A few weeks into first year, a strange feeling began to creep up on me. ‘Abandoned’ is a bit strong; ‘lost’ perhaps more accurately describes it. ‘Left to get on with it’, certainly. After the bustle of Freshers’ Week, and another week or two getting stuck into the swing of classes and assignments, the golden haze that surrounded university began to lift, and it dawned on me that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing. I still feel as though all the support offered to freshers in those early weeks tends to dwindle, or at least become less overt, as time goes on – but many need it throughout their first year, and beyond. So here’s the second part of my top tips for freshers, in case you’re feeling a little forgotten or lost like I was this time two years ago.
Go to all your classes
You’ll likely be told time and time again as a fresher that your grades don’t count, so you don’t need to bother. Don’t listen. Your grades for this year might not count (though double-check this, as in some cases they do!), but the work you put in this year will become the foundations for the rest of your degree. Moreover, you’re paying over £9,000 per year for this degree – even if you’ve only got five or six contact hours a week like me, you’ve got to make it worth it for yourself. Your tutors (and your future self) will thank you for it. If you don’t feel able to attend your classes, talk to somebody.
You do you
Everyone deals with new and difficult situations differently, and you have a right to your feelings and responses to events and people -even if they seem different to everyone else. In my first year, I always thought of going back home as a kind of defeat, a failure. I’d force myself to wait it out until the end of week six, when we were over halfway through term. But in second year I realised that I’d internalised the way that others around me felt (or said they felt) about going home from uni. In autumn term of last year I went home twice, and found myself busy every other weekend with trips back or having visitors here, and it made everything so much easier. I assumed that going home more would make it harder to come back each time, but each short break made jumping back into uni life that bit easier. If you need to do something to make your life at uni more manageable, do it, no matter what others may say or think. And if you think differently about someone else’s way of coping, keep it to yourself: they have a right to that reaction, too. (The caveat to this is if you think that person is harming themselves through their response; if you are concerned about somebody’s wellbeing, seek advice and support for both them and yourself.)
Give it time…
Freshers’ Week often passes by in a blur, but as the dust starts to settle monotony and stress (and the inevitable freshers’ flu) can begin to set in. This is completely normal, so please don’t panic if you’ve hit week 3 or 4 and you’re not having the time of your life. I remember it being explained to us that the year starts on a high, followed by a crash, followed by another high as self-confidence grows, followed by another low as the realities of looking after yourself sets in, and ending with a confident, steady high. Not everyone goes through this precise curve (it was shown to us on a graph); some people go through it all in the first few weeks, while others take much longer. I found it to be quite accurate, but it took a year for me to reach that steady, settled state. If you’re finding it hard, you may just need to give yourself some time to settle into it all – and remember that other people’s social media accounts rarely tell the whole story. University can’t be three years of unstoppable excitement and happiness; it’s hard, and it’s meant to be hard, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be positive and good.
…but listen to yourself
If you find that you’re forcing yourself through each day, or finding it nigh-on impossible to go to your classes or socialise, you may need to do some thinking about whether you’re in the right situation for you. My first year was incredibly difficult, but I knew that if I held on it could get better. I’d advise you to try and stick it out until the end of first term, but if after that you can’t find anything to commend your university experience it might be time to look at your options. This could mean moving to different accommodation, changing to a different course to which you’re better suited, or leaving university altogether. Remember that there is more than one way of doing a degree; there are options for distance or part-time learning, studying while living at home, or even degree apprenticeships. And having a degree isn’t the be-all and end-all. If it isn’t working for you, that’s okay.
Don’t overthink it
I was caught up for so long in the idea that university was an enormous life change, that once it began nothing would ever be the same again. It is a big life change, and especially so if you move away from home, but I missed all the things that didn’t change. For some, moving to uni is the point at which they see themselves moving out of their childhood home, but I wasn’t (and still am not!) ready for that; in reality, I’m home for just under half of the year. My family and friends back home all remained the same, and I didn’t turn into a whole new person overnight. Likewise, in first year I felt very caught between what I saw as two separate lives: uni versus home. It took me a long time to adjust to the fact that it could be more fluid than that; that those two lives could and should cross over into one another. More than that, university is only a temporary change, one that comes with an end date. Worrying about all these things meant I felt as though I’d lost the very essence of myself, when really that hadn’t changed at all. Rather than getting caught up in all these huge worries and questions, I wish I’d been able to see it as I do now.