Five tips for surviving your first semester at university

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It’s September, and students everywhere are gearing up for the start of the new term. For some students, this autumn marks the start of their first year at university. This can seem scary or overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.

The fact that you’re living away from your parents for possibly the first time is often the most worrying aspect for some students, and also the whole university ‘experience’ – school doesn’t really prepare you for what university is like, and nor does college (sixth form), despite what your teachers may tell you.

I know I was a bit fazed when I started my first year at university, but luckily I made friends with older students (my bff4eva was a third year when I met him) and they helped me to settle down quickly, and get into the rhythm of student life.

So here are five tips for students starting university – some are obvious, some… not so much.

Call your mum occasionally

Texting and WhatsApp is fine on the daily, but set aside time at least once a week to speak to your mum, and the rest of your family. Your dad and your siblings will, believe it or not, miss and worry about you too. Schedule a weekly call with your whole family – Skype makes this easy, and then the dog can see and hear you too. Your pets will miss you as well! Don’t feel that you’re being lame if you want to call your mum just to hear her voice either – it’s only natural to feel a bit lost when you’re away from home and having to fend for yourself for the first time. Ask her advice for the boring mundane stuff like laundry, tell her you got drunk and fell in a hedge (she might have a bit of a go at you, but she’s your mum and she just worries) and let her know honestly how you’re doing. If you’re not happy, tell her. Just because you’re legally an adult doesn’t mean you have to go through everything alone. Talking to an adultier adult is often helpful, especially if you’re struggling. And schedule visits home at least once a semester if you can (take your laundry with you) – you never realise how much you miss your family until you’re away from them.

Work out a study schedule

Remember, you are at university to study. Sure, there will be a party scene, and lots of drinking, but ultimately you’re there to get a degree in your chosen subject. Or at least, I hope you are. If you’re literally just going to uni to party, then do yourself a favour and quit now. You didn’t work your bum off to get your A-level results to then go and drink yourself silly. Get yourself a wall planner, and use it to mark out your deadlines for coursework and the like. Get a diary, and use it for the same. Use the calendar on your phone. And schedule library time at least once a week to work uninterrupted – stick in your headphones and study your butt off. If you work out a study schedule, you won’t ever have to pull an all-nighter either. And remember, never, never miss a deadline. The hassle it creates is not worth it. If you can get into these habits in your first year, the other two years will be a breeze.

Eat

Seems obvious, and if you’re going into a catered hall of residence this won’t be a problem, but if you’re not, then remember to eat. You need food for energy and for your brain to study properly. Don’t run off coffee and cigarettes, especially when there’s exams coming up. It’s not good for you, and you’ll just end up miserable when you stop running off stimulants. Try and have at least one balanced meal a day (if your uni has a cafeteria, use it, I still have good memories of the lasagne at my uni) and never skip breakfast, even if ‘breakfast’ is just a slice of cold pizza. You can’t pay attention in a lecture on an empty stomach, trust me, plus there’s the issue of empty stomachs suddenly deciding to imitate whale song during the middle of a test. I’ve been there, done that. Eat.

Join a club or society (or sports team)

I met my best friends through my clubs and societies. There will be a lot on offer, so it’s best to pin down your interests and only join two or three so you don’t get overwhelmed. I joined the Star Trek society and the archery club (which I had never tried before), as well as the equestrian team, so that was all bases covered for me. Clubs and society meetings will also give more structure to your week, so you can plan your schedule better. And club socials are always fun. The best thing about uni is that you aren’t forced to socialise with people you have nothing in common with – at best you have to tolerate them in class and then you can cheerfully ignore them. I would bet a small amount of money that your true, and best friends, will come from the clubs you join. Membership fees should be low, so find a couple you like, and join them!

Stick to your budget

It’s tempting, when you’re away from home, to be a little… lax… with your money. This is when people get into debt, and overdrafts become a Thing. Your student loan will only last so long, and unless you get a part-time job or your parents are willing to sub you, the loan will be your only income. Know exactly how much you are getting, deduct your rent and bills from it, and budget for food and fun using the rest. This way, you won’t get into debt, you can still enjoy yourself, and you won’t starve. Learn to do this now – ask your mum if you need help with it – because budgeting is a skill that will serve you well your entire life.

oOo

Going off to university doesn’t have to be scary. It’s the start of a new chapter of your life, and it really does mark the transition from child to adult. You have to meet new people, study something more complex than anything you’ve ever studied before, learn to budget, remember to eat and somehow remember to call your parents to let them know you’re alive.

I was very worried about leaving home and going off to uni, but it turned out okay in the end. I got my degree, only ended up drunk in a hedge once (Craig if you’re reading this, I still haven’t forgiven you for that), didn’t starve, I always had enough money (yay budgeting) and met some of the best friends I’ve ever had.

So good luck to all of you heading off to university, and I hope you enjoy your experience!

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