September. It can be scary, anxiety provoking and also downright exciting, especially if this is the year that you’re heading to university. It’s definitely not the only pathway and it’s definitely not the pathway for everyone. Lots of people that I know have done extremely well for themselves without ever having taken foot into the foray of higher education that is debt and research. For some, it’s the excitement that comes with moving away from home, away from normality and towards an adventure. For others, it’s the opportunity to dive into a subject that you love and use that knowledge to get into a career immersed in that subject. Maybe you want some time to figure yourself out, and university seems like the best environment for that. It’s a personal thing, university, which is where the first part of our Do and Don’t list begins:
Don’t expect your experience to be like everyone else’s
Maybe your cousin’s best friend hated it there. Maybe your neighbour knows a person who loved her university and met her best friends for life there. Maybe your parents met there and you think you”ll meet your forever person there. The point is, this is your time. You need to enjoy it, and if there are all these pressures on you to fulfil some expectations, then you’re gonna run the risk of missing out on some of the best parts. Other people are going to project on your for all kinds of reasons; maybe they didn’t achieve what they wanted, maybe they want you to do exactly as they did because they think you’ll love it. Either way, if you’re not doing it your way, you’re doing a 2.0 version of someone else’s life, and who really wants that?
Do sign up for things
You’re gonna walk into that freshers fair, see all those tables, and maybe it’ll be a bit daunting. Maybe you’ll think, woah, I’ve never been scuba diving before, could this society be the one for me? Maybe it will be! These groups exist to show you new things, to excite you and to encourage whatever it is that you’re into at that time. Equally though, if you’re giving your email address out to all these groups, be aware that they will never stop contacting you, even if you never go to a single event (today I had an email from a group that I gave my details to in 2017 praising me for my dedication – be afraid, the persistence is real).
This is not to say, however, that university societies are the only way to get involved. Personally, I’m not huge on groups that require some sort of initiation involving traffic cones, mud pies, vodka and whistling (I did watch from the other side of the bar though, and have to say, it was very amusing). Maybe your jam is in volunteering. See if your local area has a homeless shelter you could pass out food with, a cat sanctuary that you could brush cats at, a youth group that you could get involved with, or other such environments. Meeting people this was can be a really awesome thing to do in a new city and can set you up with connections and maybe even a friend for life (no promises though, remember tip #1). Paid jobs too can be a great way forward, especially if you’re not from a background that means you can be financially supported. I’ve met some of the best people from working alongside my studies, and the extra money certainly comes in handy when that student loan begins to run low. Facebook pages that list jobs in the area can be a good place to start, as can going around local businesses and seeing if you can speak directly to someone with hiring powers.
Don’t splurge that loan!
I know. You’ve already heard it from everyone else, but I’m gonna say it too! The worst times can be mid December and the end of August, primarily because those are the times that are the longest between payouts. These are also the times that jobs can be easier to come by for short term work (for example, summer bar help or winter festival hot chocolate honcho). Try and plan for these times, but if you get into dire straits and are at risk of fiscal combustion where rent or bills are concerned, speak to your university’s bursary people. They might be located in your student union and have a specific budget each year for helping out students in financial misery. This doesn’t mean that you can blow all the money on a girls week to Marbella then get free money from the uni, but it does mean that if you’re struggling to maintain yourself because of unforeseen issues, they might be able to help. They also might not, as they can be notoriously unhelpful too. All I’m saying is, if you’re having issues, speak to them first and NEVER take out a payday loan. Now that you’ve read that, read it again. NEVER! They will destroy you financially with repayments, then hurt your reputation by messing with your credit score. Same goes for credit cards, unless you’re absolutely sure that you can a) make the repayments and b) that it’s a sensible option for you. Many reputable places won’t let a student take on too big of a financial risk, but please be wary of those ‘too good to be true’ lenders and credit schemes who only want your money.
Don’t jump into a second year house too soon
Picture this. It’s October, you’ve known a group of people for about 16 days and one of them says Oh my god, if we don’t get a house for next year THIS WEEK they will all be gone and we will have to sleep on the STREETS. Advice: don’t listen to that person. Second advice: please do not commit to living with anyone if you’ve only known them 16 days. At around the 2 month mark, things like casual racism, homophobia, awful personal hygiene, lack of personal space appreciation, bad money habits and other delightful personality traits will suddenly become apparent. It’s at that point you realise, wow, I do not want to be legally obligated to live with this human for 12 months. You are building future you a horrible situation to deal with, where rent is going unpaid, your housemate is racially abusing the post person, the whole place smells like damp laundry and weed and they insist on being within a foot of you at all times. We leave those people alone.
If you wait until the February/March time, you’re more likely to be more secure in your knowledge of people, understanding of the area (knowing which parts are going to be expensive, scary at night, good for commuting and have grocery proximity).
Do be ready to reach out
In my first term of university, I ended up in Nia’s flat crying. I didn’t know why, or even why I went there, because I had only met her once. It turns out I had quite bad anxiety and depression, which I only found out after being able to reach out to my university’s medical centre. If you’re feeling low, anxious, stressed, irreconcilably nervous or just burst into tears in the middle of a lecture about Existentialism (not a great topic for the depressed mind), it’s time for you to reach out. It doesn’t have to be to a doctor straight away. It could be to a friend or a trusted person. It could be to your advisor in university or a lecturer that you think might understand. Don’t be afraid to talk about how you feel. Going to uni is a big deal. It can be hard to balance all the life things that you have going on, the pressures of what a social life should be like, keeping up with a pace of work that you may never have experienced before, the more isolated approach to study (especially in the current situation) and remembering to drink enough water. It can also eb easy to fall into alcoholism, as it’s seen as part of ‘university culture’. If you’re drinking alone, or find yourself drinking alcohol every day, even in the middle of the day, it can be a sign of a problem developing. So, reach out. Call your nan. Join some groups. Take a walk around your area. If you’re struggling, call to the doctor or do eConsult to get an appointment. Find an accredited counsellor in your area and start some Zoom sessions, or contact your university’s Wellbeing services to see how they can help. It can always get better.
Don’t be risky
This is a weird time, no doubt. Maybe you’re angry or upset that this year of university isn’t going to be as planned. You can still enjoy it though. Wear a mask; buy some boujie ones that you can wash and reuse that will add to the power of your outfits. Wash your hands. Don’t stick your fingers in your eyes. If you’re going for the Tinder hookups, maybe take a thermometer with you and check if they’ve been coughing (but maybe just try and keep away from other humans if you can). If you’re going grocery shopping, be mindful of other people around you, because many people have awful concepts of personal space (pro tip – take a suitcase with you if you’re buying tins, cartons or heavy things; it’s a game changer). Clean the touch points often with anti bacterial sprays (bonus points if you can use Ocean Saver pods to avoid excess plastic) in your space, whether that’s light switches, kettles, door handles or fridge doors.
Do enjoy yourself!
You’re going to be in a new situation and it’s exciting! Don’t let the crazy get you down. Work out ways to enjoy your time at university. Most institutions are running Freshers programmes that are considered ‘Covid Safe’ (but use your common sense here; if it seems dodgy, don’t bite). You’re going to be learning so many new things, both academic and lifestyle. It’s going to be brilliant. You’re brilliant. It’s all brilliant. Wear a mask.
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