It starts simply: you thought you were so prepared when your mum drove you to IKEA after results day, piling Vargardens and Senuells (plates and pans for those who don’t speak IKEA) into your trolley. But after a quick google search for ‘Freshers Uni Checklists’, here you are, an anxious victim of the ever-growing lists of student ‘essentials’ (which uses the term about as acutely as Waitrose does with their ‘Essential Cappuccino Mouse’ or ‘Essential Lightly Seasoned Venison Burger’).
I’m here to save you, fresher. Put down the £16.99 collapsible colander from John Lewis. Here’s what you actually need – and don’t need – to survive your first year.
You Need… Photos
It’s worth getting 15 or so photos printed before going to uni so that you can give your room some personality; it’ll give you an excuse to talk about that time you rode an elephant in Thailand. And when the fifth week homesickness inevitably sets in as your first deadline looms, the smiles of your family and friends will give you just enough energy to make it to reading week (along with fifteen Red Bulls and half a dozen Subways).
You Don’t Need… Plants
Students owning plants is the ultimate form of cruelty. You’re going to barely be able to look after yourself, let alone another living organism (even if the only care it needs is water). You may be tempted by the romantic idea of turning your dorm room into a subtle, bohemian greenhouse of aloe and cactus. But give it until reading week: this dream will be as dead as the plants, and you’ll spend half an hour trying to decide which recycling bin dead succulent belongs in. (Nonetheless, when the posters for the university plant sale speckle every signpost on campus, you’ll quickly forget this and inevitably repeat the whole experience.)
You Need… A Subscription to a Health Magazine
First year will change you in many ways: you’ll become wiser, more mature, more independent, and – inevitably – fatter. When you see you grandma at Christmas, she will tell you that you look ‘well’ (which we all know is code for ‘chubby’). Something happens to your body during first year: Freshman 15 is, unfortunately, real and a curse that we all think we will resist. Unavoidably, the cider blacks and 2am takeaways from Megakebab start to take their toll. Whilst the subscription to a health magazine might not encourage you to do any more exercise – let alone even turn the first page – it will convince your flatmates that you’re the active, sporty type, and definitely not the one stealing their bread.
You Don’t Need… A Stereotype
You’re prepared for uni, of course you are. You’ve frantically binge watched the entire series of Fresh Meat (and you even rented Animal House from Amazon Prime). You know how it works: you need to become a caricature. People say that uni is a time for finding yourself (even more so than when you were volunteering at that orphanage in Mozambique for your gap year), so they must mean that you discover what social group you’re a part of, right? No, for the love of God and the sanity of your flatmates, don’t come to uni with your secondary school preconceptions of identity. Don’t call yourself a vegan if you’re going to be having Tesco microwavable burgers for every meal come second week. Don’t bring a guitar to uni if you’re only going to use it as furniture. Wonderfully, when you’re a student, you don’t have to be the musical one or the alternative one or the sporty one. By the end of first term you’ll all have become dead-eyed, sleep-deprived, slightly-unwashed zombies, hegemonically congregating to lectures in stash, anyway.
You Need… Patterned, Coloured Bedsheets
You have this dream of a minimalist oasis of Urban Outfitters macramé wall décor and silver terrariums filled with delicate succulents. But within a week of coming to uni, you will no longer be the organised, EQP-writing, put-together student you proudly wrote about in your personal statement. You should accept that your room will be a mess – as will your life – and you will spill many a Jack Daniels and Coke on your bedsheets whilst one-handedly doing your eyeliner before pres start. My mother wisely told me that patterned, coloured bedding doesn’t show stains as obviously. She may have been thinking of tea spills but it’s true that patterned, coloured bedsheets are forgiving to a multitude of sin-related stains.
You Don’t Need… A Doorstop
This one is featured on every single university packing checklist ever written, and it’s probably the biggest lie of them all. Firstly, most university halls feature the heaviest industrial fire doors ever made, which means that your doorstop will be a pitiful sight bending under the weight as the door slowly shuts on you, ending any doorway conversation with your flatmate passing through the hall. But most importantly, whilst the idea of having an open door (a sign of your open mind and heart, as many sorority blogs will write), your room will be your only slab of peace in the otherwise chaotic university experience. As a student, you are surrounded by people all the time – which is, of course, one of the wonderful aspects of student life – but even the most extroverted of them all needs a break from this constant socialising. After the ‘open heart and open mind’ of Fresher’s week has worn off, you realise that actually no, you can’t be friends with that one flatmate who never cleans anything.
You Need… A Sense of Adventure
Students are on the brink of adulthood, in life’s sweet spot between naivety and responsibility. Never in your life will you be surrounded by so many hobbies and opportunities: don’t let them go to waste. First year, whilst important, has no effect over your overall final grade, and so maybe it’s time to join (and actually attend, rather than just add it to your CV with the pre-qualifier of ‘active member of…’) all the obscure interests and hobbies that you haven’t yet considered. Join a sport you haven’t done since primary school. Make friends at a society that you had to google what it actually was. Write for Exeposé (subtle plug). Take day trips to the coast, and ask people that you’ve met in your seminar to go for lunch, even though you’ve known them less than an hour. Disclaimer: watch ‘Yes Man’ to learn how to exercise caution in this carpe diem approach to student life. But the most important thing you can bring with you to university is a sense of adventure: cultivate your university community of friends and interests and hobbies, and you’ll find your student experience to be an incredibly enriched and fulfilling one.