Freshers 101: Your Ultimate Guide to Starting University
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Navigating your first weeks and months at university can be extremely difficult – how to get through freshers’ week, kick off (and maintain) new friendships and begin the process of university-level study might seem, at this moment, like the three most daunting things in the world. There’s no doubt that the journey that you’re embarking on will be challenging – it’s probably the first time you’ve lived away from home and had to cook your own food, do your own washing and ensure you actually wake up in the morning, after all. To help you out, we asked a whole load of people – including current students, recent graduates, university lecturers and experts on the whole student living shebang – for their advice on everything from surviving freshers’ week to managing your finances to whether you should stay in your sixth form relationship now this new phase of your life has started. The result is Freshers 101 – 101 pieces of advice, across eight key areas that matter to students: study, relationships, freshers’ week, night out, health, food, accommodation and finance. So - get a cuppa, settle down, probably bookmark this page for future reference... it’s going to be a long journey... But don’t worry, we’re with you every step of the way.
Surviving Freshers’ WeekMegan Downing, The National Student Music Editor & Intern at MTV: “If you see someone on their own in freshers', go and chat to them! They're probably just as nervous and scared as you are. Most of my best uni mates came from random conversations whilst waiting for an induction lecture.” Abbie, social sciences student and blogger at Yet Another Student Blog: “Lesson 1 - don't stress out, everything will be done! Lesson 2 - other people really don't know what they are doing! Lesson 3 - get your parents to get you the essentials as well as a few meals.” Codiekinz.co.uk, via themoneyshed.co.uk “Although it’s going to be a crazy week, trust me when I say it is not to be all and end all of uni nights out. In fact, you will definitely have better nights out later in the year when you have established a good group of friends and know where the best places are to go.” @eleanorria, via twitter: “Don't overdo it in freshers. If you're not feeling well listen to your body; getting sick is just going to ruin it. You've got the entire year to party and you don't wanna miss your first lectures because you're poorly in bed.” @_oliviajadexo, Blogger @ Dungarees and Degrees “Plan in advance - there are so many different events going on during freshers’ week that it's impossible to attend them all; talk to people and find out which ones are good to go to and also which you want to go to as there are many different things taking place e.g. fancy dress and paint parties.” “Sleep - this sounds like an obvious one, but if you're up all night you probably need to sleep for a lot of the day, which during freshers is totally normal and okay to do (as long as you attend your welcome week lectures.)” Lizi Legge, lifestyle blogger: “Check out which fancy dress themes are coming up for freshers - buying them in advance makes it cheaper on delivery.” Dr Richard Bowskill, Priory Group: “If you are socially anxious, talk to a close friend or your parents about how to negotiate freshers’ week and prepare to join societies where you have established interests.” Lizzie Cooper-Smith, The National Student writer: “Go to at least one society taster session of something you've never done before. Freshers is such a great opportunity to try out loads of new activities, and often for free! If you don't like it, no harm done, but if you do, then you might've just found yourself a new hobby.” Scarlett Sangster, The National Student writer: “Keep your door open! There's no such thing as personal space in freshers; welcome everyone in.” Stephen Divers, Big Choice Group Account Manager: “If I could tell my 18 year-old-self one thing, it would be to get yourself a cool nickname straightaway... not “Lil’ Steve.” George Rose, BigChoice Group Account Manager: “Buy (or get your parents to buy) loads of crates and put signs up in your halls saying “free beer room X” – make friends by plying them with free beer.” Sarah Macauley, The National Student writer: “Definitely buy a doorstop before you move in, people popping their heads in as they walk past means it's easy to make friends!” Nat Wassell, The National Student writer “Sign up for everything that takes your fancy at the Fresher's Fair and then decide which societies you will keep up with. Don't miss an opportunity just because you didn't sign up for the taster.” Freddie Stevens, The National Student writer: “Try and keep an open mind - keep saying 'yes' and if not then 'perhaps.'” Heriberto Cuanalo, CEO of luxury accommodation provider Collegiate AC: “Make the very most of the facilities on offer: lounges and common rooms can be the perfect place to meet and relax; explore your hobbies, whether it is cooking up a storm in the kitchen or working up a sweat in the gym; or bond with new friends through a visit to the cinema or exploring the city on your new doorstep. Making sure you put both your physical and mental wellbeing first is key to a great freshers’ week and beyond.” Michael Brecht, CEO of Doodle: “Be the fresher that knows what’s going on. Impress your new mates from the first week by knowing the best places to go in your new city. Design My Night is a great way to check out the best upcoming events, from gigs to club nights to art shows. Whether you’re looking for a cheap night out or special date venue to wow a new flame, Design My Night will come up with the goods.”
Adapting to University StudyBarnaby Walter, The National Student writer & former Film Editor: “Be nice to all booksellers; they will be your friends throughout your course, particularly if you are doing an English degree. And do what you can to make their jobs easier (a.k.a. know which of the 120 editions of Northanger Abbey currently in print is the one you need for your module).” Duncan Spencer, Managing Director at Insurance2Go: “After a late night library session ensure you log out of university computers, as you don’t want to run the risk of having your hard work deleted or even plagiarised by another student.” Freddie Stevens, The National Student writer: “Don't underestimate the grandeur or majesty of a Pukka Pad.” Dr Richard Bowskill, Priory Group: “Be aware that the learning environment is about to change. Help and advice might be needed about how to become a more independent learner, with less externally imposed deadlines.” Abbie, social sciences student and blogger at Yet Another Student Blog: “Write out your timetable. I find that having a printed out copy of my timetable pinned on my notice board (and colour coded!) means that I know exactly when and where my lectures and seminars are. I also add regular society meetings/sessions and anything else that occurs on a near weekly basis.” “Organise your laptop. Spend a little bit of time making new folders on your laptop. I personally have a 'UNIVERSITY' folder under my documents which is broken down into years, then into modules. If I have to download readings, power points or podcasts, they all go in there. I also have sorted out my 'One-drive' folders so I can get all of my documents on my tablet, laptop and phone. (I assume the Cloud is the same for apple users?)” @caramatt, via twitter: “Most unis offer Microsoft office for free with your login email. I spent £70 on it before realising.” @eleanorria, via twitter: “Don't be afraid to admit it if you get there and uni/your course isn't right for you. You should do something you love.” Michael Brecht, CEO of Doodle: “Do remember to do some work. It’s easy to forget the real reason you went to university in the first place - to study. Motivating yourself can be half the battle, but organising study groups with your class mates can help combat this. Sending out a simple Doodle poll to your study buddies will make it easy to work out the best time for everyone and hopefully help improve your grades as well!” “RefME is also a life saver for every student frantically trying to remember how to reference an hour before their deadline. The app automatically creates the references for you by simply scanning the barcode of the book you’ve used – panic over!” Angie Wyman, Course Leader, BA (Hons) Hand Embroidery for Fashion, Interiors, Textile Art at The Royal School of Needlework: Communicate with your lecturers and tutors. Talk with your tutors and student welfare staff when you have concerns about your academic life. If anything arises that may affect your performance in class don’t keep it to yourself, let someone know only then will they be able to help. Staff at your university will have encountered every issue you can think of and will know exactly how to help. Learn how to receive criticism. Sound advice for all students, but particularly those in the creative arts, is to learn to separate yourself from your work and not take criticism personally. Remember any critique of your work says nothing about you personally. Conversely when asked for feedback on others’ work gives it constructively, but aims tobetruthful and generous.
Friends & Relationships@livipointon, University of York student, via twitter: “The people you live with don't have to be your only/best friends. Go out, go to parties, go to socials (even if it's a bit out of your comfort zone) and meet people! My closest uni friends have turned out to be on completely different courses to me and lived in other accommodation and blocks - I'm a History student yet my closest friends are study Chemistry and Business to name a few!” Megan Downing, The National Student Music Editor & Intern at MTV: “Don't make all your 'best' friends in Freshers' week. Keep an open mind when it comes to friend groups.” Michael Brecht, CEO of Doodle: “Don’t forget your home friends. With all your home friends now likely scattered across the country, finding a date to get the old group back together can be a real challenge. Using Doodle will make sure that all-important date gets locked down. This handy app allows you to create a poll with mates to find a date that works for everyone – putting an end to those incessant Facebook or WhatsApp threads trying to organise a meet up.” Lucy Miller, The National Student Editor: “There has been a lot of commentary in the press this year encouraging students to ditch their home boy/girlfriends before heading off to uni, so that they don’t “miss out” on the “experience” that freshers’ week offers. Whilst in some cases this might be good advice, I’d mainly disagree – as long as you don’t let home boy/girl hold you back in terms of socialising and grabbing every opportunity you can, it’s likely to be comforting to have that constant, reliable presence to fall back on during your busy, demanding and unfamiliar first term. You don’t want to throw away something special for the sake of it, and being protected from making stupid mistakes at the beginning of uni isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” Lloyd French, BigChoice Group Account Manager: “Don’t get into a relationship in first year.” Ben Robins, The National Student Film Editor “If you're planning on maintaining a long-distance relationship, it's very possible, just make sure you keep the time and money free to actually visit them. Skype and real life are - surprisingly enough - two very different things.” Stephen Divers, Big Choice Group Account Manager: “…Don’t try and maintain long distance relationships.”
Nights Out At UniversityAbbie, social sciences student and blogger at Yet Another Student Blog, on going out whilst sober... “This is mainly one for pre-drinks... Don't awkwardly stand there. Join in, take your own soft drink and keep it with you, talk to people and get involved.” “Suggest being the designated photo taker. Great if it is a friend’s birthday. Take a camera or use your phone and take photos of the night. Then you can be in the action and with your friends.” Suzannah Robin, Sales and Training Manager at AlcoDigital: “There are a number of things undergraduates can do to safeguard themselves from unnecessary harm, including pre-ordering a registered taxi to take them home at a certain time after a night out, always informing housemates of their whereabouts and never leaving their drinks unattended.” Anna Hammond, BigChoice Group B2B Marketing Manager: “Put vodka in an old hair spray bottle (the pumpy one). The bouncers will have no idea what you’re taking into their club!” James Thornhill, The National Student Editor: “Don’t take pills from a man who has just handed them to you in a club.” The experts at Drinkaware: “Eating isn’t cheating. Food helps slow the absorption of alcohol, stopping it going to your head too quickly so now’s the time to put those student cooking skills to the test! Carbs or protein such as pasta, potatoes and chicken are good to eat before or while you're out drinking. They’ll keep you full, and the slow release of energy will help you last the distance. You’ll be more tempted to avoid that guilty 2am kebab or chips too.”
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Staying Healthy At University
Lee Pickering, personal trainer at DW Fitness Clubs: Have a designated get-up time. It can be tempting to stay in bed and watch Netflix until 2pm, especially when your first lecture doesn’t start until 4pm, but it isn’t going to keep the dreaded Fresher’s Fifteen at bay! Make sure you’re up and dressed by 9:30am. Don’t reach for your onesie when you’re not seeing anybody all day. This will only reduce your chances of heading out the house and getting your recommended daily dose of Vitamin D. Invest in a pedometer. You can find a pretty decent one for around £10 online. The recommended amount of steps is 10,000 per day, and having a visual reminder will help you to get up and move more. Plan your meals. Whilst chicken nuggets and oven chips might sound like it fits the bill, add a few pints into the mix and you have a sure-fire recipe for weight gain. Head to the fruit and veg section of the supermarket and pick up a bag of spinach, some sweet potatoes and a couple of chicken breasts. You could eat like a king for less than a tenner, and your body will thank you for it. Dr Richard Bowskill, Priory Group: “If you already have identified mental health problems such as anxiety or depression then contact the university’s healthcare professionals so you can access extra student support. The level of support provided by universities is often very good. There are also excellent student confidential helplines.” Heriberto Cuanalo, CEO of luxury accommodation provider Collegiate AC: “In order to make the very most of your first term, make sure you look after your health – eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly but also open up about any worries and concerns you may have, chat to friends both old and new, and seek advice where needed.” Anna Hammond, BigChoice Group B2B Marketing Manager: “A scientifically proven hangover cure is chicken noodle soup, and 7up for the electrolytes.” Codiekinz.co.uk, via themoneyshed.co.uk “Get a H1 form, which allows you to get free prescriptions, opticians etc. It’s pretty simple to fill in and over the course of your three years, it will be well worth it! With prescriptions costing just under a tenner, and freshers’ flu being almost guaranteed every single year, you’ll be so glad you’ve got it!” Dr Alexandra Phelan, an NHS GP and member of the Pharmacy2U Online Doctor Service: “The most effective method of avoiding an unwanted pregnancy after unprotected sex is for a doctor or nurse to insert a copper coil. This is possible up to five days after unprotected sex. This is offered at most GP surgeries and all sexual health clinics. The coil will continue to provide protection from unwanted pregnancy while it remains in place but will not provide protection from sexually transmitted diseases.”
Food & Eating Well At UniversityCodiekinz.co.uk, via themoneyshed.co.uk “Go to the Supermarket about an hour before it closes. This is when the bread and pre-cooked chicken tends to be marked down. £5 whole chickens can be reduced to half the price, and baked goods can be as low as 5p! Remember that bread can be frozen, as can some meals – but always check first. Food poisoning isn’t ideal.” Stacey Barbet, blogger at S.T.C.Y: “Choose a weekday that you have off, plan your meals for that week, buy all of the ingredients and cook. Try to choose meals that will stretch through the week and double as lunches. Things like mac 'n' cheese, Lasagne, chilli, shepherd’s pie. Make a family sized meal and when cooled, you can separate into microwavable freezer pots. These meals might even last up to two weeks and save you loads of cash! There's loads of recipes online you can find for all budgets." “Places like Tesco and Asda will do coupons in their own free magazines and if you sign up to Tesco Clubcard you can earn Club points as you spend, and they will send you money off coupons for the types of things you normally buy based on your purchases.” “The best way to waste money is to buy lunches at uni! Most of the time, the food that you buy from the university café is something that you can easily make at home and you could probably make it nicer! I’d just invest in some good plastic containers and a flask, get a few recipes together for some pasta salads, soups and other things for your lunch (no need to have plain sandwiches every day!” Laura Wilson, author of The 7 Best Ways To Alkalize Your Body, via Mont Rose College of Management and Sciences: “Blueberries and grapes are packed with carbohydrates, so are both great brain fuel but they also specifically help with memory retention. The flavonoids in blueberries help to improve the communication between neurons, improving memory, learning, and all cognitive function, including reasoning, decision making, verbal comprehension, and numerical ability.” “Water is still a vitally important part of your diet. Staying hydrated is often overlooked by students. Keeping your brain hydrated is crucial in making sure you are able to study well. Cut back on sodas, alcohol and coffee and opt for what your brain needs most – H2O. Make sure you are drinking at the very least, 2 litres of fresh, pure water every day and more when exercising.” “Bananas are the ultimate fast food. If you’re in a hurry, make sure you grab a banana to eat on the go. Not only are they sweet, tasty, cheap and nutritious but they have also been shown to boost concentration. A 2008 study found that students who ate a banana before an exam did better than those who didn’t.” Andy Webb, Money Expert at the Money Advice Service: “Be strict when food shopping. It can be tempting to impulse buy in the supermarket, so make sure you go armed with a list and stick to it. It is possible to eat normally and healthily whatever your budget. Cooking in bulk then freezing can help you avoid wasting food, plus it also works out a lot cheaper and provides you with a back-up plan when the cupboards are empty.” Hanna of Beyond Fit, via Mont Rose College of Management and Sciences: “If you’re not a fan of eating your greens, why not blitz them together with a banana to make a vitamin rich smoothie? Opting for seasonal greens will keep the cost down.” “Dark chocolate is a handy go-to treat which has been shown to boost serotonin and endorphin levels. An increase in these happy brain chemicals has been associated with improved concentration.” Andra, of Mint & Rosemary, via Mont Rose College of Management and Sciences: “We all love burgers and pasta. Making your own burger patties is fun and you can use some of the meat to make meatballs. Bake your meatballs in the oven, on a tray lined with parchment paper as it’s healthier (and less messy).” “They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Start the day in style with creative porridges that take minutes to make. Be playful and top your porridge with fruits, seeds, honey or maple syrup. Sam Stern, cookbook author: “Get confidence about cooking by getting the basics sorted out before you leave home, this will widen the range of ingredients and recipes you can happily use and encourage you to experiment further once you fly solo. Say no to brown frozen dinners!” “Go vegetarian for part of the week. I know that meat tastes good, but you can work wonders just with vegetables, grains, pulses and herbs once you know how. I tend to look towards Asian cuisine, because there they have made a fine art of transforming these humble ingredients. Think gorgeous rich curries, satisfying stir-fries and fresh salads. Also, as an added bonus, eating this way is really cheap.” “Cook with others - splitting costs means you can buy more of the good stuff across a wider range. It’s also much more social and you can palm the rubbish jobs, like peeling, onto someone else!”
University Living & Student AccommodationDominic Blackburn, Product Director at 192.com: “Avoid rental scams. Be sure the property exists. If you are renting without having seen the property first then look on Google Street View and check it exists. You could even download a Property Report (from 192.com) and get all the property information including owner’s details and rental estimates.” “Never hand over cash to a landlord until you have been given his or her name and a UK contact address.” Codiekinz.co.uk, via themoneyshed.co.uk “Although it may seem like a long way off, looking for accommodation for your second year tends to happen around Christmas. This may mean paying an obscene amount for a deposit, so it’s a good idea to put some money aside ready for this to save being stung.” Abbie, social sciences student and blogger at Yet Another Student Blog: “Sorting out cupboard/fridge space early is a must.” “Don't be afraid to ask people to be quiet. A good night’s sleep is crucial!” “If there is a problem, take it up individually and nicely. I couldn't imagine what my first year would have been like if I hadn't got on with some of my flatmates. It can make the atmosphere tense not only for you, but for the rest of your flatmates.” “What I found the hardest about living in halls was the constant amount of people. I felt like I didn't have any time to myself - I couldn't watch some TV or a DVD without someone knocking on my door wanting to join. It can be very hard for an introvert like myself. So remember to have some time to yourself!” “If you live with a lot of people, or just a few, set up a flat/floor Facebook group. It's a good way to communicate about problems throughout the year and also through holidays as well to keep in touch.” Jenni Hill, personal finance blogger: “DON'T buy a kettle/dish drainer/loads of pots and pans until you've arrived at your uni accommodation. You may be able to share.” Megan Downing, The National Student Music Editor & Intern at MTV: “Don't sign onto a housing contract (for next year) in your first couple of months. You can afford to wait until January; there will still be houses left.” Nat Wassell, The National Student writer “If you're not happy in your flat, make yourself heard either to your flatmates or to the housing people - it is your first year too, and you don't want it ruined by the people you are forced to live with.” Nick Katz, Founder of Household Money-Management App, Splittable: “Decorate creatively. It’s not about the size, it’s what you do with it. So, embrace your inner Kelly Hoppen and find an ingenious way to store your books, maximise the light and create a Zen-like bubble in which to nail that coursework. Ikea and Tiger are good places to start your hunt for inexpensive space-saving design pieces.” “Rent discount (if you get the box room). Make sure you are not paying the same monthly rent as your friend in the top floor palatial suite. You get a third of a room so you should be paying a third of your share of the rent. It’s always best to get this in writing too if you can.”
Managing your Finances at UniversityDuncan Spencer, Managing Director at Insurance2Go: “Insure your essentials. It’s more important than ever to get a policy to cover your belongings at uni, not least because of the value of the average student's technology now. Getting home contents insurance or a dedicated policy of cover for phones and laptops is very important in giving peace of mind – being a student is more expensive than ever, and the cost of replacement could really hurt an already stretched bank account.” “Keep your logins secure. Whilst the number of people using "password" as a password has dropped markedly in recent years. People still aren’t taking their online security seriously, using easy-to-crack login details. Vary your passwords between types of account, and throw numbers, capital letters and non-dictionary terms in for good measure.” Honor Clement-Hayes, via ingenie’s Young Driver’s Guide: “Get some direction. Whether you’ve got a satnav, Google Maps on your phone or a good old-fashioned map, make sure you know where you’re going. Getting the route sorted before you set off keeps you from driving distracted and avoids wasting petrol while you search for your destination. Especially when heading to halls for the first time – don’t let excitement and nerves take you off in the wrong direction. Less flap, and less fuel!” Abbie, social sciences student and blogger at Yet Another Student Blog: “Work out how much money you will have per week. Once you have your letters from student finance, take off your accommodation and that is how much you will have to spend that term. Divide it by however many weeks until your next loan and tadaa! Remember to take off any other monthly expenditure such as phone contracts, Netflix etc. Also, remember to save some money for the time that you are at home as well!” “Keep tabs on what you are spending money on. If you do use your card, write down what you spend on food/going out/online shopping - this is not only useful for looking at how much you are spending, but you can also make sure that nothing fishy is going out of your account.” “Save your change. Saving your £1/50p/20p to pay for washing machines and bus fares etc – (it) can all add up if you save a bit every time you get some change.” “16-25 Railcard. One of these is also a must! You can save a third off rail travel, vital for going home or visiting friends. Santander give a 4-year one away for free when you sign up to their student accounts.” Jody Baker, Head of Money at comparethemarket.com “From electricity, to water, to broadband and TV, bills can rack up at a rate of knots. Ensuring that you are getting the best deals from across different suppliers and establishing exactly what you need early on, could save you a huge sum of money come the end of the year”. “In terms of student bank accounts, the most important thing to think about is which will work best for your needs. If you live a long way from home, then the Santander 123 Student Current Account might be attractive as it offers a free four year railcard. HSBC on the other hand offers a £60 Amazon.co.uk gift card, for those who might need a hand paying for their books. For diligent students who intend to get a part-time job and will not be using an overdraft, a standard account might be better suited to you, such as Santander and HSBC student accounts which offer 3% and 2% AER respectively.” Andy Webb, Money Expert at the Money Advice Service: “An NUS card is a great way to get discounts across a range of companies, from food and drink to retail and tech. Investing in a card, which costs £12 for one year, will allow you to get up to 30% off hundreds of brands, and you will see a return on your investment in no time.” If going home... “Booking your ticket in advance with Megabus is a good way to cut travel costs – particularly useful if you’re prone to getting homesick.” “Use library books instead of buying your own. Books can be expensive and chances are you won’t require them throughout the whole year, so think smart and instead of buying new books every year, use the ones available in the university library when you actually need them. Or, if you know someone from the year above, it’s likely they’ll either be throwing out or selling the books you will need.” “Plan your finances. It can be easy to lose track of what money is coming in and going out whilst at university so it’s important to have a budget – giving you a clear picture of where your money goes. The budget planner is a useful tool to understand how much is left over after you’ve paid your share of the bills and how much you have towards other amenities.” Bridie Pearson-Jones, The National Student writer: “Don't spend £500 in freshers’ week and live on pot noodles until January.” Stacey Barbet and Lydia Healey, bloggers at S.T.C.Y: “Use the well known mantra: 'Can I afford it? Do i really need it?'…and if the answer is 'no'...you shouldn't really be buying it. HOWEVER, if you still really want it...look for a cheaper alternative or save for it.” “You can get loyalty cards for places like Costa or Café Nero which can give you free coffee once you collect enough points/stamps.” “In Cambridge, the local shopping mall/centre does special student nights where you can get discount off a lot of different retail shops... it is worth having a little search to see if the city/town you live in offer any similar events.” “You can also be smart and make yourself money. Get rid of clothes that you don't wear anymore; someone might want them and will pay you! eBay, Depop and Gumtree are great for this. Make money from shopping online with Top CashBack and Quidco.”
And one for the road...
Sara Newell, Manager of Student Markets at Endsleigh: “Preparing to go to university can be both an exciting and daunting time. While many of this year’s freshers will be looking forward to their new life away from home, many will also be worrying about how well they will get on both socially and academically whilst away. What they should find encouraging is that a huge majority of students are not only happy with their choice of university but are also thoroughly enjoying themselves once there. While fears around fitting in, making ends meet and doing well academically are all both understandable and justifiable, those preparing to set off to university should feel reassured by our findings and be looking forwards to embarking on this new stage of their lives.” For more information and advice on starting university visit our freshers' pages here.
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