought and effort into how to make a toga out of a bedsheet, buying wall art for my new digs that would show off my unique personality and buying every textbook on the reading list even though, realistically, at least half of them would never be opened. It’s an exciting yet absolutely bloody terrifying time, well for an anxious introvert like me it definitely was more of the latter, and like most things in life I now look back and wonder what I was worried about – it’s over before you know it and everything always seems easier in hindsight. However, I did learn a few valuable lessons along the way and at the risk of sounding like a total grandma, there are a few things I wish I’d known before I started this chapter of my life so I thought now is the ideal time to share these really, isn’t it?

My university experience was far from typical – my family situation is unusual, my sister moved me into my halls and I had to work part time to support myself through my degree; plus the university I went to was fairly unusual – full of posh twats, had a practically medieval collegiate system and was mostly catered halls so the majority of my experiences there aren’t applicable to other people’s, but there are a few overall bits of advice that I wish someone had given me before I started.

Firstly – fresher’s week. You will spend weeks before starting university planning this; obsessing over the fancy dress nights, what everyone will be wearing and where the coolest people will be going. I essentially bought a whole new wardrobe for fresher’s and it was a total waste of money. Fresher’s is absolutely not a big deal and I wish someone had told me that. I went out every night of that week and boy did I pay for it, particularly as I didn’t particularly enjoy it. If you’re a party animal and love nights out that is absolutely fine, go crazy every night for the whole term if you want, but do not feel under pressure to do so. I forced myself to go out every night of fresher’s week because I was convinced that I’d be an outcast if I didn’t. By Halloween, I couldn’t tell you the name of anyone I met in fresher’s week; this is not the time where you meet your lifelong friends or new boyfriend, it’s a filler week and you meet random people who you’ll more than likely not see again. The meaningful friendships I made came from people on my course and in my corridor, so if you want to have a quiet night in front of Netflix during fresher’s, you go ahead because it won’t make a jot of difference. Nobody will notice.

While I’m on the subject of fresher’s week, you get absolutely bombarded with information in those first few days and it can feel a tad overwhelming and slightly irrelevant, but I would stress that it’s really important to know where the support services are because you more than likely won’t be told again. Even if you don’t need them at first, you never know what those three years will bring – so make sure you know where the academic support is in case you ever need an extension on work or you go through some adverse circumstances that need consideration for your grades; and familiarise yourself with the mental health services. Again, even if you start the year feeling totally fine, you never know what’s round the corner. University is a stressful period in itself, and life has an annoying tendency to get in the way – break ups, bereavements, financial problems; you never know what’s going to come your way in the next three years so it’s good to be prepared just in case.

Just as important as your mental health – your physical health. Fresher’s flu is very real, even if you don’t go out drinking at all. Uni halls are typically really unsanitary and people will have moved there from all over the country, and other parts of the world, bringing cold and flu strains that you’ve never been hit by. It’s not just a case of nursing your hangover to get by, I would strongly advise sanitising everything and keeping on top of your vitamins. I had one of the worst viral infections of my life in the winter of first year – catered halls and living practically on top of each other meant it was a breeding ground for germs. From that point on I kept my hands sanitised, my room thoroughly Flash-wiped and vitamin C and zinc became part of my daily routine – and my god did it help.

Once fresher’s is done, don’t piss away your first year. Yes, you only need 40% in that first year but you do get a full transcript when you graduate and it doesn’t look great if you have some thirds on there. Also, from my experience, the people who worked hard and took first year seriously then breezed through second and third year, or at least found it much easier than those who didn’t. Getting a routine down and knowing how you learn most effectively is so important, so get that done during the year that ultimately ‘doesn’t count’, and trust me you will not regret that when it comes to job hunting.

On the subject of job hunting, I know graduation and finding a ‘real’ job seem like they’re a world away, but trust me it will sneak up on you. I did some volunteer work while I was a student and it gave me such a leg up when that time came. Graduates are ruthless, the competition is fierce and honestly even if you get a first, you won’t be the only one going for that job. Voluntary work is usually really flexible, you can choose the hours you want and only do a couple of hours a fortnight if you’re really pushed for time, but those few hours here and there can be the difference between getting the job you want vs losing it to someone else. If you’re not sure where to look, do-it.org has a great list of opportunities available in different areas, and the university will more than likely have loads of projects you can get involved in so I would really strongly advise doing that, and not just for the last few weeks of third year when panic sets in – get into the habit of volunteering early on so you get a really good reference out of it if nothing else.

Finally, and probably most importantly, enjoy yourself! Have fun, live in the moment and try new things. I’m overly cautious and get really uncomfortable in unfamiliar situations or around new people so I definitely shut myself away more than was good for me at university. Yes, I still made some close friends for life, but honestly I regret not letting my hair down a bit more. Obviously it’s important to be safe, don’t be getting blackout drunk and passing out on the way home every night or having unprotected sex with strangers, but use this time to have fun and learn everything you can about the subject you’ve chosen. You won’t get to do it again and believe me, you’ll blink and it will all be over. Oh, and the freshman 15 is so real, but it happens to everyone so it’s really not that big of an issue.

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