Student life

10 skills you'll need to survive your first year at uni


As freshers’ week looms, no doubt you’ll be busy preparing yourself for whatever university life might throw at you. Between purchasing pots and pans, skimming text books in an attempt to finish your reading list, as well as squeezing in that last minute city break with your friends before you all depart for uni in September, the final months before freshers’ week can be pretty hectic.

But help is at hand, and who is better placed to teach you the skills you’ll need to survive your first year at university than students that have already done it? So we asked students on Facebook what one piece of advice they would offer to freshers that would make their lives that little bit easier in their first year - and this is what they told us!

1. Learn how to budget

Being organised with your money is a good idea at any point in life, but it’s a skill that comes in particularly handy at university. For some students, their only income stream is their student loan, but our research* shows that 30% of students couldn’t make this last longer than two weeks. Which is why it comes as no surprise that 43% of students surveyed stated that budgeting wisely is one of the most important lessons you’ll learn at university.

But creating a budget doesn’t have to be laborious – simply consider your outgoings (your rent, food and bills, as well as designating some money for social spending each month) and deduct this from your income. Any money leftover is guilt-free spends, so it’s a good idea to set up direct debits for all of your recurring payments to go out at the beginning of each month so you can more easily track your money.

It’s also worth taking the time to understand your overdraft, and whether there are any financial penalties that will be applied to your bank account should you slip into your unauthorised overdraft.

2. Get thrifty

Anyone that’s had a late night craving and been forced to stumble down to the local 24-hour supermarket will tell you - it’s always worth visiting the supermarket in the evening to take advantage of the price reductions. More often than not, if a supermarket notices that a product is about to go past it’s sell-by date, rather than just chucking it in the bin they’ll reduce the price to a tiny amount to shift it. Victoria Sponge for 10p? Yes please.

Most of the time the food is perfectly edible, and if you don’t fancy eating it that evening you can always put it in the freezer until a time when you’re in the mood for it. But by taking advantage of reduced items later in the evening, you can make huge savings on your weekly shop. And even if the fruit and vegetables are starting to feel a bit squidgy, mix them into a stew and you won’t even notice the difference!

3. Plan out your meals

It can be very tempting to get carried away when you’re strolling round the supermarket, especially if you’re doing it on an empty stomach (something that’s never recommended). You’ll fill the trolley with pop tarts, exotic fruits and reduced bread for the freezer like it’s going out of fashion – only to get to the checkout and realise with horror that you’ve spent an entire months’ food allowance on one weeks’ worth of shopping.

Avoid the inevitable heart palpitations when you see your final food bill by planning out your meals a week in advance, and purchasing only the ingredients you need for these set meals. Not only will it keep you on track when you’re wandering through the shelves, but it’ll also encourage to you eat more healthily. Planning meals also allows you to be a bit more adventurous with your eating habits, as you’ll have all of the ingredients you need in the cupboard before you even start cooking – no more random substitutions for you!

It’s also notoriously difficult cooking for one, so it’s a good idea to cook in larger quantities and freeze some if you have any leftovers – it’ll do for a meal another time when you REALLY don’t fancy cooking. It might even be worth getting your flatmates involved, as cooking together will not only cut down on your food bill, but offer valuable bonding time as well.

4. Join plenty of clubs and societies

One of the top priorities for students heading to university for the first time is making friends, with 35% of first year students we surveyed* stating this as their biggest concern. And one of the best ways to meet new people is to get involved in as many clubs and societies as you can.

But before making the time commitment of joining a club, society or team, you’ll need to understand what your workload will be like. With so much going on, it can be difficult to know what to prioritise, and how to decide which societies to join – you won’t want to join every society going as you won’t have any time for your studies! Be choosy, and try to make sure that the club or society you join is teeming with like-minded people, with similar interests.

5. Hone your cooking skills

It's not a secret that students don’t exactly hold all the cards when it comes to culinary prowess. So to ensure you don't spend the entirety of your first year living off Pot Noodles and beans on toast, it might be worth honing your cooking skills before heading off to university.

But eating isn't just for survival - it can be a comfort as well. Ask your parents to teach you one of their classic family recipes (preferably one you actually like) so you can cook it for yourself whenever you’re feeling a bit homesick. Equally, there are literally thousands of student cook books out there that cover off quick and easy meals ideal for the student lifestyle – after all, you may not want to slave over a hot stove for hours after a full day of lectures!

6. Get a handle on your mental health

Despite all of the benefits of going to university, there’s no denying that it can prove a stressful time. Not only are you living away from home, potentially for the first time, but the level of the work you’ll be doing in your first year at uni can be a big step up from A-levels. And with 23% of students naming mental health as one of their main concerns as a fresher*, it’s clear that students need to take the time to make sure their emotional needs are being met when they’re away at uni.

Nowadays there’s lots of help available should you feel like you need to talk to someone – you can speak to your university or student union to receive support, or it could be something as simple as having a coffee with a friend or taking a trip home to see your parents that gives you the boost you need to continue with your studies.

7. Be a social butterfly

Let’s face it – a lot of us feel a bit anxious at the prospect of meeting new people, and the idea of trying to give a good impression of yourself seems unthinkable, despite the fact that you’ll have done it every other day of your life with no issues.

But socialising and making new friends is one of the most important aspects of uni life, and it’s important to remember that no-one will turn you down if you strike up a conversation, so there’s no need to be nervous about it. After all, everyone else is in the same boat. Introduce yourself to anybody and everybody you come across, and you’re sure to have plenty of new friends in no time. It might even be worth having a look for social media groups and pages for your course or accommodation, as you might be able to make some new friends before you even start.

8. Don’t rely on the ‘fear’

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the ‘fear’ – the ‘fear’ is that feeling you get when you know you probably won’t get an assignment done in time. Essentially, you’ve left it so close to the deadline that, even if you worked through the night, you might still not get it finished.

Some people thrive on the ‘fear,’ and struggle to get any work done unless there’s an element of concern that they won’t complete it. But as a general rule, it’s a good idea to be organised about your studies and not to procrastinate when it comes to coursework and revising for exams.

Set up a timetable that allocates blocks of time to your different modules each week, and stick to it. A small dose of the ‘fear’ is never a bad thing – but it might start to stress you out and take a toll on your mental health if you pull an all-nighter for every assignment!

9. Prepare yourself for freshers flu

Anyone that has survived their first year will tell you that the famous freshers’ flu is, unfortunately, pretty much unavoidable. Freshers flu, although it feels like the plague, is essentially just a very bad cold - an amalgamation of all of the cough and cold strains of virus that are brought from all corners of the country when students start moving to university. And during freshers’ week, when everyone is feeling exceptionally ‘huggy’ and a little run down from the weeks festivities, it can cause the entire student population to be struck down by this particularly nasty bug.

But never fear – a few days bed rest, and a care package filled with tissues, paracetamol and cough medicine is all you need to survive the freshers’ flu!

10. Don’t forget about the folks at home

With all the excitement of freshers’ week, you’ll undoubtedly be busy making heaps of new friends and throwing yourself into university life.

But don’t forget about your friends and family at home who might be missing you just as much as you’re missing them. Stave off feelings of homesickness by giving your parents a call whenever you have a minute - as much as your parents may be enjoying their own freedom, no doubt they’ll be glad to hear from you.

*Endsleigh Student Lifestyle Survey 2017-18.

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