Hello First Year

Welcome to university, and sincere congratulations on getting here. Yes a lot of people are at university, but that doesn’t mean you getting here is any less of an accomplishment. No doubt your family and friends and maybe even teachers are proud of you, and you should be proud of yourself too. The joyful feelings of getting in are fleeting, so absorb them and revel in them until the reality hits. The reality first that you need to go to IKEA stat before everyone else goes and you spend 5 hours in a queue, but also that you have no idea how to go to university. What do you wear? Should you bake something? Is that weird? Should your parents stay the first night? When can you go home? Do you need an NUS card? Saucepans? How much underwear do you take? All of it?

University is weird. It is three years (occasionally four or more), and it is not necessarily going to be the best three years of your life. That is a popular saying I know, but it doesn’t make any sense. It is your life, and every year is better or worse or about the same as the last one. How the hell are you supposed to know which years are the best? Every year is happy and sad in equal parts. Why is it the best anyway? Because your parents aren’t there to get mad if you come home late? Personally I’ve yet to have a year where I’ve thought ‘this is the best so far’. Point being, don’t push your expectations so high up that you’ll never reach them. It’s only uni. It is three years of writing essays and doing exams, making new friends and learning to live without adults. It’s like school except you won’t get reminded to eat when you get home from classes.

University, contrary to what some schools believe, is not for everyone. So it’s not the end of the world if you don’t like it. However, you cannot leave before you’ve tried one whole term. My heads of sixth form were very clear; “don’t leave before Christmas”. They are so right, you have no idea. If you don’t like it, stay until Christmas. At Christmas you can go home, catch up with all your friends, spend time with family, and probably go back to working a till somewhere. After Christmas you can go back and try again, you can think straight, you can work out your game plan, and chances are, the second semester will be much easier. If you do want to leave university, unfortunately you will still owe them money, and if you got a grant you’d have to pay that back – but don’t worry they scrapped that. Now you will just owe them even more. Yet it is still an option. Do not think of university as a trap. There are options. I know many people who have done year one again, who have re-applied to the same university for a different course and people who have switched uni after one year. There’s loads of things you can do. You can even take time out.

General advice from me would start with ‘go to your lectures’. I skipped so many in first year when I realised it wasn’t like school and they had no idea who I was so they didn’t know if I was there or not. The lectures can be shit, to be perfectly honest, but they are there to help you. In second year you can at least make sure you go to the lectures that will be relevant to your essay topics; notice what and who the staff are talking about, and what texts they reference. You’ll get way higher marks if your writing is relevant, particularly to what they were actually teaching. Secondly, although I would advise against it in first year, is extensions. Up-to-a-week extensions are available if you are struggling. If mental health, family or illness is getting you down and you’ve not done as much work, then you can apply to your lecturers for a week extra. I’ve used them before when I’ve needed them, and I would recommend them if you are really struggling. It’s only a couple of days but it can make all the difference. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad for using them.

You shouldn’t let anyone make you feel bad. People fail modules all the time, most people I know in third year had extensions, most people struggle. It’s university. It is hard, otherwise they wouldn’t have wanted your best grades to get here. If they wanted As at A-level, it’s because they want to know you can cope. University is a step up, but it’s so achievable. Honestly, just sit down and do your work. I’m not saying you need a really strict routine in which you never do anything but read, write, and go to classes. I’m saying, if a reading is important, or they’ll test you on it then read it. It’s quite simple. If you have an essay deadline in a week then go get your books out and start planning. Once you realise you can do it, it becomes a lot easier to start work in other years. As you get higher up, the word count will probably increase from the hundreds to thousands until you’re telling yourself you can write a 10,000 word dissertation. Which you can. The important thing to remember at uni is that you can do it. Never tell yourself you can’t. You got here on your own, you did the work and you made your way into a university that wanted you. You can do the rest too. You can do it, and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help if you don’t feel like that.

As for freshers, girls and boys I’m going to start by saying don’t buy any bloody club wristbands. Honestly it’s £30+ that you will need in a few weeks. I went out twice in freshers, but spent plenty of nights in playing cards, learning about my housemates, talking, watching films and drinking on the kitchen floor. You really don’t need to buy a wristband for anything, and if you do go out every night that’s great – you can always buy tickets on the door. Don’t let anything pressure you into the idea that you’re supposed to be doing something else at university. Do what you want.

Be yourself. It might take a while for that to happen, I’m still learning in my third year, but you will not make friends trying to be someone you’re not. If you like something, someone else will like it too, I guarantee. You’ll never know if you don’t ask, or if you don’t tell people. Don’t hide what you believe in. Christian? Feminist? Conservative? Great, there is literally a society for all of them. There’s societies that drink, play sport, play games, dance, sing, run, read and whatever you’re interested. True, you don’t know anyone there, but that’s because you haven’t been yet. Go, meet people, and try things because the harsh reality is that it will only get harder once you leave university.

University is hard, but the world outside is much the same. You made the choice to come here, so embrace it. You could meet the love of your life, the friend you’ll keep forever. You could find your passion, your calling in life, or you might not. You might get the placement of your dreams and hate it. You might realise you never really liked your course and that you regret your choice of degree. Whatever way it turns, you’ll only know if you try. Listen to the bounds of advice people give you about uni because it will help you whilst you’re there, and it will probably be just as valuable after too. The world is your oyster, do with it what you will.

My final advice is merely to try, because even if you fail, you learn something new every time, and if you succeed, you’ve opened up another door for yourself. Be proud of yourself, look after yourself, and don’t forget that university, like life, is what you make it. Good luck fresher.

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