Entering my third (and final- eek) year, all of those reservations I held about what my university experience would be like feel like a distant memory. But for those last few weeks before leaving home, I was terrified. University is a completely new adventure that – in all honesty – is quite difficult to understand until you experience it for yourself. There are, however, some things that I wish someone had told me before I started my first year. They may not all make sense to you now but, trust me, they will over the next 12 months.
Making friends will be a lot easier than you think. For me, this was probably one of my biggest worries. The thought of moving into a flat with 5+ strangers is incredibly daunting, but everyone is in the same position. Within weeks, it was as if I had known my flatmates and course-mates for years. I found that I felt a similar sense of comfort and familiarity with them as I had with my friends from home. I can’t explain how it happens, but if you are open and willing to make new friendships, other people will be too! One tip though… never underestimate the power of a good cup of tea and baked goods; nothing said friendship like a Mary Berry-style chocolate fudge cake or a batch of cookies.
Homesickness won’t last forever. I was extremely homesick during my first few weeks at university. It’s only when you have a moment to yourself that the weight and reality of the situation really hits you. Moving away from home, moving to a new area, meeting new people… it’s a lot! And it’s completely fine to feel a bit overwhelmed by it all. Remember that this is a really big adjustment, so take as much time as you need. I found that the best cure was to keep myself busy and to make regular calls to my parents (which was probably as much for them as it was for me). Though it won’t feel like it at the time, you will eventually settle in at your own pace.
There are ways to socialise with people other than going out and drinking. Crazy, I know! While drinking and clubbing are popular options during first year, they are definitely not the only option. Why not suggest going out for dinner with your flatmates? Going to the cinema? Having a film night? Going bowling? The possibilities are endless! Not only is it a great way to get to know them, but you will remember everything that happens and not have a hangover the next day. You will also probably make some of your best first year memories by doing something different, rather than having the exact same night out 3 or 4 times a week.
Regardless of what everyone says, first year is important. I guarantee that you will hear the words ‘first year doesn’t count’ or ‘you only need 40% to pass anyway’ at least a hundred times this year. Yes, (in most cases) first year doesn’t count towards your final grade. But it is still really important to try your best. You grades, attendance and attitude towards your work are the first impression that you will make on your tutors. You don’t want to get off on the wrong foot and have to pick up the slack in second year.
Your work is your responsibility. No one is going to be chasing you up to do it! If you are worried about an upcoming deadline, you need to see a lecturer or tutor and ask for their help. The same applies if you are struggling with the workload. University is definitely a jump up in both quantity and difficulty of work compared to A-level. While you will adjust in time, don’t be afraid to admit if it all feels a bit too much. (As a side note to that – yes, you really do have to do the extra reading. Don’t leave it all to the end of the semester or you will have major regrets).
It’s important to strike a social life/ work life balance early on. While all of those nights out in the SU will seem like a great idea at the time, missing too many 9am lectures will eventually catch up with you. Go out, have fun. But try to stay on top of your work as best you can. Equally, don’t overwork. Set aside working hours for during the week, then give yourself some time off during the evenings and weekends. This is a difficult balance to strike, but it will be worth it in the long-term.
University is such an exciting adventure, so be sure to enjoy it!
Ellie is about to start her third year at Cardiff University, studying English Language. She also writes a blog ‘Forget the World’ about lifestyle and university experiences.
Note: 'Student Blog' pieces highlight the student perspective on issues relating to ProtectED. Consequently, this article reflects the views of the author and not ProtectED.