Freshers' Week 2020
Getting ready to go to university is one of the most exciting times in your life.
Although you are probably nervous about starting your course and making friends, there is one element you may have overlooked which can help you settle down quickly – Freshers' Week.
However, before we get onto that, here are a few practical tips to help you prepare for university life.
Before you go
It’s a good idea to start your planning several months beforehand. However, if you’re only reading this with weeks or days to go, there’s still time to be well-prepared. Make sure that you have details of your accommodation in writing, and that you know how to find it when you arrive.
Check that your finances are in order too. Confirm how you will be paying for your course, and if you have been awarded bursaries or scholarships, check when these will be paid into your bank account.
If you have a reading list, make a start! This will help you to feel less overwhelmed when your workload is heavy.
Deciding what to pack can be difficult. Much of what you will need to take with you will depend on whether you are in halls of residence, or in a student house. The university will be able to give you advice on the basics for the former, and your landlord should prove helpful with the latter.
The most basic list of what you will need is:
- Important documents – ID (passport or driving licence), university acceptance letter, student loan letters, details and contract for your accommodation, bank details and cards, National Insurance card, student discount cards (including railcards and other travel passes)
- Electricals essential to your course – laptop (mobile printers are useful, but your library will allow you printer access), mobile phone and charger, extension cables, USB stick, and headphones.
- Stationery - this includes pens and pencils, notebooks, a calendar or study chart, diary, and paper clips.
- Basic kitchen utensils – if you are coming from overseas, these are purchases you may wish to make when you get here. There are lots of shops that will cater to a student budget, so look for Poundstretcher, Argos, Wilko and other discounters. Only buy what you need. An espresso machine is not a necessity!
- Bedding – again, this may be provided, or you may wish to purchase this when you’re here. The university should be able to give you advice on what you may need to buy.
- Personal medications – if you have a health condition that requires regular medication, make sure you have a reasonable supply (around a month’s worth) before you arrive so that you can find a new GP. If you are coming from overseas, check that your medication is available on prescription in the UK, and if not check with your own practitioner what alternatives are available, and whether you need an adjustment period
When you arrive
You will get the most out of Freshers' Week if you settle into your halls of residence or student house as soon as you are able to. This will enable you to make friends with your housemates, or those with rooms near to you. If you know that you are shy, a few packets of biscuits to share around will help to break the ice.
There are likely to be dedicated student mentors to help you settle in. It’s always reassuring to have people that have been there and done that around to help you, and to give you advice.
Listen to what they have to say, and certainly follow any advice about settling in, particularly if you are an overseas student. There’s likely to be an element of culture shock as well as feeling generally overwhelmed if it’s your first visit to the country.
Use your first day to find the mundane things, and also how they work.
For example, if you’re in a hall of residence, this means the laundry, the bathroom, the canteen or kitchen, and the student bar. In addition, find the nearest big supermarket – this is also likely to be useful for buying basic kitchen and household equipment – and branch of the bank where you have your student account.
This is also a good time to find where you’ll need to go for lectures, even though your course won’t be starting properly for a week yet.
Settling in and making friends
Be brave and go to where you hear conversation – the kitchen, the shared lounge, or a general common room. Remember, everyone else is in the same position as you, and is keen to make friends as soon as they can.
There are lots of activities and events laid on for you during Freshers' Week. Take advantage of as many of them as you can.
This is your opportunity to find social groups and clubs that not only appeal to your interests, but which may also enhance your understanding and enjoyment of your course.
Although the first friends you make at university are not necessarily the ones that will endure for your entire course, the ones you meet at the various societies you join will share your interests and are more likely to stick.
Parties are obviously a huge part of Freshers Week. Again, these are a good opportunity to socialise and get to know a lot of people in a short space of time.
Most universities will have a Freshers Ball, so don’t forget to bring or borrow formal wear for this. However, if you are relatively unused to alcohol, be very careful. Additionally, make sure that you don’t leave your drink unattended, and be responsible about your own safety.
You may have a few lectures during Freshers' Week. They are introductory classes, so you might view them as unimportant, but it’s a good idea to go so that you recognise some faces in class the following week.
If you have never had to manage your own money, budgeting and buying your own food and toiletries can come as something of a shock. Here are a few basic tips that will help:
- Work out your income – this will include your student loan, any bursaries or scholarships, gifts from parents and relatives, your savings
- Think about what you will need to spend – you will have to estimate some of these costs at the start.
- These are essential costs – tuition fees, rent, utility bills, mobile phone and internet, and contents insurance (do not skip this last expense!)
- Variable costs are where you can make savings if necessary – food and drink, travel, clothes and personal care, books and other course costs
Become a bargain hunter, and before you part with a single penny for variable costs, ask yourself the following – can I afford it, and do I need it? If the answer is “no”, save your money.
Unpack and make your surroundings comfortable, as this will help you to deal with homesickness. If you can make your space your own, you will feel less lost.
It can feel utterly overwhelming to be away from home for the first time, especially if you are in a new town, or even a new country.
Make sure you have plenty of photographs of loved ones and make arrangements to email or Skype regularly. However, don’t cling to home at the expense of making new friends as this will make you feel even worse.
You will be far from being alone in feeling homesick. Be honest about your feelings to your new friends (they’re likely to do the same if you are), and work through being away from home for the first time together.
If you can’t cook, spend a few days learning some simple recipes that can be adapted for variety. Not only will cooking your own food keep you healthier, you’ll save money.
Additionally, casseroles and soups can be made in bulk and frozen, meaning there’s a healthy meal in the freezer however late at night you arrive home.
Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, and make sure your diet is well-balanced. Look for cheaper, nutritious alternatives to meat, such as pulses, to bulk out your meals.
Staying healthy isn’t just about eating well. Get plenty of exercise and try to get enough sleep where you can. Also, pay attention to your mental health, and speak to a university counsellor if you feel you are unable to cope.
Extra notes for international students
At present, it would appear that Brexit is going to have a significant impact on EU students. Unfortunately, we don’t know what that effect is likely to be, although it will affect student finance at the very least. Keep an eye on appropriate information sources, especially if your course ends after 2020.
There are likely to be plenty of international students at your university. Look for Facebook groups to join before you arrive. This is an excellent place to find and exchange information before your course starts.
Most importantly of all, you will need health insurance to cover any medical costs you might incur whilst you’re in the UK.
It's true that your university years will be some of the best of your life.
They mark the transition from childhood to adulthood, and whatever else you do over the next three or four years, the whirl and excitement of Freshers' Week will stay with you forever!
For more Freshers' Week tips and advice, please see: