I’m moving back to York this weekend for my final year at university. Many of my friends are already committing to Masters’ applications, looking to continue their academic careers, but that’s not the path I’ve chosen to take for now; although I anticipate I may return to education at some point in the future, this will be my final ‘back to school’ season for some time. I’m still working out how to feel about that, but I know I can’t wait to be back in York and beginning this last academic year – a huge contrast to this time two years ago, ahead of my very first term at York, where I knew exactly how I was feeling: utterly petrified. I know that plenty of freshers out there will be feeling the same, so I’ve put together not one but two posts of my top tips for freshers.
I’ve tried to include advice that I’ve not heard much before, or that I think people don’t talk enough about, so hopefully whether you’re a fresher or a returner you’ll find something useful here. Part One is focused more on those first few days on campus, while Part Two looks ahead to the weeks and months after Freshers’ Week.
Firstly, remember that wherever you’re going you will be able to buy anything you’ve left behind! When I say ‘sensibly’, I mean pack relatively lightly. Think about what you’ll really need: two weeks-worth of normal clothes will be plenty, though there might be some fancy-dress events in Freshers’ Week and a formal outfit or two won’t go amiss. For your bedroom I’d definitely suggest a few home comforts to make your space more ‘you’; photographs and posters are always a good idea, and I’d recommend some cushions and a blanket to make it feel cosier, not to mention some decent stationery and desk items to help you keep organised and motivated to work.
By far my biggest recommendation, however, is to put together a first-aid/medicine kit! Stock yourself up with paracetamol, cold and flu tablets, plasters (take some with you if you’re going out for the night!), throat sweets, lemsips and, if you have periods, whatever menstrual products you favour. If you fall in that latter group, I’d also really recommend some cystitis relief sachets in case you get stuck with a urinary tract infection (I got caught out here the night before a presentation which counted for 100% of my module grade, but it will never happen again!).
Not only will you be incredibly grateful to your past self when you get caught out by sickness as you don’t have to go out and buy meds when you’re feeling rough, but you can also offer something to your fellow freshers to tie them over if necessary. Finally, do remember any contraceptives you’re taking, and it’s definitely a good idea to have some condoms tucked away somewhere, even if you’re not planning on using them. One of your flatmates might owe you a big favour if you’ve got one and they don’t…!
Be kind to everyone you meet
If we’re being realistic, this ought to be ‘life advice’ rather than just for freshers, but it’s so incredibly important when you begin university. Everyone is worried about making friends and settling in, and it’s a really daunting prospect. I’ve written a whole post about making friends at university, and another on talking to your new housemates, but in both cases it boils down to being as kind and open-minded as you possibly can. Don’t start arguments over petty things, and if you need to call someone out don’t be passive-aggressive; it’s perfectly possible to stand up for what you believe in without resorting to aggression or rudeness. Look for the good in people, work to find common ground, and always try to be honest.
Look after yourself – and your friends
Freshers’ week – and the uni lifestyle – doesn’t always lend itself to being super healthy. If you want uni to kickstart you off onto a new healthy lifestyle, by all means do so; buying and cooking all your own food can be a great start, and you should be able to get a discounted price at a local gym or join some societies to help with your fitness. But at the very least, do your best to drink water (a glass when you get in from a night out will help you no end the next day!), consume some vitamin C and, above all, get some sleep. Take some time to settle into your uni life and find routines that work for you. If you choose to be sexually active, practice safe, consensual sex and know how to access emergency contraception and STI tests, just in case. Try to find your limits with alcohol and keep an eye on your friends – if someone in your group isn’t okay, your priority is to get them home safely.
Don’t forget, too, that looking after yourself doesn’t end at physical health; even after Freshers’ Week, university can take a toll on both your mental health as well as physical. Keep an eye on your mental and emotional wellbeing and take some time out if you need to. Know yourself: learn to listen to what your mind and body are telling you and work to fulfil their needs, whether that’s alone time, a chilled evening with friends, or a bit of time in the fresh air. Know the services available to you at uni if you need additional help and support, whether it’s the doctors’ surgery, the mental health team, or the finances office if you’ve got money worries.
Make an effort…
By this I mean, don’t just wait for things to happen to you. Don’t wait for your new best friends to appear in your life, or to be invited to events, or for something to happen that you can join in with. If you’re entirely passive, it’s likely that you never will meet people or get to join in activities; ultimately it’s up to you to get involved with things. This was a lesson I struggled to learn, but at the end of the day it isn’t other people’s duty to make sure you’re involved. Don’t be afraid to go to something by yourself; remember that everyone else is in just the same boat as you, even if they look like they’ve met their new BFF. And if it doesn’t look like there’s anything going on, why not set up something yourself? Drop a line on your flat group chat inviting people down for lunch together, or suggest to some of your coursemates that you meet up after tomorrow’s lecture to get coffee. People will be grateful to be invited to something, and if you’ve been proactive then you can’t feel left out.
…but don’t force it
Don’t ever make yourself do something you don’t want to just to feel like you’re fitting in, whether that’s clubbing, sex, alcohol, or anything else (my one exception to this rule is going to your classes, but more on that in Part Two!). Many people don’t meet their best friends or form close bonds in their first week, or even their first term, so if something isn’t feeling right, or you’re not clicking with someone, it’s okay to let go and move on rather than forcing it for the sake of it. And if you’re struggling with how to cope with Freshers’ Week if you don’t drink or go clubbing, check out this post.
I hope that these tips are of some use to those of you just starting out on your university adventures. Remember there’s more to come later this week, so be sure to check back in a few days! If you’re a uni returner, or a graduate – what are your top tips for freshers? Let me know in the comments!