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First Year at University Wrap-Up (UK Edition)

First Year at University Wrap-Up (UK Edition)

If you’re a high school student worrying about what to expect in your first year at university, you’re not alone. Going off to uni is one of the biggest changes in your life, and it’s totally natural to be a bit nervous! To help prepare you, read on for a first-year wrap-up of what to expect at university!

Preparing beforehand

“Check out what your room size and storage will be”

Before you load up the car for your first day at uni, there's a lot to do. Namely, buying all your things for university! Many students make the mistake of over-packing and buying way more than they actually end up using (or can fit in their room). So, before you go on the uni shopping spree, check out what your room size and storage will be to determine how much you can realistically bring. Some affordable UK stores selling amazing uni essentials are:

  1. IKEA: Need we even say more? Obviously, IKEA is a uni go-to for almost everything you could need! You’ll be seeing many other first-year students on your IKEA uni shopping trip…
  2. Primark Home: Surprisingly, the Home section of Primark has some amazing essentials and decorations for university, including bedding, towels, and small curios to decorate your room
  3. TK Maxx (known as TJ Maxx in the US): This is a great one for kitchen utensils and bathroom accessories (if you’re lucky enough to have an en-suite)!
  4. Wilko: Similar to TK Maxx, another great and affordable place for your kitchen and bathroom purchases
  5. Home Bargains: This store has pretty much everything, from cleaning products to bedroom accessories, all at bargain prices (the name doesn’t lie)
  6. The Range: One of the best things you can do to settle into university better is to make your room a place you want to be in, and The Range has some of the best decorations and accessories to do just that!

Most universities provide a packing list of essentials to bring along and will also tell you what is already provided. Make sure you check this out before starting your shopping. Remember, you can always buy things after you get there! Don't panic-buy and then find out half the stuff you've bought won't fit in your room.

“Don’t panic buy and find out half the stuff you’ve brought won’t fit in your room”

First day (and freshers)
You've been squished into the backseat of your car along with all the things you've brought with you to uni, and now you're pulling up to the university. Nerves are running high, to say the least! While the welcome experience varies from university to university, the general structure will be as follows.

Day 1 on campus
You will first be given your university ID card and room key; these should get you into all the buildings you'll need on campus. Try not to be that student who loses these during Freshers' week, or you'll have to do the walk of shame to the front office to get a replacement.

You will then be directed to your accommodation block and given your room number. This means lugging your suitcases and bags up the stairs (or a lift/elevator if you’re lucky) to your room. Then comes the unpacking and decorating, with Mum going around behind you reorganizing all your decorations and Dad trying to figure out how to assemble the IKEA pots and pans.

Next, the send-off. Once you’re unpacked and your room looks like a second home, it’s time to say goodbye to your parents. For most students (and almost all parents), this is a hard time, so don’t be ashamed about letting out a few tears and giving lots of hugs. While there will undoubtedly be a bit of homesickness when they leave, the best thing you can do is distract yourself with all the activities your university will have planned over the week and meet new people. A great way to immediately bond with flatmates and do something productive is to go on a food stock-up trip together to your nearest grocery store. Not only is it a great ice-breaker, but it’ll also ensure you have some food for the week!

Another tip to help your first evening go smoothly is to bring something to eat for dinner from home. Having to cook or find food when you’re feeling a little lost won't be much fun.

Freshers Week

“Put yourself out there to make new friends”

Now that you’ve survived your first day, it’s time to tackle Freshers' week. We go into more detail about that here, but to summarize, the main point of freshers is to meet new people and acclimate to university life. Make use of all the welcome events and society fairs, and put yourself out there to make new friends. The less time you spend alone, the less time you’ll allow yourself to feel homesick.

Another thing: don’t be worried if you don’t feel completely settled in after week 1. You’ll have your good days and your bad days, and trust us, everyone else will be having them too. Most students take up to a month for the university to feel like home. So don’t stress if others seem to have found their footing much faster than you (chances are they’re just as nervous as you are, but are putting on a brave face). Joining societies and spending more time in the kitchen will help you meet more people and start making friends. Don’t make the mistake of eating alone in your room. Meal times are a great way for everyone to congregate and get to know each other. If you don’t put the effort in, settling in will be much harder. So put yourself out there!

“Don’t be worried if you don’t feel completely settled in after week 1”

Looking for 2nd-Year Accommodation
It’s now been a month at university. You feel pretty much settled in, and the homesickness has mostly gone away! Now, the next big step is looking for 2nd-year accommodation. We know, we know, you’ve only been there for a month! How are you supposed to find people to live with next year? Unfortunately, for most universities (except the ones in London), you will have to start looking for accommodation soon after you arrive and finalize contracts by December or January (i.e., ridiculously early, but unfortunately, that’s the way it is). This is not to say that if you don’t find people to live with or a place to stay by January, the world is coming to an end! But most of the good places get snatched up around this time, so ideally, try to get it all done by the first few weeks of Term 2. Here are a few tips for organizing yourselves and getting this done:

  1. Find a couple of people you think you like (and trust) and start asking them early if they’ve got accommodation plans for next year
  2. Actively start creating a group (everyone’s in that awkward position of not wanting to ask others about their second year plans, be the one that makes the first move)
  3. Use websites like Rightmove, Zoopla and Belvoir to find student housing in towns close to your university
  4. We know no Gen Zs like to make phone calls, but you’ll have to take the plunge and call estate agents to set up house viewings and ask about properties (do NOT sign a contract without having seen the property first)
  5. When you’ve shortlisted a few places that meet everyone’s needs, start tying it down by paying the deposit

And that’s it! Work together as a team with the people you want to live with, and everything will fall into place. However, if you are unable to find people with whom you feel comfortable living (as many students find themselves in this situation), there will be accommodation options where you can rent a single room in an apartment and share a communal kitchen (exactly like university housing, but for the 2nd year). Also, check if your university offers 2nd-year accommodation - it's super useful to avoid commuting!

What you’re actually at uni for - studying!

“Find ways to make studying fun”

While Term 1 is mostly for getting to know people and settling in, Term 2 is when you'll have to start thinking about studying (remember, the reason you came to uni). Keeping up with the workload from the start by attending your lectures (yes, even the 9am ones) and seminars, making revision notes, and studying for tests will make your life a whole lot easier when it comes to exam season. Form study groups and set up study sessions with your flatmates: find ways to make studying fun. Here are some lifesaving study resources for university students:

  • Perlego - Perfect to access all those super expensive textbooks
  • Studocu - A platform that allows you to share your study notes and access other students’ study notes
  • Evernote - One of the best apps out there to organise and make your study notes
  • Forest - Manage your study time (and more importantly your screen time) using this study timer app that allows you to grow cute trees while you work!

“Keeping up with the workload from the start will make your life a whole lot easier”

But also have a bit of fun!

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While studying is important, what's the first year without a bit of fun? After all, it’s pretty much the only time in your degree when you can afford to take things a little easier and make those uni memories. So go out on the weekends, grab coffee with friends after study sessions, and have those flat parties where no one wants to look at the kitchen afterward! Keep a healthy balance of work, fun, and of course, exercise to look after your physical and mental health at uni.

While we're on the subject of looking after your health - try to maintain a somewhat balanced diet at uni! Ready meals might be acceptable during exam season, but it's probably better to do some cooking during the rest of the term (another great bonding experience with flatmates)!

Final verdict

“It’s one of the best times of your life”

Here’s a first-hand account of one of our Millie writers on her first year experience:

“I absolutely loved first year! It took me about a month and a bit to fully feel like university was home and be completely settled in, but after that my flatmates really became like a second family and I had so much fun. My biggest tip (as an introvert myself) is to actively push yourself to meet more people and go to as many events as you can. Being around people, eating and cooking in the kitchen, and keeping up with contacts I made in seminars or lectures helped me make some of my best friends at uni. So all the best and good luck for first year! It’s one of the best times of your life.”

Head over to our website to find out more about university life, and sign up for a free consultation to plan your next steps going into university and beyond!