BLOGMAS DAY 10
It’s that time of year again where lots of students are beginning to consider whether they may want to go on and study at a university or take up an apprenticeship or even go on a gap year so I thought this post could help some of the undecided out there or help answer some of those random questions you have about life at university. University is one of those things that I wish I had known more about – from a students perspective before I suddenly just seemed to arrive. The lengthy processes of UCAS, personal statement writing and looking at entrance requirements is helpful, but it doesn’t give you a proper insight into university life.
BEING AWAY FROM HOME
I personally, couldn’t wait to get away and experience something new (no offence mum and dad), however, some people can’t imagine anything worse than being away from their family or the comfort of their own home. Saying goodbye was hard but I was excited to meet my flatmates and move in properly so I was pretty distracted. The first few days felt so strange, I was suddenly with five other people in a flat all day every day and it was Freshers week so we were mostly going to different clubs every night, it kind of felt like a holiday! After a week of drinking way too much and consuming chicken nuggets at ungodly hours of the morning, it suddenly hit me that I was on my own. I didn’t have my dad knocking on my door in the morning to offer me a cup of tea and I didn’t have my mum to go to when something went wrong. It was terrifying.
Once the regular routine of uni kicked in I became used to it and by that point, I was much closer to everyone that I lived with so I was coming home to familiar and friendly faces every day. I definitely realised how much I appreciate all that my parents do for me as it’s very clear what life is like when they aren’t around as much (chaos). I found calling my parents when I was walking somewhere on my own or in the evenings when I was free was really comforting and it was nice to hear what they had been up to. I chose to go home once during the first term, for a weekend, which was easily arranged via trains. I also stuck photos of my parents and friends on one of my bedroom walls which were also nice on the more difficult days.
If you think you might struggle with homesickness, finding a source of comfort in advance will help just so that you are prepared. For example, look up how to travel from university to home (and back again) beforehand so that it’s easy for you to organise once you’re there. Try and find some nice photos of you and your friends or family that you could take with you to stick on your wall, in some photo frames or even in a scrapbook. Lots of people are in the same boat so don’t worry, missing home is totally normal.
Keep your options open. This is where I think I’ve learned the most since starting university. I tend to put all my eggs in one basket and this is definitely one of my flaws. I rely too much on routine and not enough on spontaneity and this means that I shut myself away. I would definitely recommend trying to meet as many new people as possible in the first year as a couple of months into the first term, you’re likely to be choosing who you want to live with in the second year.
I would recommend joining societies, getting to know people on your course or even people that also live in your accommodation. You’d be surprised how many opportunities this opens up! You never know if the friend of a friend that you bump into in a lecture could be your best pal next year. My best friends at uni (yes girls, this is your moment if you’re reading) were my flatmate’s coursemate’s, flatmates, which goes to show that putting yourself out there and meeting new people can have its benefits, even if it is a little intimidating at first.
MAKING LIVING ARRANGEMENTS
This is where I would have told myself to be super careful as you think you know some people but the truth is it’s only been a few months. Don’t rush yourself, take your time to meet different people and get to know them. Don’t feel pressured into saying yes despite how early everyone may want to get it sorted. Don’t feel like you have to carry on living with everyone that you’re in a flat with in the first year, you got put here randomly and now you have a choice! Even if your decision might cause some problem to begin with, by the time you’ve actually moved in it will seem much more insignificant and you’ll barely even think about it. This is where my point about getting to know different people comes in handy. Realistically you have to think, “do I want to share a house with these people all day every day for another few years?” if you’re hesitant, then you probably shouldn’t rush this decision.
I chose to live with my boyfriend in second year, which was a huge step for me but I knew it would be the right one. He’s very calm and patient to be around and I get very anxious and stressed out easily, so he acts as a calming influence around our flat. I also quite like him anyway (funnily enough). We were originally going to share a flat with 12 people, which although tempting in terms of having a good laugh and there being lots of people around, it was too difficult to organise between us all and we didn’t know all of the people involved that well (if at all). Looking back on this, if it had gone ahead, it would have been pretty difficult to manage and certainly wouldn’t have been as peaceful as living together, just us two.
One night we were trying to find more options and I just ended up saying “the only two people that definitely know what they’re doing are me and you so why don’t we look at a place for just us two”. We went and viewed some properties and decided that was what we wanted to do! Just because I chose to live with one person doesn’t mean I’m left out or lonely, I make sure that I spend lots of time with my coursemates and my friends so that I’m busy and I don’t isolate myself.
Gone are the sheltered days of the classrooms and playgrounds. No matter how many talks I listened to at school, where they warned us about this that and the other, I was not prepared for the level of independence that came with first year. I arrived knowing how to (just about) cook the basics, work a washing machine, make my bed and iron clothes. I thought “oh I’ll be fine” NOPE. Apparently, the concept of regular food shops, budgeting, getting myself up and about in time for lectures, chasing myself for my own work in time for deadlines, had not properly registered in my brain. It was a real shock when the food my parents had bought me had ran out. I had to face the supermarket alone, and figure out all my meals in advance (like a normal grown-up person). There was no more mum telling me to “eat something!” or shouting from downstairs “I’m putting on a colours wash now!”, there was no “How much of that essay have you done for Friday” from my teachers. It was all down to me. I may seem like I’m stating the obvious, but when these little reminders and important people that had been guiding me my whole life were suddenly gone, I had to figure out where to go next.
It’s easy to get caught up in all the excitement and buy yourself pringles for weeks on end but it will definitely creep up on you when you’re trying to fight the cold that everyone in your flat has a few weeks later. I put on weight last year and somehow I was confused as to how this had happened. Perhaps pasta, pizza and chicken nuggets are not the ideal diet for a student…
When I started having proper meals at normal times, I noticed SUCH difference in terms of my energy and how productive I would be in a day. It’s definitely something you have to learn yourself, as I will admit, the constant 2 for 1 student offer on Dominos pizza here in the UK had me thinking a greasy margarita would be a sufficient meal in a day. Every week. Every month. WRONG!
I would recommend taking a cookbook to uni with some easy recipes to follow to allow for some variety in your cooking. There’s also an app called Tasty, that I reviewed in my last post which has some quick and easy recipes to follow (in video format). I found shopping in Aldi last year was the best way to save money and still have really good food in the fridge. The savings are unbelievable when you compare to other leading supermarkets. You don’t have to buy everything here, but perhaps for the more regular bits and pieces, like milk, cheese, pasta etc, this is the place to be!
This is perhaps the most discussed topic of uni students: “I’m broke”, “I just don’t know where all my money has gone” “I’m in my overdraft”. How do these numpties manage this, you may ask? It’s easier said than done.
Students are constantly being lured in with student discounts left, right and centre. You think you’re saving money but actually, you’re spending more than you would’ve done in the first place. There’s also so much going on, that you might feel you have to take part in everything so maybe treat yourself once or twice a week so that you don’t go overboard.
Keep an eye on your weekly spendings. Do a weekly food shop and add up how much you’ve spent. Make this your budget and try and stick to it for the rest of the year. Some weeks will be different to others if there’s a birthday night out, if you’re going out for dinner instead or if you don’t need as much one week, but try not to let it change drastically.
Keep on top of how much you spend on clothes and makeup or toiletries. There will be lots of discounts available – there’s even a student lock-in night in Nottingham (dangerous for any bank account let alone when a shopaholic such as myself is let loose) so either set aside some money for these bits every week/month or only grab some bits every now and again, do whatever suits you.
Try to limit how much money you take on nights out. This is often where lots of people mess up as they take their card, meaning they can spend as much money as they want. Only having cash on you, means you can only spend a certain amount and then you’re all out.
Do not, I repeat DO NOT get an overdraft if you cannot pay it back. A lot of people see it as free money, which it’s not, you still have to pay every last penny back. Just because it’s there doesn’t mean you have to use it.
I was not expecting the leap from A levels to first year to be as huge as it was. All of a sudden there was so much extra reading to do, SO MUCH MORE content (heaps and heaps) and lots of modules to juggle.
Keep on top of your studies. Something I’ve found that really helps you get organised is every day when you come home from uni, write revision cards based on everything you’ve learned that day. This helps you learn it from the beginning but also means you don’t have to waste time at the end of the year writing them all out when exams are fast approaching.
I would also suggest starting your work as early as possible as all kinds of things pop up and conveniently seem to be the same week as a deadline. Don’t let yourself leave it until the last minute as then you have to turn down opportunities because you’re cramming all night, try and get it finished a week before.
In terms of making your work better and more intelligently put together, follow any mark schemes provided by the university but also do all of the extra reading. This will help you to add extra academic sources to your essays/reports and this will make you stand out. It also is great practice for when you have to write a dissertation etc. later on.
It might seem scary but enjoy it! University is such a unique and amazing experience. There is a lot to be taken from it, I’ve certainly learned a lot over the past year and a half and I’m sure I will be saying the same thing in my third year. You’re unlikely to be in another environment where so many different people and opportunities surround you again, make the most of it! You don’t have to follow the crowd if you don’t want to, there’s something for everyone and you can do you, whenever and wherever you want!
Find your tribe. Find a great group of people that make you happy and that you can relax and be yourself around. Having friends at university can make such a difference to your experience so the one thing I suggest above all else is to try and put yourself out there and meet people. Push yourself and try new things and if it’s not for you, try something new the next day! The possibilities are endless.
I hope this post gave some of you an insight into what to expect at university. There are endless topics to cover, however, these are the most important, in my opinion, as I wish someone had discussed these things with me before I started.