If you’re sat on your bed reading and you’ve just been dropped off, you still need to unpack, and you haven’t met anyone yet, I’m here to talk you through it. And it won’t be one of those be-safe, eat-your-vegetables, go-to-lectures talks proper adults give you (although do all of those things too!). This is some friendly advice from someone who’s just done it all, and knows what I wish I’d been told.
– Have fun making the place your own. It’s usually your space for the year, so you can fill it with posters and pictures and decorations and whatever else you think will help you to feel at home. It’s a good form of distraction in the first few days if you’re feeling homesick.
– Everyone is in the same boat! Clichéd, but true. Even if you’ve come to university as a very shy, timid person, just try and have a go at talking to people. The worst that will happen is they don’t respond, in which case you’ve lost nothing, and you might gain a best friend. Introduce yourself, make conversation and generally show yourself as an open person, because people who want to make friends will respond. If someone doesn’t, they might just prefer to keep to themselves, so don’t make them uncomfortable, just show you’re there if needed. Equally, there’s nothing wrong if that’s you; just remember that, if people are trying to force you to get involved and it’s not your thing, they’re not trying to be unkind, they’re just as nervous as you.
– Being away from home, you could end up spending more time on your own than you’re used to. If everyone’s home for the weekend, or you’ve got a lot of work and you can’t go out, it can be a bit strange knowing that your mum’s not downstairs cooking you a nice hot supper. It’s ok to spend time on your own – it might be a bit new for some, and a bit scary at times, but if you’re worried about it, university is literally full of ways to keep you busy, as well as helping you to meet people and make friends.
– Join lots of societies! It’s the best way to do this; there’s so much on offer at university, and it’s more readily available to you than it probably ever will be for the rest of your life, so take up lacrosse like you’ve always meant to, or carry on your favourite sport. But don’t worry if you’re not sporty (I can safely say that is not an adjective to describe me) – there are hundreds of non-sport-related activities to get involved in from writing for the student paper (nudge nudge) to decorating cakes (that’s actually a thing!). So if you find yourself spending more time by yourself than you’d like, or struggling to fit in, look for something you can get your teeth into – from politics and charity to arts and music. The Bunfight in your Freshers’ Week shows you everything that’s on offer, so give something a go! Just make sure you don’t finish university saying “I wish I’d done more, all I did was get drunk and sleep a lot” (this might sound like the dream right now, but it’s possibly not the best thing to put on your CV, compared to President of the Fish On Toast society).
– Incidentally, don’t sleep all the time! Sleep is necessary to make sure you don’t get run-down, but don’t forget how much you’re paying for your degree – it seems a shame to waste it lying in bed and feeling guilty that you’re not at your 9am. Don’t be ashamed if you don’t make it to the gym the day after Freshers’ Week either, but try to keep on top of grown-up things like laundry, washing up and food shopping. Remember though, it’s ok to allow yourself a bit of time for home comforts, so making the trip home every now and then is nothing to be ashamed of (if nothing else, it saves money on washing!)
– Budgeting is one of the hardest things for new students to get their heads around. It’s very easy to accidentally spend £30 on a night out, then spend half an hour in Sainsbury’s, working out the volume-to-price ratio on two different brands of cheese. If you set up a student bank account, you can afford to go into your overdraft without interest, but I’m sure students who spent the year living in their overdraft and surviving on one batch of spag bol for a week, would tell you that it’s easier to keep an eye on your spending and not go over too often. University offers plenty of support to help keep on top of your finances, but there are also loads of ways to earn money; plenty of businesses want part-time student workers, and the university itself offers a lot of temporary work at really good rates for students, so keep an eye on that if finances are something you’re concerned about.
– Don’t panic if you’re not settling in as quickly as everyone else. It’s not the end of the world if you end up going home a lot, or not going out much, or you just aren’t always totally enjoying every second of Fresherdom. Hopefully this won’t be you, and you’ll have a ridiculously awesome time with the best friends in the world ever and a semi-permanent hangover for a month or two. But if this isn’t you, and you’ve reached three months in and you’re still a bit lost, like I was, don’t worry about it. Just keep looking for new ways to meet people, find things that interest you, make sure your course is right for you, and enjoy yourself.
Read my online A-Z Guide to First Year series at wessexscene.co.uk, which will tell you in more detail everything you need to know about how to survive as a Southampton student.