“We’re family now”
Oddly, the person who said this to me had only been in my life for thirteen days. Those thirteen days were the most exciting, overwhelming and surreal days of my life, as they were my first thirteen days at university.
One day I was living at home, the next I’d been carted off up to the University of Birmingham and left on my own to somehow get my degree. It did occur to me on the first day that I had no idea what I would be learning about, or where I was supposed to learn about these things.
43 days later some things have changed. My room is nicely decorated, with my strict teal colour scheme, I know where campus is, I know my course for this semester, and I suppose I do have my own little family in my flatmates. By the way, a semester is a term. There is a whole load of new university lingo you will have to get to grips with. Whilst having breakfast with my flatmates, who upon first meeting were strangers, I realised that all the work that I had put in at sixth form had paid off and got me to university.
So how did I get there? I can remember sitting my A Levels, and sitting down to write my personal statement. Did I think it was a long, hard process? Yes. Do I regret it? No.
I would say choosing a university and degree is simple. Do what you love, where you love. I looked at other universities, but I always had my favourite. I appreciated that the University was based in the heart of a vibrant and diverse city, and one that wasn’t so far from home. The varied course also was attractive to me, as well as the campus itself. Think realistically too. If the requirements are too high, have a good back up, and rise to the challenge. You do have plenty of time to decide. It’s important to stress that you are going to university for you. Trust your own gut. Go to open days, ask questions, and you will find that you will get ‘that feeling.’ Now, I thought this was a load of mumbo jumbo, but when I came to look at my first choice, I got ‘that feeling.’ I knew that it was for me, and I knew that I wanted to study there.
At school I had always enjoyed English and History, so I decided to take them both on at university. My Joint Honours degree allows me to study two different subjects simultaneously, offering an even greater variety of topics to cover. Once all this had been decided, all there was left to do was sit my exams. I did well enough to secure my place at Birmingham, and about a month after results day I was off.
You will experience a mix of emotions during your first week, as you get to know your course, your surroundings and people. What you should remember, is that all first years feel exactly the same as you do. They will all be wondering how to get to campus, how to do laundry and where the best nights out are – all three of these things certainly crossed my mind! What you must do, is throw yourself into each of these questions, and enjoy the fact that university is new and exciting, and that you have to discover the answers to these questions. Some are easier than others, trust me, laundry is not that complicated. For a long time, exciting is all university will be, as I realised. I was excited to see the library, the city and I was certainly excited to see that my local canteen served pizzas every evening from five! I snacked on one before writing this article.
The great thing about university is that you get to focus on the subjects you love, and that you will encounter people who love those subjects too. You will find these people on your course, or in various clubs and societies. This does make things easier, as immediately there is common ground, so don’t worry about making friends. Remember, all new things take time, and although it may take you a few weeks to find people that you gel with, you will.
That’s not to say that you won’t have ups and downs. You might feel stressed or homesick. When you do, it’s important to remember that there will be lots of support networks in place for you, from older student mentors to official university counsellors. As well as this, you will have your flatmates, who will become like a mini family. I was quite lucky with the people I was thrown in with, as they are pleasant and more importantly, clean! While you enjoy the fact that university is exciting, you should also make room for the fact that you may feel a bit down sometimes, and that this is ok. It happens to everybody. I certainly had a slight sinking feeling when I glanced at the English and History reading list.
In terms of lectures and seminars, go in prepared. Do the work set. The last thing you want is to be writing an essay ten minutes before the deadline hits. It’s stressful and very avoidable.See, I know that I have an essay due for my History module in January. My plan? Do all the reading and planning by the Christmas holidays, then comfortably write it, and finish it, several weeks before the deadline. Not a bad idea, right? Also, try not to fall asleep in lectures, or someone will tap you on the shoulder on a night out and tell you how funny it was to watch you drift off while the lecturer was talking… not that that has happened to me…
In seminars, which are smaller discussion groups, be chatty and friendly, and you will find that people will want to talk to you. Be confident, and be assured that everyone is feeling nervous and overwhelmed. Your confidence will bring out confidence in others, which makes for a less awkward, and less silent, first meeting. If people say they are not nervous, I would bet my degree that they are lying! Walking into a lecture theatre of 300 students for the first time is a moment that I will not forget.
There will also be plenty of events tailored to give you more information about the university, and usually, this information comes with lots of free stuff. My advice? Take as much as you can get – you can never have too many pens, or campus maps! It’s likely that second or third year students will be helping out at these events, so ask them questions, as they will probably provide you with some great shortcuts, tips and hacks for university life… and they will know where the best nights out are… not that that is massively important… for my degree, reading is the most important thing!
Leading on from that, there is something for everyone during freshers week, and at university in general, whether you like going out or not. I myself do enjoy a night out, and did go out during freshers week, but one evening the university put on an outdoor cinema screening with free popcorn and candyfloss. As you can probably guess, when I heard the word ‘free’ I was there. It makes a change, and gave me a chance to recover from Freshers Flu. Trust me, it is no myth. You will get it several times, stock up on paracetamol and be prepared. I thought it was a myth, and here I am typing this up whilst sneezing like there’s no tomorrow… and its week six! Be it going out or staying in, you will find people with the same interests as you, you just need to talk to people and find them! Chances are, they will be looking for you too!
So, there you have it. I hope you will be able to pick up some tips for your first month at university from my random musings. Remember, I was you, not that long ago. I think I have found my own group, and have found my own little uni family. Just remember, if I can do it, you can do it.
Thanks for reading!