13 Things To Do in your First Year of University

Image shows Oxford, seen from South Park.

Your first year of university is likely to be one of the most exciting times of your life to date.

It’s a time of great change, during which you’ll adapt to life away from home, learn to fend for yourself, and make lots of new friends, some of whom you’ll stay in touch with for the rest of your life. Your first year is also a time when you can take full advantage of the university experience, before your workload gets too intense and you start working towards your Finals exams. Here are some of the things you could do in your first year of university, while you still have time…

1. Get to know your new surroundings

Image shows a Virgin train in a station.
Take the opportunity to explore.

The chances are that you’re moving to a new town or city for university, so your first year is when you settle in and get to know your new surroundings. Group together with your new friends and take the time to explore the city as a tourist would. See the local sights, try out some different pubs and restaurants, and walk in the local parks. This will help you familiarise yourself with the layout of the city so that you feel more confident in finding your way around. Apart from the small matter of settling in, it’s good to do this in your first year because you’re still fresh-faced and eager; later in your time at university, when you become older and wiser, you’ll be more preoccupied with studying, with less time to wander the city at your leisure. You could even go further afield, venturing to new cities by train using your 16-25 Railcard and perhaps visiting your school friends at their universities so that you don’t lose contact with them.

2. Take up a new hobby

Universities are chock full of fun societies and clubs, catering for every possible interest or hobby. This means that your first year is the perfect opportunity to try something new, whether it’s taking up a new hobby, joining a sports team or meeting like-minded people who share one of your niche interests. Go along to the Freshers’ Fair in your first week and put your name down for a few trial meetings of different societies. You don’t have to commit to all of them; you’ll be able to go to the preliminary meetings of some of them and see which you like best (and which work with your timetable). University is the time to embrace some unusual things you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of trying, so the more out of your comfort zone, the better. The Doctor Who Fan Club, Pudding Society and Gliding Club are all among the plethora of out-of-the-ordinary groups waiting for you to sign up, and whichever random societies you decide to join, you’ll make lots of new friends from outside your subject and halls of residence. In the unlikely event that you don’t find a society you like the look of, you could even start your own; many universities offer funding to allow students to set up their own societies, and running one is great experience for your CV.

3. Learn a new skill

Image shows a conference room for a Model United Nations meeting.
You could get involved in the Model United Nations.

With lots of opportunities for learning new skills, university is the perfect place to enrich your CV by adding more strings to your bow. You could try learning a new language in a university language or cultural society, or developing skills through other means that will benefit your professional development when you leave university. You could sign up for some of the more high-powered university societies to help you do this – such as the university debating team, Model United Nations or AIESEC. Such societies are great for networking as well as for developing your confidence with important life skills such as public speaking. You could also try standing for a position on a committee, such as the Junior Common Room (JCR) committee, as this will give you experience of putting together a campaign, giving you marketing-related skills that you can apply to projects you may end up working on in your future job.

4. Fully embrace university traditions

Image shows a crowd dressed in green for May Morning in Oxford.
May Morning is a classic Oxford tradition.

Most universities have their fair share of traditions, ranging from the solemn to the silly, and your first year is the time to embrace them to the full, no matter how ridiculous or recently invented they may be. You’ll probably reach the point later in your university career at which you feel (or pretend to feel) cynical about such things, so enjoy them while you’re still new to it all. Go to every event organised for Freshers, even if you wouldn’t normally go to such things; even if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll probably bump into other people who aren’t enjoying it either, and you’ll bond over your mutual dislike of this form of entertainment. By the time you get to second year, you’ll have grown tired of events like this, so make as many friends as you can, while you can. Throw yourself into university life with gusto: go all-out on a costume for a university Halloween party, wrap up warm for the university fireworks display, come up with a novel fundraising idea for ‘RAG’ (Raising and Giving) week, and treat the peculiar traditions at your particular university as though they’re a life or death matter. You’ll have some fond memories to look back on, and it’ll give you plenty of fun to have with your new friends.

5. Volunteer

You’ll probably have a bit more time in your first year than in subsequent years of your degree, so now’s the time to add some volunteering experience to your CV to impress future employers, if you feel this would be beneficial to your career goals. There are likely to be plenty of student charities you can take part in, such as Nightline, which will teach you valuable new skills – such as the ability to communicate clearly, and to work effectively in a team – as well as allowing you to help fellow students.

6. Get a part-time job

If you’d rather devote your free time to paid work with which to supplement your student loan, you could instead get a part-time job during your first year. This will add useful skills and experience to your CV, as well as providing a much-needed boost to your income. First year is the time to do this, because you risk adversely affecting your studies if you devote too much time to paid employment as finals draw closer.

7. Take part in a Jailbreak

Image shows an Easyjet plane.
Jailbreak is a great example of the kind of thing you can
only really do as a student.

Another fun thing you can do in your first year of university is related to the aforementioned ‘RAG’ activities. The so-called “Jailbreak” is a travel challenge that involves groups of students trying to get as far away from their university as possible, within a set period of time, by any means. Some past teams have been tremendously successful at this, ending up in places as far flung as Sydney and Argentina. It’s all in the name of charity, and your first year is the perfect time to do it, while you can still afford to take 36 hours out of your university schedule. Don’t forget to organise some eye-catching costumes to help draw attention to yourselves.

8. Be more daring in your essays

Academically speaking, your first year is also a good time to be a bit more experimental. Lecturers and examiners are more forgiving of first-year students, so now’s the time to push the boat out when it comes to your essays. Try out different styles and structures, experiment with making bold arguments, and go off-piste with some unusual scholars alongside those prescribed by your reading list. You’ll learn lots this way, and it’ll help you throw yourself into this new style of education. The resulting essays probably won’t all go down that well, but it doesn’t particularly matter in first year – and you might be surprised at what does strike a chord with your lecturers. It’s a good opportunity to find an essay style that works for you and that examiners enjoy.

9. Sort out accommodation for next year

Image shows a typical student bedsit.
Plan in advance, but don’t let estate agents panic you –
it’s very unlikely that there won’t be anywhere left to live.

Another thing to think about in your first year is where you’re going to live next year. Most universities only offer accommodation for the first year of your degree, meaning that you’ll have to find private student accommodation for subsequent years of your course. There are a number of important decisions involved in this process, so the sooner you can start planning it, the better. You’ll need to work out, for example, which of your friends you’re going to live with; you’ll have a better idea of this after a term or two living in halls. You’ll need to work out which part of the city you’re going to live in, how far you’re prepared to travel (this has to do with travel costs as well as convenience), and what your budget is. You’ll need to be eagle-eyed to watch out for houses becoming available – they can soon get snapped up. Your university should have an accommodation office on hand to help recommend letting agents and advise on how to avoid being exploited.

10. Make plans for your year abroad

If you’re completing a year abroad as part of your degree course, your first year is the time to start planning it. Decide where you’re going to go, if you have a choice in the matter, and get organised with things like accommodation, flights and so on. Time abroad can creep up on you, so it’s never too early to start planning. Keeping an eye on the price of flights and booking when they’re at their cheapest will help save money on travel costs. Now’s also the time to investigate what grants are available to students travelling abroad for part of their degree.

11. Get the hang of budgeting

Image shows a pair of scissors on a pile of coupons.
Learning how to budget properly is a vital life skill.

You’ll probably consider this the most boring suggestion on this list, but that doesn’t alter its importance. Your first year of university will see you having to handle more money than you’re ever likely to have done before, and being careful about how you spend it is crucial to ensuring you have enough to get you through each term. In your first weeks and months at university, you’ll gradually get used to what amounts of money you need to spend on different things, and, by monitoring your expenditure, you can start reigning it in if there are any areas where you think savings could be made. Signing up for student discount cards and taking advantage of deals aimed at students will help you minimise your expenses at a time when money is bound to be tight.

12. Get to know the library

By the time your final year comes round, you’re going to be spending a lot of time in the library. You’ll find it helpful when you reach this point if you already know your way around it. In your first year, familiarise yourself with the layout of the library and where everything is, and make sure you know how to use the search system for finding books. Get into the habit of studying in the library and you’ll soon find a spot you enjoy working in. This will allow you to make the library your work space, a place that gets you into the frame of mind for working efficiently, ready for when you have to use the building in earnest as Finals approach.

13. Take advantage of university-organised trips

Image shows two people at the top of a ski slope with a beautiful mountain view.
Your university skiing society might be able to negotiate
group discounts.

You’ll probably find that your university organises a variety of well-subsidised trips, from theatre trips with discount tickets and travel included, right up to big ski trips. First year is the time to go on such excursions, not only because you have more time in first year, but because these are a good way of meeting new friends and letting off steam at the end of term. You probably won’t be able to holiday so cheaply once you graduate, so make the most of it while you can.

Your first year at university is a time of discovery and experimentation: a transition period when you take a step towards adulthood, but you haven’t quite left childhood behind. Make the most of having some fun before the hard work of second and third year begins, but don’t neglect laying the foundation for your later university years and beyond.

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Image credits: banner; train; Model UN; May Morning; Easyjet; accommodation; coupons; skiing


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