The ultimate guide to surviving your first year of uni

before you go header

If you’re off to uni this year, here’s everything you need to know

So you're off to uni – nice job, fresher! You can forget all about school or college now, as university is a whole different experience.

It'll probably be the first time in your life that you'll be doing your own thing independently, both in your studies and in your life, so there’s plenty to prepare for  but you’ve come to the right place.

Read on to find out everything you need to know to survive your first year of uni.

Before you go

The summer might not be over yet, but you can start getting ready for uni now with these tips from students for surviving Freshers Week – including advice on making friends and sticking to a budget. 

You could also check out these 63 things students wish they had known about starting university and read this article where students explain what the first week at university is really like

And our sister site, The Uni Guide, has these 10 things every Fresher should know before they start university

If you're moving to a totally new area, give yourself a headstart by getting onto Google and searching for the best places for students new to the city, or find your uni on TSR and ask others who’ve lived there for their recommendations.

It’ll be really useful to know the basics before you start. What’s the easiest way to get to uni? Are there night buses to get you home after a late one? Which supermarkets are in walking distance? If you know the answers to these before moving, your new city won’t feel so alien when you arrive.

Now would also be a good time to brush up on some basic life skills. Be honest with yourself – what do you need to learn? Which setting should the washing machine be on? How long do eggs need boiling for? Can you reheat rice or will it kill you? All these questions can boggle the mind when Mum or Dad aren’t in shouting distance.

Learn a few basic, scurvy-preventing recipes before you fly the nest, and maybe (if you don’t already) have a go at doing your own washing and changing a bed or two. It’ll make the transition to home-alone a lot simpler.

Packing for uni

Packing

Leaving home to move into uni accommodation is a big step! Whether you’re studying 30 minutes or three hours away, there are certain things you’ll need to pack for your halls. A few general tips…

  • Plan in advance!
    Write a list of everything you're planning to take, then do the bulk of your packing a week ahead of time. This will give you time to work out exactly what you need, as well as showing you how much stuff you're actually taking. Need a hand? Check out our ultimate list of what to take to university with you so you’re 100% prepared.

  • Have a clear-out
    You’ve probably acquired a ton of stuff at home over the years and, let's face it, a lot of it you can easily live without. Take this opportunity to declutter by selling off old things on eBay or at the local car boot sale. It will make packing simpler and get you a few extra quid for your first week at uni.

  • Pack an 'essentials' bag
    Once you get to uni, there’s going to be a million things more interesting to do than unpacking. Still, it’s likely you'll want to be able to quickly get to your toothbrush or your coffee mug. Pack these in a small, separate bag so you don't have to empty an entire rucksack to find them  future you will thank you!

  • Think about what you can’t nab from the kitchen
    A kettle, a microwave, even a wooden spoon… you won’t be able to sneak these out past mum. Rather than go without a brew for your first few days, get down the supermarket before you leave to stock up on own-brand household items.

  • Plan how you're getting there
    Plane, train, automobile...? How you're getting to uni will decide how much stuff you can take with you. Alternatively, you could look at getting your kit delivered direct to your door. 

Freshers week

Freshers Week

It's here! The week you've all been waiting for. But everyone handles their first week at uni differently. 

Whilst some shave half their hair off and can be found slamming shots in the SU every night, others might be more inclined to check out the library and storm through a new Netflix series in the evenings. Whatever you choose to do is perfectly fine – it takes a while to get into the swing of student life, after all.

With that in mind, here are a few things you can do to help settle your nerves and settle yourself into your new home.

Sign up to some stuff (and go to at least one thing)
Uni is the perfect time to try something new. It might be a sport or an activity you've always wanted to try, or maybe you'll be carrying on a hobby you had at home. Whatever you choose, it's always good to get yourself out there.

During Freshers Week you'll be bombarded with options for clubs, societies, events and meetings. Take the info that interests you and sign up to anything you can see yourself enjoying. You might not actually join the Extreme Puppeteering Society, but it's good to know when they meet so you can try it once or twice. Give yourself some options and you'll be grateful for it. If you're still not convinced, here are a few extra reasons it's worth joining societies at uni.

Get to know your housemates
The icebreaker conversations are important, but try taking some time getting to know the people you're living with as the week progresses.

Ask how people are feeling about being away from home, what they're most looking forward to about the first term, things they'd like to learn and how they like their tea. Share some things about yourself, too. You might find that you have more in common with people than you think, and if you all know you're in the same boat you can look out for one another. Plus, you'll always get their tea right, which can make bleary mornings-after much better.

Go out of your comfort zone
Don't worry, we're not talking anything too extreme. But uni can be a great place to make new friends, so get out of your comfort zone and give it a try.

If you're in halls, try leaving your bedroom door open as people are arriving to let them know you're around. Or go and introduce yourself – a friendly face makes a huge difference on the first day.

As the week goes on, embrace your independence and experiment a little: try cooking something, having a mini-kitchen party getting to know your new friends or even go out for the night in your new city. 

Explore the area
Once you've got to grips with your immediate surroundings, make some time to explore your new home outside of your student halls.

Wandering around campus, checking out the library and sniffing out the best ordering spots at the student bar are all good things to do – you could even invite a new housemate or coursemate along to join. Unis tend to be in or near interesting places, so don't be ashamed to be a tourist! Go and see some sights and roam beyond campus with your friends to find some interesting places to eat, drink and generally enjoy your new student life. 

Be a good neighbour
Here are a couple of tips that can make your first week living with strangers go that little bit more smoothly…

  • Don't blast your music and/or TV – the walls are pretty thin

  • Try not to hog all the space in the shared cupboards or bathroom

  • Tidy up after yourself – no-one likes a dirty housemate!

  • If you bring anyone back after a night out, try to be considerate and keep the noise down 

  • And we're not kidding about making the tea...

Settling in surviving the year

Settling in and surviving the year

After the excitement of Freshers Week ends, it can feel like the reality of uni finally sinks in. You're technically a bit of a grown-up now, in a new city with a whole new list of priorities and responsibilities.

It's totally normal to feel a bit out of sorts when you first start, so don't panic if you don't feel settled in your new surroundings straight away. Whatever happens, remember you're not alone! Read on for some useful resources that have helped students before.

Studying

Freshers Week and socialising aside, you probably also came to uni to get your degree and learn a thing or two.

For some, the transition from A-level to degree work can feel a bit of a shock to the system  long gone are the days of teachers chasing you for coursework or homework.

This article on our sister site The Uni Guide runs through some of the key differences between college or sixth form and uni

Although you'll likely hear many students echoing the sentiment that 'first year doesn't count', it's important to use this time to help you get into the flow of things, so that you're prepared for the rest of uni.

If you're looking for ways to get organised, try using  TSR's Study Planner tool to create your very own personalised study timetable. 

Managing your money

Having a massive amount of money hit your bank every term can make you feel a bit like Beyoncé, but keep in mind that money has to cover a lot of things!

If you haven't already, you're going to want to open a student bank account  we have all the info you'll need for that right here. Then comes the harder bit  actually managing your money. Here are a couple of tips to get you started:

  • Assess what you’ve got
    Tally up the money from your student loan, any scholarships or bursaries you have, any supplementary money from your parents and the realistic earnings of any part-time work you’ll do. Make a conservative estimate of how much money you’ll have throughout the year.
     
  • List out what you need
    Rent is an obvious one, but there will be lots of other regular payments will you’ll have to make. Bills and groceries, sure. But what about prescriptions if you get sick, or printing costs for all your essays? If you plan for all the little things as well as the big stuff, you’ll be much more prepared later on.
     
  • Keep track
    Keeping an eye on what you’re spending will make it easier to make informed choices about where you need to put your money, and when you need to reign it in a bit. This way you’ll also be making more mindful decisions about your spending, as long as you keep yourself accountable! A lot of students claim a categorised spreadsheet is the easiest way to track their spending while at uni, but there are also plenty of apps out there that help you do this!
Students settling in

Homesickness

How you’ll feel when you leave home is totally unpredictable. Of course, there will be loads of new people to meet and exciting things to try, but sometimes it might feel really tough.

You’re not alone though; everyone gets homesick from time to time and there’s lots you can do to be prepared – here are a few ideas:

  • Have fun with your flatmates
    Little things like grabbing a coffee with your flatmate between lectures can feel comforting when you’re feeling homesick. In the evenings, you could head out to your Union together or check out local bars or pubs. Try anything that gets you together as a group, even if it’s just cooking dinner together or starting a new Netflix series.
     
  • Work the postman hard
    Getting a nice text message or email is one thing, but getting a handwritten letter or a parcel through the post is so much better. It will remind you that people are thinking of you, so make sure your family and friends have your uni address. Get into the routine of sending mail to them, and enjoy all the post you get in return.
     
  • Get a part-time job
    Working a few hours a week gives you something different to do and can be a great way to have fun and meet new people. Working at the SU’s party nights is a great way to get paid to socialise (minus the hangover the next day), or you could try looking on jobs sites to see what’s available in your area.
     
  • Take some advice from the TSR community about how to beat homesickness.
     

Taking care of your health 

All those late-night study (or drinking) sessions combined with a beige diet can make you feel a little rough. Obviously, living on free Domino's pizzas during Freshers is a given, but you should probably up your fruit and veg intake once you're into the swing of things. 

It might take a while to get used to shopping and planning healthy meals just for yourself, but that's all part of the uni experience! Browse TSR's recipe book to find some inspiration. And our sister site, The Uni Guide, has these student food and cooking mistakes to avoid

It's also a good idea to stay active at uni. Getting your heart-rate pumping, even for just 30 minutes a day, will have a great impact on your body and your mind. Gym membership offers waved at you during Freshers Week can seem tempting, and these are great if you have the money. But you can also introduce some simple cardio or a fitness routine into your life with little to no money. Have a look for free workouts on YouTube, read our guide on getting fit on a budget or download a couple of apps to keep you motivated.

Studying abroad

If you’re coming over to the UK to study or jetting off somewhere (probably) warmer to study, there will be some extra bits you’ll need to think about.

As well as the list above, you'll also need to pack...

  • Passport

  • Visas (if needed)

  • Multiple photocopies of passport and any other ID

  • Other travel documents (such as plane tickets!)

  • Enrolment forms and other university documents

  • Driving license 

  • Plug adaptors

  • Some exchanged currency

  • Laptop and charger

  • A phrase book – you’re going to want to speak the lingo!


A couple of things to consider:

  • Flights can be expensive, so consider the price of taking large amounts of luggage with you. Can you afford to take as much luggage as you want? Think about the cost of extra storage space.

  • Think about the logistics. If you plan to take a lot of things, can you carry them all yourself? Transport to and from airports isn't cheap either!

  • You won't be able to pop home one weekend to pick up that forgotten phone charger or that comfy favourite jumper, so prioritise those essentials.
     

Got any other questions about Freshers Week or your first year of uni? Ask them below!

What tips would you give to future students? Join in with the conversation below.

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