Words by Puddles the MonkeyStarting uni in September? You've probably read everything you can get your hands on about student life. But what are the tough lessons they never think to tell you?
Here are seven lessons previous first years learned the hard way. Learn from their experiences and save yourself some stress at uni...
1) Get in there early
I cannot turn up at the hand in office 5 minutes before it closes and hope to get my assignment in on time. The line will be too long and I will lose 10% of my mark.
…and it turns out that a 10% penalty is pretty generous for late hand-ins, some universities are much stricter: “hand your work in late and your work is capped to a bare pass (40%),” says Spotify95. And if being capped at a pass sounds bad, it gets worse: “at my uni you get a fail on that assignment,” says SophieSmall.
Seriously. Get in to the habit of handing in your work well before the deadline and giving yourself a buffer to account for last minute unexpected disasters. It’s the most frustrating thing in the world to discover you’ve written a brilliant essay, only to have it drop down a grade (or fail) because you couldn’t get it in on time.
2) You actually need to go to lectures
“A harsh lesson I've seen others learn - the uni can throw you off your course for "lack of engagement", not just for failing exams.
Even though the first year might not count towards your final grade that doesn’t mean you can doss about. If you repeatedly don’t show up for lectures or you don’t hand work in then you could get thrown out. This often comes as a surprise to students who have wholly adopted the mantra that the first year is all about the party, party, party. Have fun, but try and do a bit of work too.
3) Don’t get freshers' fair fever
Not to sign up to things at freshers' fayre just because they're giving you a free pen or stress ball, otherwise for the rest of the year you'll get floods of emails from the choir society or how to meditate.
Only sign up for things you’re genuinely interested in, or if you’re totally desperate for that Xtreme Ironing Society fridge magnet, save your inbox and use a separate email address dedicated especially for the purpose of signing up to promotional stuff.
4) Making friends takes effort...
Don't say no to going out, especially in the freshers. The more you go out the more people will know you, and the more people you'll know.
Then they’ll be banging on your door when you’re trying to study for that exam, but at least you’ll have mates to commiserate with after.
Making friends is a bit of a game of chance, and you won’t click with everyone, so don’t become a recluse because the first people you meet aren’t really your type. The more you go out the more people you’ll get to know and the more likely you’ll find yourself with a group you really click with.
Being the party planner is also a good way to make friends on your terms. Not so much of a raver? Organise board-games or movie nights round yours instead. Lots of people are secretly shy so be proactive and ask people to come out for a drink or to hang out at lunch break. The worst that can happen is they say no.
5) ...but being popular has its downsides
I learnt that people will have a celebrate-end-of-exams party in their flat despite their flatmate still having one more exam to do the following morning. I also learnt that folks will bang repeatedly on your door and scream abuse at you for being "unsocial" whilst you're trying to study for said exam.
Some students just want to have fun and not everyone will have fully-developed empathy skills yet. So prepare to be woken up, especially during first year when you’re living in halls. Bring earplugs to help dampen the noise and practise your diplomacy skills: an open and friendly face to face chat asking them to quiet down is likely to be more successful than leaving passive aggressive notes or sending emails.
If things are really bad and they just don’t seem to care then you can take things further.Here's how to handle flatmate disputes
. Read more about keeping your sanity and how flatmate drama is actually good for you here
6) You need to take care of you
“When you're ill you still have to do everything for yourself... like studying and generally feeding yourself so that you can actually survive.
It’s horrible when you’re feeling really ropey and don’t have anyone there to buy you lemsip and feed you soup and/or ice cream. So it’s worth being prepared for your eventual fresher’s flu in advance.
When you first get to uni make sure you’ve registered with your uni GP straight away – don’t wait until you’re sick to try and make an appointment, as sometimes the registration process can take a while.
Keep a mini medicine cabinet with some painkillers, plasters and any other medications you might need, (like antihistamines if you get hay fever) so that you don’t need to drag yourself to the pharmacy if you get ill. You should also keep some easy to cook foods like tinned soup in your cabinet so that you’re not ill AND hungry. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids if you get sick and sip water throughout the day if you’re feeling nauseous.
Finally, learn the signs and symptoms of meningitis
and don’t ignore any symptoms you’re worried about.
7) You will need money for second year
Budgeting. First semester of second year gave me such a scare. I didn't have enough to pay my January rent, even after increasing my overdraft by £500!
Sounds obvious, but this catches a lot of people out. Moving into private accommodation brings a few extra costs like bills and deposits which you need to be prepared for, so don’t blow all your remaining loan in the last semester. It’s also a good idea to make sure you’ve got enough in the bank to tide you over in case of emergencies, like a laptop meltdown.
Keeping a formal budget is a great way to stay on top of your finances but it does take planning and commitment. If you’re not that organised make sure you check in with your bank balance every week and put aside a certain amount every month so you don’t just burn through everything. “If you lose control with spending when you're drunk, don't take your card out with you!! says coke1.
8) There are worse things than a party house
It's probably easier to have a noisy house than a quiet one.
Having loud and sociable housemates can get frustrating at times, but living in a super quiet house can also be pretty difficult. You can wind up feeling isolated if everyone’s locked in their rooms all the time.
"I say this as a complete introvert who is pretty quiet and shy... It was just so demoralising. I did my best to get to know everyone in the house and try to organise us all going for drinks etc. but nobody was ever interested. An entire year of 9 people avoiding each other in the same house was dreadfully boring and awkward," says Aivicore.
Any of these sound familiar? What lessons did you have to learn the hard way?