As promised, this part 2 post is a follow on from the one I posted previously, which effectively covered the process of finding and applying to a university. Part 2 will entail as much useful information as I can scramble together regarding the process of preparing to leave for university, and the settling in period once you actually get there.
Before you leave:
- Meningitis C booster vaccination.
If you were born after September 1995, the government recommend you get a Meningitis C booster vaccination. If you are 25 and under, contact your GP to see if you 1. had the vaccination and 2. had the booster. It is highly recommended: a few years ago there was a tragic case of a 19-year-old who contracted the disease and died as a result: we have the luxury of protecting ourselves against preventable illness, so take all the chances you can get! I will link government information on this here.
- Student bank accounts.
Sorting your finances are important. Any student will know that university is a daunting drain on your finances, but it is manageable if you approach it correctly. I will touch more on managing finances later on, but here I will briefly speak about the thrilling topic of bank accounts. It is super important to get yourself set up with a good student account that allows you plenty of room to go into your overdraft, and some added perks are always a bonus. I, for example, have a student account with Santander. It allows me to go up to £1,500 into my overdraft for three years (or four years for a four-year course). On top of that, full-time students get a free rail-card for four years, giving me a 1/3rd off rail travel.
Obviously, it is not ideal to be in your overdraft, but living in London I find it extremely difficult with the rent I have to pay not to go into my overdraft, so do not freak out if you have to!
When you arrive:
Freshers is probably one of the most hyped up week or two of university life at the start. I think most universities sell tickets to events before you actually arrive – I bought a wristband for various nights before I got to university, which was a good idea in that some events did sell out. It gives you the ability to be able to pick and choose what you attend, and saves you last-minute wanting to go to an event and not being able to.
Meet people, be brave, make friends. The most important thing you can remember is that literally everyone is in the same boat: everyone is nervous, and everyone feels awkward. I found that at the start it was best to just talk to people – meet as many people as you can, be friendly, put yourself out there. That said, most people do not stay close friends with everyone they meet during the first few weeks. It is all about meeting new people, and finding where you fit, and you will fit somewhere, everyone does.
Have fun, but remember, anything you DO do that is potentially slightly embarrassing will stick with you. What I am trying to say is that make sure you do not do anything that you do not want held against you for the next three or four years!
- Moving into student halls or private accommodation and making friends.
Moving out and into effectively independent or semi-independent living is incredibly daunting and can be very difficult. It is a massive adjustment, but one that tends to come easier than people think.
My very first piece of advice for living in halls would be, that when you arrive, leave your door open! Not overnight (probably not safe), but whilst you are moving in and unpacking, prop your door open. I met my best friend and my neighbour this way – she wandered in when I was sat having a cup of tea – so it really does work. Being open and inviting is the best way to make friends with the people you are going to live with for the next year. At my first course meeting I spoke to the people around me and found that one of them lived in the same halls as I did, so we walked home together. Turns out he was my other neighbour! The three of us are still close friends today, so it really is worth branching out and making effort with those in the immediate vicinity of your room.
- Settling in and adapting to living independently.
The sooner you make your room or flat feel like home, the better. The best way to prevent feeling super homesick, is to take some bits of home with you to university. Really settling in and making yourself comfortable is so worth it, as otherwise you just will not enjoy being there.
It is also important to make your room work friendly, set up a desk with good lighting, good stationery, and keep it as tidy as possible. This is exactly what I did not do during my first year…my desk was an absolute tip, littered with random paper, mugs and clothes. It meant I did most of my work in bed, which was probably the most unproductive place I could have possibly chosen to work from!
Cooking is also a big one that I massively failed on. I was the typical lazy sloth student – I ate rubbish all the time! The sloth life is a very tempting one, but it is not a good one! I think I just really hated the whole shared kitchen idea, which was not the best outlook to have. Although eating out and eating crap, easy to cook meals is tempting, it really will impact your health and productivity (and finances).
What I would recommend is to, if possible, buy yourself a mini-fridge for your room. If you are a tea and coffee addict like me, it will be your saving grace, especially on late nights when deadlines are looming and making a trip to the kitchen is way too much to ask.
- Getting your head down and working hard.
‘First year doesn’t count’ is probably one of the most used phrases on a university campus. It is MEGA tempting to use this as a mantra when you really can not be bothered to make the effort to go to that 5pm class on a Friday, or hand in that stupid essay due on Monday morning, but, technically, it is not 100% true. My first year results were calculated into an average, which then counted for 1/9th of my overall degree. At the time I saw that as so minuscule that it was mostly irrelevant – as I am heading into 3rd year, I am slightly regretting that outlook! Of course it is a small amount, and having a stress-induced breakdown in your first year is futile. That said, if your first year does carry some weight, do not brush it off, because by your third year you will be looking everywhere you can to scrap in as many marks as possible.
What I found really useful was planning library days with friends. Personally, I much preferred being a sloth and working from my bed, but forcing myself out, even on a January morning on a Saturday, was worth it. Even just changing up your environments is useful sometimes for productivity: there is only so much time you can spend writing an essay alone in a tiny square room.
Things I learnt from first year and what I wish I had done differently.
- Stay on top of work!
It took a year for me to really settle into the work load of university life and to adapt to the style of pretty much totally independent work. If you have a deadline, do NOT leave it till the day before! I wish someone had drilled this into me more at the start. All of my stress-induced break downs and tears were solely the result of getting snowed under mountains of work that I had time to do, but just left till the last second to complete.
What I found especially challenging was the first year examination period. Throughout my first year I often fell behind on doing my weekly readings, and by the time I reached the summer exams, I barely had any notes to revise from. This meant I was left doing countless 50 page readings instead of using time productively to be going through notes that I should have already made. That is where I saw the most noticeable difference between my first and second year – if you are on the ball as consistently as possible, your grades will reflect it.
- Ask for help if you need it.
It is obviously different at each institution, but pretty much every university will have some sort of advisor programmed in place to help its students. I desperately needed to use mine in first year, yet for some reason was either too lazy, or too nervous, to reach out and contact mine. Turns out she is super lovely and a massive help in my academic life, so it really is worth contacting yours.
GET A DIARY. It took me a good year and a half of university to figure this one out somehow, but you have to invest in a diary, and need to stay on top of putting in deadline dates. Your diary needs to become your bible. What you will soon learn is your lecturers and teachers are not going to baby you, and you probably will not have the luxury of deadline reminders (something I also learnt the hard way!)
Stock up on folders too, and keep them organised and neat. In my first year I went about it from a slightly more relaxed angle (aka, throwing loose paper at my desk after each class and hoping for the best come essay or exam time) and it really came back and bit me. Keep everything stored neatly and easily findable, be it online or in paper form.
This leads me on to the point of backing up your work! I saw so many people having complete breakdowns after their laptops had broken and their entire degree work so far had been wiped out, or after they had left a folder on the tube and lost everything. However you want to do it, be it on a hard-drive, a USB, Dropbox, just double save everything! In my second year I saved everything on my laptop, my USB, and printed my work to file in a folder so I had a hard copy of my notes. If I had any big essays or projects I also emailed myself these, just as an extra back up.
- Tips for studying in London specifically.
Studying in a city as incredibly vibrant and interesting as London is amazing, but takes some navigating to get used to. For a start, the price of living itself is something you will need to adapt to and budget for.
Travel in particular is painfully expensive in London (and anywhere really), which is why I recommend getting a student oyster card, and looking into a week or month-long travel-card to attach to your oyster. It depends on the areas you will be living and working in, but for the bulk of universities in London, a zone 1-2 travel card will suffice if you are travelling around 5/6 days of a week in central-ish London. Any tube station should have a TFL advisor in, and they will be best able to advise you on the cheapest option by factoring in the zones you will be crossing and how much you will be travelling.
Explore everything London has to offer you, from its museums and parks, to its tucked away coffee shops and reading rooms. If the library is not the place for you, you will easily find plenty of nooks and crannies to spend the day in.
- E N J OY I T!
It sounds super nerdy, but education can be so amazingly rewarding, and chances are you will miss it once you are forced to get a job and get wrapped up in the 9-5 of work life. Get as much out of your degree as you can, take all the opportunities you get and make the most of the information your professors have to offer you. Your final year will come around ridiculously fast, and you will be wishing you could slow it down as you approach graduation. I would have laughed at someone who told me I would miss university when I was in first year, but I am heading into third year now and in disbelief at where the time has gone.
Savour as much of it as you can and above all, be organised, because it really can change everything whilst you are there. Good luck!
Love always, Kirstie x