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Real-life tips on surviving your first year at university

The start of university can be overwhelming, but these tips from current university students and recent graduates can help you start off on the right foot

    Callum Dawson's avatar

    Callum Dawson

    August 31 2018
    Real life tips on surviving your first year of university


    Your first year of university is, without a doubt, character-building. Of course, this could be either a good thing or a bad thing.

    To help every student make the most of their first year, we got in touch with a group who made it through that awkward transition and lived to tell the tale. These individuals gave us some fantastic tips that will guide you through first year.

    Go your own way

    “My best tip for the first year of university is not to be afraid of attending events alone. I went to so many gigs on my own to begin with, purely because I hadn’t formed a solid group of friends yet.

    “Later down the line, it actually helped me because I’d met and became friends with a lot of people outside the uni and was more involved in the city I lived in. It made me way more social.”

    – Willow Coldwell (@WillowDemelza), graduate, music business at British and Irish Modern Music Institute, Brighton

    Independence is vital at university – and, as Willow says, it helps you to build your network beyond the university bubble. Doing so, you get a stronger experience of your city, which gives you the confidence to put yourself into situations that might previously have terrified you.

    Get work experience where you can

    “Start getting real work experience during first year. Internships count! Even if it’s a few hours a week.

    “That way you can graduate with years of experience and land an awesome job. It will also help ease anxiety because you are building for the future – there’s peace of mind knowing that you will be more highly qualified for good jobs.”

    Adam Gingery (@AdamGingery1), graduate, journalism at the University of Manchester

    Work experience consistently catches employers’ eyes, helping graduates to land top jobs every single year. Being able to prove that you’ve spent time working with accomplished professionals in your chosen line of work is important.

    There’s often a lot of anxiety around landing your “dream job”, and a bit of work experience is a fantastic way to combat this.

    Respect deadlines

    “Deadlines are deadlines. Some tutors may be more lenient than others, but it’s a good habit to respect deadlines from day one, and note them in your diary so that you’re prepared.”

    Sophie Wagstaff (@explorewithsoph), graduate, music journalism at the University of Staffordshire

    It’s easy to let things slip when you’re halfway through the academic year and the deadlines are stacking up. But you’ll manage your time far better with forward planning and a sincere respect for deadlines.

    Develop a regular sleeping pattern

    “Get into a routine of not sleeping in too much. It’s way too easy to miss those 9am lectures!”

    Lois Connell (@LoisConnell_), second-year student, nutrition, diet and lifestyle at Sheffield Hallam University

    We’re all guilty of hitting the snooze button every now and then, but at university it can turn into a regular occurrence. Developing a sensible sleeping pattern is easily neglected, but don’t make the same mistakes that many other students will.

    Grades do count in first year!

    “It’s important to still try hard with your work in first year, even if you only need 40 per cent to pass. Otherwise, you get a massive kick in the teeth when you get to second year and you don’t do as well as you could.”

    Suzie Rhead (@suzie_rhead), graduate, law and economics at the University of Liverpool

    Complacency in your first year will have a knock-on effect throughout your degree because it’s arguably your most important year. It’s your introduction to university-level learning and scholarship and all its demands. You’ll need to learn how to manage your time – in terms of both study and social life – and also how to work, independently or in groups.

    Try a society

    “Join every club and society going. It’s a great way to meet lots of different people aside from housemates and coursemates.”

    Kate Chapman (@_KateChapman), graduate, history at Trent University

    Enough with the serious stuff. Join a society! You may have been told that this is exactly what you’ll do and that you won’t attend a single social, but that doesn’t matter. Joining societies is a numbers game – each society you do join will increase the chances of your meeting new people and making friends.

    Plan ahead

    “My top tip for surviving first year would be to plan your week beforehand. This includes meal planning (to cut down cost and waste), scheduling your essay prep, and writing well before the deadline.”

    Stephanie Jones (@stephanie0jones), PhD student, sociology at Bangor University

    Here’s a tip that helps the environment. It should help you organise your work better, too.

    If you know, you know…

    “Here’s a good tip for saving money: when a new food place opens in your area, they’ll usually want to test out their new menu, so what I’d do is ring them up and say I was willing to test the food and give them feedback for a free dinner. It worked a fair few times.”

    Liam Solomon, graduate, marketing at Sheffield Hallam University

    It might take a bit of cheek, but it’s worth a shot! With a bit of know-how and a whole load of chutzpah, you’ll be dining for free on a fortnightly basis.

    Start your first year with a smile and don’t try to reinvent yourself too much

    Above all else, a smile goes a long way. You’ll come off as more approachable and with an open and friendly demeanour.

    One more thing: be wary of trying too hard to “fit in”. It’s common for first-years to fall in with certain groups and act in ways that don’t necessarily reflect who they are. Make sure that you socialise with people who share your interests and your values.

    And, take it from our students, you might get the urge to pack your bags and head home within the first few weeks. Unless you’ve really thought about it and are sure that the university or course isn’t for you, try to stick it out.

    Read more: Top 10 university hacks from some of the UK’s most successful students and graduates


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