I'm going to uni! Wait... I'm going to uni??
"I was excited about leaving home, meeting new people and having my independence. But I was also so nervous. Would I get on with my flatmates and make friends? Would I like my course? Could I look after myself?"
Sound like you? Before you start uni, you're probably going to get hit by a similar barrage of emotions. It happens to most people; being a fresher typically means buzzing excitement whizzed up with nerves about stepping into the unknown.
Those nerves are easier to get past if you’ve got a better idea of what to expect. Happily enough, that’s exactly what you’ve got here. This guide features help and advice from students past and present on every aspect of starting uni. What’s it like living in halls? Do you have to get blasted every night to fit in? Will you have enough money to live on? Read on for the answers to all your questions about the life of a fresher.
"Honestly, you'll be fine. Be yourself; you'll make new friends and get to know many new people!"
What to expect during Freshers' Week
What springs to mind when you think of Fresher’s Week? Jagerbombs and pub crawls? Freedom from parents? Takeaways and foreign cinema?
The truth is that Fresher’s is whatever you want it to be. Whatever you're into, you'll find like-minded people at uni. And if you’re anxious about Fresher’s, this is why you shouldn’t be: university gives you a chance to truly be yourself. Those hobbies that seemed nerdy or uncool at school now have entire fan clubs around them. The cliques and stereotypes have disappeared. This is a whole new experience, and it can be whatever you want it to be.
Here are a few tips to help you settle into your first week:
- Get out of your new room and introduce yourself. If you feel awkward about it, remember everyone else does too. Don’t let nerves hold you back.
- Get chatting. Within an hour of arriving at uni, you'll have heard the questions 'where are you from?' and 'what A-levels did you do?' roughly one billion times, but don't worry about that - it breaks the ice. Before you know it, the conversation will have gone random and you'll be talking about anything from serious politics to whether you would rather fight one bear-sized spider or one hundred spider-sized bears.
- Go exploring with people. Need some shopping? Ask someone to come along and try to find the supermarket. Fresher’s fayre on? Bring your new flatmates.
The early days can be unsettling; after all, you're in a brand new place. So don't put pressure on yourself to be having an AMAZING time straight away; give yourself time to settle in.
"Most people have a great first day, and a great Fresher's Week.
But I wish someone had told me that it's not like that for everyone, so that I'd be prepared for it and it wouldn't be such a shock to the system when that didn't happen for me.
And I wish someone had told me that pretty much EVERYONE makes friends at uni, and have a great time in the end, but it takes some people longer than others."
Most freshers live in halls - but what yours are like will depend on your uni. The best way to know what to expect is by looking at the accommodation pages on your university’s website. Mostly, you're going to be looking at a small-ish room with space for a single bed and a desk.
There will be loads of other rooms around yours - they might be arranged into self-contained flats, particularly if you are going self-catered, where you will get a shared kitchen.
You can often stump up some extra cash to get an en-suite - whether you think it’s worth the money is up to you. Otherwise you’ll be looking at a shared bathroom - which is honestly nothing to worry about.
Halls have rules, and again these vary depending on the uni. Some of them will be sensible and pretty self-explanatory (don't light barbecues in your kitchen). Plenty of others will be a bit petty and annoying (don't put posters up on your walls) and - as you might expect - you'll find most people will ignore them.
"The rule in my brother's room was that he wasn't allowed to put posters up, but he did anyway and used Blu-tac and it wasn't a problem so I shouldn't worry too much."
Common questions about halls
Who will I be living with? You’ll be in with a mix of new people. First year students tend to be put in halls full of other first years. You don't have to wait until you get there to find out who they are; people often find their flatmates-to-be by checking the uni’s Facebook page. Find your uni’s forum on TSR and you’ll be able to speak to other new and current students.
Will I have to share a room? You'll have your own room unless you've specifically signed up to share a room (which is miles cheaper if you can handle the reduced privacy).
I’m not in halls, am I doomed to make no friends? Halls are a great way to meet people, but they’re only one way. If you’re in private accommodation or living at home, you’ll still meet people in your lectures, by joining societies and sports clubs or at union nights out.
What if I hate my halls? Give it a chance. Not just a couple of days, but a couple of months. Once you’re past the 'this is weird' nerves, you’ll probably settle in. If not, have a chat with your uni’s accommodation department about your options. You won’t be stuck there if you really don’t want to be.
What the unis say
What can students do if they’re not happy with the halls where they are living?
"For many people, it can take a few weeks to settle into halls – for most it’s their first time living away from home, in a new city with new flatmates. Sometimes, for whatever reason, the flat they start in might not be the best place for them for the rest of the year. Perhaps it’s a case of wanting a different type of accommodation, a different location on campus or just not clicking with flatmates.
"If you’re not happy, the first thing is to talk to your Senior Resident who will be able to help you get to know your flatmates better and those in the wider block too. Maybe it’s time to organize a bowling trip or film night to get to know everyone in a different environment from the flat? If you’re still not happy, then maybe a flat swap is the thing to do. Have a chat with your accommodation office; they keep a list of names of people in the same position that you can swap flats with and try a different location. Finally, don’t forget to speak to the SU too – they have loads of advisers to help you during your time at uni, especially finding your way in your first term."
Roshan Walkerley, higher education adviser, UEA
Got another question? Add it to our student accommodation forum
“I found my flatmates on a Facebook page for the uni, so I had a chance to chat to them beforehand. We even arranged who should bring what, so we didn’t end up with six toasters!”
"Leave your door open so you're welcoming people in. I know some people will feel like hiding under their bed and never appearing, however freshers and the first day is all about making impressions. You have to drop your safety barriers and branch out.
Don't forget everyone is in the same boat as you; enjoy yourself and take lots of photos."
"Be friendly, introduce yourself to your flatmates when you get there, keep your door propped open at times so people know you're in, and just have fun. I'm shy and quite reserved but even so I managed to scrape through the first day with ease and woke up the next day feeling good."
University sports clubs and societies
One of the biggest perks of uni life is joining student groups, full of people who share your interests.
Getting involved with the stuff that's going on around campus is a great way to make friends, have new experiences and develop skills. If you think there is a gap in the market you can even apply for funding from your student union (SU) to set up a new group.
You can see what's available before you get to uni by checking the SU website. It will list all the groups, societies and sports clubs that are running.
If you don’t have time, no worries. When you get there, a Freshers' Fair will be running where you can meet reps from all the societies and clubs.
You can sign up to whatever you fancy and many of them will have try-out events in the week after Freshers where you can meet other club members and see if you like it.
If you’re sporty, look out for the sports fair - where you can chat to reps from all the clubs. It doesn't matter if you’ve never played the sport before, all clubs will be ready to welcome newbies who are keen to try something new. You might even get the chance to represent your uni in BUCS, a national university and college sports league which schedules games for every Wednesday afternoon.
If you fancy a more relaxed kick-around check out the uni’s intra-mural league where you can play for your halls or course team.
Find out more
How to not starve (or 'cooking for yourself at uni')
So you’re settled in and your belly is starting to rumble. Sure, you could get in a takeaway, but there's a habit that's a one-way ticket to skintsville. Nope, you're going to have to cook.
Maybe you're already a bit of a pro in the kitchen, in which case you are going to be Mr or Mrs Popular as everyone comes to you for tips on creating something edible.
But even if you've never attempted anything more challenging than a bowl of Shreddies, by following a few basic tips you can whip up cheap good food easily.
Here are three cooking tips to get you started and fuel you through that first week:
- Cooking pasta. Chuck it in a pan of boiling water and cook it until it’s al dente (soft on the outside, slight bite on the inside). It depends on the pasta, but it should take 10-15 minutes (check the packet). Chuck on some pesto for instant sauce.
- Cooking rice. Same kind of thing here, bung the rice in some boiling water for 10-15 minutes (check the packet again). While it's cooking, heat up a jar of curry sauce, fry up some veggies or meat and you’re sorted.
- Making ramen. Students live off ramen. Simply rip open the packet, fill up with boiling water, and if you’re feeling ambitious, stick an egg on the top. Easy.
Those are some basics, but you’ll need more than that to dodge a dose of scurvy in your first term. Supermarkets are packed with healthy foods that are cheap: so raid the fruit and veg section, grab fresh stuff like eggs and hummus and stock up on big packets of lentils, chickpeas and other store cupboard essentials.
How to budget at uni
Most people are skint while they're at uni: fact. Trouble is, at the start of the year you're going to feel minted. Your loan comes in and suddenly you're sitting on a couple of thousand. It doesn't matter how financially savvy you are - the urge to spend is there.
Resist! Don't become the urban mythical student who blows all their cash during Freshers' Week and spends the next three months living off porridge. Don't be one of those suckers who doesn't realise they're out of funds until their card gets eaten by the cash machine, never to return. What you need to do is...budget.
You might not have done this before; most freshers won't. If you've been living at home with your folks until now, there's been no point. If you need a hand - this thread has a downloadable budget that can keep you straight all the way through until the next loan instalment arrives.
So long as you applied in time (before the May deadline) you'll get the first chunk of your loan in September - before your course starts. If you're having any trouble or have any questions, head over to the Student Finance section. TSR has reps from Student Finance on site every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between 1pm and 4pm. Just add your question to get one-on-one support.
If you've not already got a student bank account, find one now. Don't just sit on the bank account you've had since you were a kid - if you get a student account you'll get an interest-free overdraft - as well as some nice bribes/freebies, such as a free 16-25 railcard for the duration of your course. Check our article on the best student bank accounts to find the one that suits you.
You can stretch your money a bit further by looking for deals. Discounts are everywhere when you're a student - you'll find shops, bars and websites are falling over themselves to give you money-off deals on everything from Apple Macs to zoo visits.
But if you do find yourself flat broke, seek advice before you do anything else. Your uni will have a support network for students who are struggling for cash - and there will be a hardship fund for those who have run out of options. Those payday loan companies might start to look tempting - but before you even consider taking that particular path, make sure you're fully aware of the interest you'll be paying back. Payday loans have got more legit and regulated, but they're still a seriously expensive way to borrow money.
Finally, how would you feel if someone else got your loan money? Don't let it happen: check the bank details you've given to Student Finance and stay sharp to scam emails.
What lectures are like
Studying at uni is completely different from what you'll be used to at school or college. Gone is the tired lesson > homework > exam template. Welcome to the new lecture > seminar > hours in the library/lab > coursework > exam life.
If you’re a science student, you're going to spend most of your study time working in labs or writing lab reports. If you’re an arts or social sciences student, you'll be getting to know the library intimately. In most cases, for every one hour of taught time you’ll have to do several hours of independent study.
Uni terms explained:
Lectures aren't all that different from school or college lessons - there's just more people in the room and, typically, less room for interaction. Go to a lecture and you and a bunch of other students (perhaps as many as 100) will listen intently while the lecturer imparts their wisdom. You’re unlikely to be tested in lectures.
Seminars are smaller classes of interactive learning. They may follow on directly from specific lectures and you'll normally have been asked to have prepared for each one in some way. You’re likely to be asked to get involved, perhaps by giving a presentation.
Labs tend to be practical, hands-on lessons doing supervised experiments. These are all about demonstrating techniques and collecting data, to later be written up in lab reports.
City unis, campus unis and going out
What the unis say
Campus v city: what's best for me?
"Every university is a little bit different, in particular the facilities they offer and the environment that students are studying in. However, you can broadly categorise most unis into either a campus or a city uni.
"There are pros and cons to each and many people have a strong preference to one type. Understanding whether you want a campus or city experience can really help in narrowing down your choices and finding the right five universities to apply to.
"A campus university typically has all facilities located on one main site. This will include academic buildings and facilities, halls of residence, student union and sports facilities as well as a range of social and eating venues all together. It can be great to live only a few minutes’ walk from lectures and seminars and you can make the most of your time between classes by popping back to your flat or using the sports facilities. You feel a great sense of community; being surrounded by students in a dedicated space can help in that first move away from home.
"The other type is a city uni. Often nestled amid shops and businesses, this type of uni is right at the heart of things. You may have a commute from accommodation to get to classes, but once you’re there, you are right on top of everything your chosen city has to offer. University buildings may be scattered around the city and so as you travel around to different departments, you have a chance to really get to know your new home. Sometimes students feel less part of a student community, but feel a greater connection with their city.
"The best way to help you decide on campus or city is...an open day, of course! If you are able to visit a few places, it's well worth the time and effort to see the facilities, accommodation and get a sense of what the university campus and/or city is all about."
Roshan Walkerley, higher education adviser, UEA
If you're living on campus your accommodation is likely to be set in the heart of the student village. Chances are you’ll be able to walk to lectures, the SU and other facilities. If you’ve chosen a city-based uni with multiple campuses, it’s likely you’ve already worked out where the majority of your lectures will be and how to get there.
If you need to travel by public transport get yourself hooked up with a travel card. In London, a student Oyster card is a must - it will save you a fortune. If you're studying in the city, save cash by taking lunch with you. If you’re on campus, it's easy to pop home for food.
Your SU will run student nights and events but you'll also be on the look-out for student nights in the city. Venues in the city will be set up to cater for a student audience - particularly midweek when no-one else is going out. So you'll always be able to find something interesting happening somewhere.
SUs check local taxi companies and there will be information about these in your halls. You can save the numbers in your phone as most will have agreed a student rate.
If your campus is based in the countryside, you'll find there are loads of events happening on campus. But you'll want to have some nights out in the city as well - and it's a smart idea to plan these in advance so you can book your transport ahead of time. It's miles cheaper that way.
Looking after yourself at uni
Unless you've already lived away from home, going to uni is going to be your first experience of 'life admin': thrilling things such as paying bills, doing the washing and finding accommodation.
In halls, your bills are normally all included in your rent - but you should check to make sure. Once you move into private digs, it's down to you. You and your housemates will be responsible for setting up, paying and cancelling all your household bills as soon as you move in or out of a property.
Some halls provide a cleaning service, so the communal areas (bathrooms, kitchens and the like) are cleaned for you. Not all of them do, however, so it's another thing you need to double-check. You'll definitely be responsible for doing your laundry - your halls will have a launderette on site, for which you'll constantly be hunting for change to power the machines.
Some of the other stuff you'll need to think about might be less obvious. Keeping your living space secure is important - students are seen as soft targets by burglars. Lock everything up when you go out - and make sure everything's turned off, too. Get some contents insurance, just in case. When you're out for the night, keep in touch with your mates so people don't get lost.
You'll also need to be on top of all your documents; so you can keep track of your student loan and anything needed by your uni.
Support at uni
During Freshers week expect to see lots of current students with signs and t-shirts who will be ready to give you directions and advice. You’ll also attend introductory lectures for your course and have a meeting arranged to meet your personal tutor.
If you’re moving into uni halls and private accommodation you’ll meet your residence association reps when you arrive. They live onsite and will have regular drop-in hours to take any questions you have. If you’re commuting to uni, don’t worry! There will be a home student society who will hold events so you can meet other students like you. The same for international students.
The Student Union can provide you with advice and support and most will have a representation service which will support you if you run into any tricky situations with your course or personal stuff. Nightline, a national student peer-to-peer listening service, will also be based at the SU. There will be a multi-faith chaplaincy on campus supported by members of each faith and religion that you’ll be able to talk to as well as faith-based student groups.
Sometimes it can be hard to settle in to uni-life – if this happens to you, don’t worry, feeling homesick has happened to all of us at some point. If you feel like it’s affecting your mental health, check out the uni’s on-campus counselling services.
In your starter pack from the uni make sure you keep an eye out for university affiliated or recommended GP and dental surgeries as well as sexual health clinics. Get yourself along to the surgeries and get registered in your first week. It might be a bit dull but you want to make sure you’re covered in case the dreaded Fresher’s Flu comes your way.
Finally, get a meningitis vaccine before you go to uni. Students are a particularly at-risk group, so make sure you're covered.
Find out more
How to find jobs at uni
Getting a part-time job is a must for many students. As well as bringing in some extra funds, it gives you experience and helps you meet new people in the area. If you're planning on working as well as studying, just bear in mind it can be difficult to fit around uni - some universities even ban these arrangements.
Once you're on the job hunt, you'll need an up-to-date CV and covering letter template. Remember, if you are an international student you are limited by your visa restrictions.
Common job types as a student
Pros: fixed, reliable income. Cons: you will usually work to a set number or hours or days so it can be less flexible and more time consuming than zero hour contracts
Pros: a good way to build up experience and top up income with no obligation to accept any work
Cons: the employer is not obliged to provide any minimum working hours, so this option does not provide a fixed or reliable income
Pros: a good way to build up and vary your professional experience
Cons: length of contract will vary from employer to employer so it can be trickier to get flexible employers that allow time off for studies
SU or campus jobs
Pros: it’s based onsite with the uni so the work is naturally easier to fit around studies.
Cons: everyone wants one so can be harder to get.
If you get a job, make sure you're aware of the minimum wage:
- Workers aged 25 or older: £7.20/hr
- Workers aged 21 or older: £6.70/hr
- Workers aged 18 to 20: £5.30/hr
Watch out for dodgy employers who try to pay you less - for example by asking you to go self-employed or 'cash in hand' on a lower rate or classing tips as part of your wage.
What the unis say
How do unis help students find part-time work?
"Lots of students have a part time job whilst at uni – a great way to build skills and flesh out the CV as well as supplement that student loan too. At UEA, we employ students to help out with events and visits – the ambassador scheme is a really flexible and rewarding role that is open to students throughout their degree.
"The SU also employ lots of students in the shops and bars so there are plenty of opportunities to work on campus. For all these and for lots more vacancies in the city centre and beyond, the Careers Central team offer a comprehensive job listings service as well as CV drop-in clinics, mock interviews and careers advice."
Roshan Walkerley, higher education adviser, UEA
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