How to survive your first year at uni 1

Whether you are loving uni or hating it there will be parts of your first year that you look back on and regret. This is my guide to the things that I did wrong and right in my first year of uni so that the rest of you fresh-faced students can learn from my mistakes.

When you first arrive, university halls seem vaguely institutional, with their plywood furniture, poorly disguised breezeblock walls and the faint waft of bleach in the air. This combined with the utter lack of life and activity in the previously uninhabited rooms can be at best unsettling, at worst terrifying.

Your room at uni may start off dull and empty but it won't take long to fill it up!

When I began my university career I was well-versed in living away from home, having attended boarding school for five years and then spent six months travelling on my own. Even I was nervous contemplating the blank canvas upon which I could now paint my new life. For students who have never lived away from home, the prospect must be alarming.

Your first year of university should not be spent feeling frightened, upset, alone, or homesick though, it should be spent having fun. Just as it probably took less than a week for your room and your flat to be injected with life, animation and colour, your new life at uni shouldn't take any longer to become exciting and full of activity. Throw yourself into things, work hard, go out, make friends, get involved in societies and clubs and don’t be afraid to make a fool out of yourself. You will regret not having any stories about stupid things you did at uni once the responsibilities of life set in.

How to survive your first year at uni 2

You might be thinking, ‘hang on a minute, I am not depressed or upset to be at uni, I love uni’. This is amazing, lucky you, but there are still things that I regret despite thoroughly enjoying my first year of uni. I regret not getting involved in clubs and societies. It is so easy to think that you will do it next week or next month or next year but as time goes on your responsibilities and workload continue to increase. So get involved in stuff at the very beginning because it is probably the only time you will do it.

There are lots of students who take a long time to get involved in anything they do with the university. This may be because they are in long-distance relationships that see them spending every other weekend away. This is why, if you are in a problematic long-distance relationship when you get to uni don’t drag it out, break up and avoid missing out on things. Likewise, if you are slightly jaded toward the whole university experience (an affliction I admit I suffered from), drop your act and get involved, you will have so much more fun!


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I also regret working too hard. You may think that is a typical problem but, there are so many students who are frightened by the increased independence, the higher workload and the possibility of no longer being the best in the class, spend far too much time focusing on the wrong things. Having said this, working hard in your first year does teach you good habits and prepare you for the years to come. So I suppose what I really regret is working in the wrong way, expending too much energy on futile pursuits, essentially wasting time.

Nobody tells you how different the style of learning is at university or at least when they do it is always in the context of how much harder university is and how difficult independent learning is. In fact, the way you work day-to-day is also different. You are no longer expected to note and remember vast quantities of facts and details, but rather understand broad themes. Therefore, instead of spending hours reading, highlighting, and noting something down, just read it through once, turn it over and write down what the theme of the piece was, what was the writer’s argument and what were they basing it on. This is all you need to know and I really wish someone had told me that in my first year.

Those of you that are thinking, ‘I’ve got that one sorted, I will never have to worry about working too hard', will most likely regret not working harder. It is very easy to slip into the exact opposite routine that I did under the utter lack of supervision at university.  Nobody cares whether you are in lectures, if you haven’t done the reading you can just skip the seminar and so what if you get a third in your essays, you only have to pass the year after all.

How to survive your first year at uni 4

However, your first year of uni is like the building block for the rest of your degree. If you decide to only start doing work in second year you will find yourself severely lagging behind. Lecturers will expect you to understand the basics and they will not be reviewing them. Therefore, paying some attention in your first year will stand you in very good stead for later on, and if you don’t, you will definitely come to regret it. 

The final thing I regret was not knowing how important your first year of university is. It is one of the only years of life that you get to combine independence with an almost entire lack of responsibility. Enjoy it while it lasts. Make friends with as many people as you can, it doesn’t matter if you make a fool out of yourself, everyone is in the same boat; go out as much as you can handle; get your work done and get involved with as much stuff as you can possibly fit in. Most importantly, find a healthy balance between work and fun. After all, you are only in first year once!

 By Tilly Embling for ELUCEO


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