Starting university can be a daunting prospect. Living independently without mum and dad, building new friendships, remembering to eat and sleep, it’s a total mine field. With more and more young people reporting mental health issues like anxiety or depression, it’s clear students don’t always adapt to starting university in the right way. So, here’s a short guide to help you kick start the beginning of the rest of your life. (With a couple of gritty truths chucked in for good measure.)
Living away from mum and dad.
This is never going to be easy. It may feel like a 24 hour party and you’re completely invincible, but many people will feel some sort of home sickness. Hell, I still felt it during my third year. Home sickness will affect everyone slightly differently. Some people lock themselves away for hours or days at a time. Some people become depressed, paranoid or irritable. Some people just cry at a moment’s notice. However it may affect you, it’s perfectly okay to ask for help. I honestly cannot emphasise this enough. University is about being out of your comfort zone, and it’s pretty much the same for everyone. Maybe pack a few small tokens from home to keep you feeling connected to your mum and dad or have weekly skype sessions with your family so that you can see the dog. It’s okay to miss home and it’s okay to do something about it.
Remember, university is a shared experience. No one really knows what they’re doing, but everything will go much smoother if you have friends on your side. Try not to make sure you’re not accidentally alienating people early on (no-one actually likes the ‘phantom flatmate’ who never leaves their room). Give them a chance to get to know you before any judgements are made. Especially in halls. You have to live with them for at least a year, so you’re going to see a lot of them. Including in embarrassing or compromising situations. But then again, they might find you like that too. Either way, it’s easier if you get along with the people you have to interact with on a daily basis.
It might be worth organising a form of meet and greet to get to know your flat mates in the first few weeks of term, after the rush of Freshers Week. Here are some suggestions from someone who’s survived all the awkward “Hi, my name is…” before:
- House meetings
- Group cooking
- Host a Party
- House night on the town
- Movie night/Game night
These will be some of the most useful people to know on campus. Especially on courses with small numbers of students. These will be the people you spend most of your time on campus with. Whether you’re in a lecture or seminar, in the library, or having a pint at the students union, they’ll be at the centre of your university life. You will also find at some point on your course you will have to participate in a group project, which, let’s be honest, no one wants to do, but will be much more bearable if you’re friendly with the people you’re with. Don’t be the pretentious one who thinks they know more than every other student, but also don’t rebel against engaging with your course. You’re all there because you like the same subjects, so it’s a level playing field.
Societies and sports teams.
Honestly, join one. Something that will get you out of the house and socialise. Whether you’re a chess champion or a rugby protégé (or both, we’re not judging), your university has something for everyone. It will give you new skills and friendships that will last you a life time. You may even end up in competition with other universities, giving you the chance to travel and experience even more. Take the leap of faith out of your comfort zone and you’ll thank me for it.
You’re independent now, so no one can make decisions for you. You want to go drinking? Fine. Want to do it on a Tuesday, even though you know you should probably go to that 9am lecture on Wednesday? By all means. But know your limits. Forget everything you knew about drinking before you started, because university is a different ball game. The game has changed. And everyone has a different set of rules. So find yours. It may take a few weeks into term, but you will quickly learn what you can and can’t drink, how much you can tolerate, and how much it will affect your behaviour. Another beautiful fact to remember? You don’t actually have to drink if you don’t want to. Starting university can make you feel like you have to be just like everyone else, but I’m here to tell you, you don’t. Be fun on a night out and that’s all your friends are fussed about.
And finally, actual work.
Whilst university is a truly amazing experience, you do actually have to do some work. This may take the form of essays, research, practical classes in labs etc. Take it seriously but enjoy your down time.
Essentially, university is about learning, experiencing new things and finding yourself. And the start of it can be a scary time. But that is totally normal, and you are not different, weird or doing uni wrong if you get nervous, homesick or sad. The most important thing is to find a healthy balance between work and play. Apart from that, we’re all just making it up as we go!
By Fraser Wilson, Salford University Graduate.