Exeter, Devon UK • Jun 25, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home LifestyleCulture What I Wish I Had Known Before Starting University

What I Wish I Had Known Before Starting University

Lucy Facer shares her wisdom on what to realistically expect at university, and what she learned from her experience as a fresher.
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Image: University of Central Arkansas via flickr

Amidst the chaos of receiving your exam results and packing to move away from home, it’s usual to have some doubts and questions about starting university. You’ll probably have heard the cliched advice from well-meaning family members or teachers that everyone is in the same position. While practically everyone has anxieties about how they will make friends or how they will deal with academic work, university can bring unique challenges for different people. Here are four things I wish I had known as a fresher at Exeter.

Expect to spend time alone

If you’ve ever opened a prospectus to find groups of students beaming back at you, you’ll know that these perpetuate a particular image of university as a hub of social activity. Marketing aside, university offers an abundance of social events and opportunities to meet new people and of course, communal living naturally means that you might mix with a more diverse group than you did at school. However, don’t expect to meet your closest lifelong friends immediately. I’ve found that a large part of university requires you to be comfortable in your own company. You might not have a fixed circle of friends until later in the year, or you might spend time with acquaintances before you find someone you really “click” with. Especially if you’re more introverted or don’t enjoy nights out centred around drinking, your first year may not resemble the stereotypical “uni experience” and there’s nothing wrong with that. If you do feel lonely, don’t hesitate to reach out to other students in person or through social media. Whether they are a flatmate or someone from your lectures, it’s likely that the other person feels the same and will be grateful for this. If you’re struggling socially to a point where it’s affecting your overall happiness at university, there are well-being services available to help.

If you do feel lonely, don’t hesitate to reach out to other students in person or through social media

Try to establish a balanced routine early on

Juggling academics with cooking, laundry, socialising and even a part-time job can be overwhelming. One way to manage this can be sticking to a flexible schedule or timetable for reading and assignments. I like to use a weekly planner and make to-do lists. I rank these by how urgent and time-consuming each task is, which is useful because your workload might vary from week to week. Try to be disciplined to avoid work from piling up, but don’t deprive yourself of basic needs such as eating and sleeping as this will cause your wellbeing to suffer in the long term. Know your limits when it comes to social activities – if you find that other commitments are getting in the way of meeting deadlines then it might be a good idea to reduce how much time you put into these. It’s much harder to catch up on weeks of missed work than it is to study consistently in short bursts. For every spontaneous night out, you’ll have an equal number of uneventful days spent behind your laptop in the library. On the other hand, when you feel frustrated or unfocused after studying for long hours, it can be valuable to divert your attention to something else such as making a meal or going on a walk. If you’re struggling to keep up with the work, it’s advisable to be transparent with your tutor so that you can figure out why and resolve the issue.

If you have flatmates, agree on rules for cleaning and bins

Before I moved in, I slightly dreaded the prospect of sharing a kitchen because of the horror stories I’d heard about shared living spaces. The truth is an untidy flat can be a breeding ground for grudges and resentment, so it’s best to address this as soon as possible. Creating a rota for general cleaning and taking out rubbish sets up expectations for everyone from the beginning and reduces squabbles about whose turn it is. It might not be realistic to expect it to always be spotless, but this at least maintains a liveable standard of hygiene. You can also decide whether you are going to share certain items such as washing up liquid or if you will buy these individually. If you have a consistent problem with a flatmate’s behaviour after politely addressing it to them yourself, you should talk to the Residence Life team.

The truth is an untidy flat can be a breeding ground for grudges and resentment, so it’s best to address this as soon as possible

Take the pressure off yourself

Above all else, the first year of university is primarily for settling into a more independent lifestyle. You are bound to feel stressed or make mistakes at times but ultimately this helps you to grow as a person. I never thought that I’d get used to huge lecture theatres or catching a two-hour train home by myself, but eventually, you will realise that everything that was once unfamiliar will become part of your daily life.

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