by Rachel McCombie
Going to university for the first time is incredibly exciting, but at the same time it can be quite an overwhelming experience that some students understandably find a bit scary.
You’re not alone if you have a few fears about going to university, so in this article we want to reassure you that although change of any kind can be nerve-wracking, you should try not to worry too much because your experience is very unlikely to be as difficult as you anticipate.
Some people find friends for life in Freshers’ Week;
others marry someone they first met in third year.
Probably the number one fear most students have when they first go to university is that they won’t make any friends. Virtually everybody worries about this, and such fears are entirely understandable. You’re surrounded by people you don’t know, and this can feel overwhelming. The main thing to remember is that everyone is in the same boat. In your first week you’ll probably find yourself meeting loads of new people; the university knows that making friends will be one of your primary concerns in your first week, so they’ll be organising plenty of socialising opportunities to allow you to meet people. Take heed of the following advice to help you form a group of friends more quickly:
- Go to as many social events as you can in your first week – parties, dinners, drinks, film nights and so on.
- Join some university societies early on – this way, you’ll meet people who share your interests.
- Mix with as with as many different groups of people as you can – the people you live with, in your subject group, in your wider year group, in the interest groups, clubs and societies you join. The more people you meet, the greater your chances of finding the people you really connect with.
- When you first arrive, prop your room door open so that you’ll meet your neighbours. Have a kettle and some mugs at the ready so that you can offer fellow students a cup of tea when they need a break from unpacking.
- If you’re not already on Facebook, get yourself an account. Everybody will be adding everybody else as a friend on Facebook in Freshers’ Week, and if you’re not on it, you may well feel cut off and find you miss out on social invitations, shared photos and such like.
Don’t worry if you don’t instantly meet people you connect with; as the weeks go on, you’ll encounter different people in different situations and you are sure to find people you’re on a wavelength with.
Making your student accommodation cosy can help
Unless you went to boarding school, university is likely to be your first experience of living away from home. It’s only natural that you should miss home a little, and homesickness is a common feeling – particularly in your first term, when you’re settling in, getting to know a lot of new people and, probably, a whole new town or city. If you’re worried about feeling homesick, there are a few things you can do to help you settle into university accommodation:
- Install Skype on your computer, so that you can easily and cheaply chat with your family and friends back home.
- Take your own duvet set with you, along with other home comforts that will make your university room feel more like home.
- Try not to visit home too much – it sounds counterintuitive to avoid going home if you’re feeling homesick, but unless these feelings are too overwhelming, you’re better off avoiding a weekend trip home because it means you’ll miss out on what’s happening on the social scene at university, which could leave you feeling isolated. If all your friends seem to be disappearing off home for a particular weekend, by all means do the same; but you won’t be able to adjust properly to your new lifestyle by abandoning it, even temporarily.
The feeling of being all alone in a strange city can be scary and isolating, but these feelings are unlikely to last long. Most students end up thinking of their university city as ‘home’ pretty quickly, and many stay on even after they graduate.
Fending for yourself
You may have to get used to saving coins for the laundrette.
Effectively living on your own for the first time can come as a bit of a shock to the system when you’ve been used to having your parents to cook and clean for you, do your laundry and drive you to places, and some students worry about how they will cope with this huge lifestyle change. It’s true that fending for yourself for the first time can be daunting, and it will certainly make you appreciate all those little things your parents used to do for you! However, this is a necessary adjustment in life, and university provides a safe environment for you to make the transition to adulthood. You can make the transition easier for yourself by learning a few vital life skills before you go, including:
- Cooking – an important one, so we’ll come back to this in more detail a little later in this article!
- Laundry – rather than chickening out and saving it all up for when you next go home, learn how to iron a shirt if you don’t already know, and get some practice in by doing your own laundry at home before you go to university.
- Grocery shopping – a dull but necessary task that may take a little bit of getting used to if you’ve not bought anything more than a sandwich from a supermarket before. You’ll need to plan what meals you’re going to have and what ingredients you’ll need, as well as learning how to find the best bargains (in the ‘reduced’ section, for instance) and money-off coupons.
- Paying for things – there will be quite a few expenses for you to consider at university, and you’ll be acutely aware of them because it’ll be you paying for them! This means you’ll need to master the art of budgeting, and always be aware of how much money you have left in the bank. We’ll come on to this in more detail shortly.
Some students may also worry about how they’ll cope with being ill away from home, with nobody to look after them. There’s not an awful lot you can do to make such an eventuality seem easier to deal with, but one thing you should do as soon as you arrive at university is register for the local GP’s surgery. Being prepared for the possibility of being ill away from home should help lessen your concerns and make things more bearable if it happens.
Budgeting apps on your phone mean that keeping track
of your spending needn’t be difficult.
With tuition fees and living costs at a record high, money is an understandable concern for many people as they embark on life at university. As we’ve already touched on, there will be a lot of expenses to take into consideration, and you’re likely to be spending more money than you ever have before. It’s right to be worried about money – being complacent and not keeping tabs on your spending is a guaranteed way to land yourself in financial difficulties. But it’s not all doom and gloom; here are some tips for staying on top of money issues:
- Prepare in advance – before you go to university, save up as much money as you can from pocket money, part-time jobs and any other sources, such as birthday gifts from relatives. Saving may seem a bore at the time, but you’ll appreciate the extra money in your account when you get to university, and it could mean the difference between being able to afford to go out and socialise and not.
- Budget – when you’re at university you’ll be living on your student loan and savings, so you’ll need to make these limited funds go as far as possible. Write out a budget for how much you’ll allocate to different living costs – accommodation, food, going out and so forth – and stick to it.
- Apply for university grants and bursaries – if money is really tight, you’ll probably find that there are some grants and bursaries available to you from the university purse. These are often dedicated to helping you cover important costs such as your accommodation fees or textbooks, and can make an enormous difference to your financial situation.
- Take advantage of student discounts – the good news is that as a student, you’ll find there are loads of discounts and offers open to you that will help you buy things more cheaply, including food, travel and entertainment. Making use of these deals will save you lots of money over the course of your degree, so they’re well worth the time it takes to seek out the best ones.
Learning to cook before going to university definitely pays off.
It’s not uncommon to experience a little ‘culinary discomfort’ when you go to university; you’re used to your parents’ delicious home-cooked food, and suddenly finding yourself in catered halls, where the food isn’t brilliant, or having to cook for yourself, can be difficult to come to terms with and can add to your feelings of homesickness. If you’re worried about the culinary aspects of your university experience, try learning a few basic recipes before you go. Not only will this mean that you’re able to cook yourself ‘home’-style dishes, but it’ll also come in useful for entertaining your friends! Simple yet delicious recipes to learn before you go to university could include chilli con carne, pasta dishes (such as spaghetti bolognese or pasta bake), risotto, and a full English breakfast.
Sorting out accommodation and dealing with landlords
Another scary ‘grown-up’ thing you’ll almost certainly have to contend with at university is sorting out somewhere to live, as many universities only offer accommodation for the first year of your course. A legitimate concern is being ripped off by private landlords or letting agencies, who have been known to prey on unsuspecting students who don’t realise that they’re being taken for a ride. You’ll need to show that you won’t be messed around, carefully reading through any contracts before you sign them, questioning anything you’re not sure about, and getting the advice of your university student union if necessary. Once you’ve moved into rented accommodation, techniques such as invoking the name of a tenants’ union, or pointing out that minor faults could develop into major, expensive ones if not fixed, should help you get your landlord to sort out any problems you may have with the house.
Workload, academic requirements and a new style of teaching
University classes are likely to involve smaller groups and
far more interaction that you’re used to from school.
The rigours of a university workload and academic requirements will be a step up from what was expected of you at A-level, and some students worry that they’ll find it difficult to adjust to this more demanding academic level and different style of teaching. Your experience will, of course, depend on which university you go to; at some you may find that your workload is actually less than what you had in sixth form, while others will expect significantly more. But wherever you go, you’re likely to notice that things are rather different from sixth form; you’ll be expected to think for yourself a lot more, write more academically rigorous essays with footnotes and a bibliography, and you’ll be taught in new ways, such as lectures and seminars. This is nothing to worry about, though; your lecturers won’t be expecting you to make a seamlessly brilliant leap from A-level to degree standard overnight, and they should give you plenty of guidance on what’s expected of you and advice on how to adjust to academic life as an undergraduate.
Being ‘the stupid one’
On a related note, some students worry that when they turn up to their first few classes or seminars, they’ll be seen as ‘the stupid one’. Many of us are filled with self-doubt in a situation in which we are asked to give an opinion in the presence of a number of people we don’t know, and that’s entirely normal. But try not to worry: if you’ve been given a place at that university, it’s because the admissions tutors think you’re good enough to be given one. In a class or seminar situation, your thoughts are highly unlikely to be anything like as stupid-sounding as you fear; the chances are that if you speak out with an opinion or question, you’re either voicing what many in the room were thinking but too afraid to say, or you’re offering an interesting angle on something that will help drive discussion forward. Academia is all about curiosity and asking questions, so even if you haven’t quite understood something, you won’t be scorned – you’ve probably just highlighted something that hadn’t been explained sufficiently, and your fellow students will likely be glad you brought it up, as they didn’t understand it either. It’s far better to speak out than to sit in silence – and your tutor will be glad that someone has the confidence to say something, as they don’t like a room full of awkwardly silent students any more than you do!
Going to university is a time of great change, and we humans, being creatures of habit, can sometimes find change hard to adjust to. Your concerns are all legitimate, but rest assured that everyone is in the same situation, and it won’t be long before you’ve settled in and got to grips with your new way of life.