Freshers’ Week is when high school students transition into university students, graciously riding on a wave of booze and bad decisions. Some people try to reinvent themselves for the 100th time and hope it sticks, some spend an ungodly amount of time decorating the room they’re not going to spend too much time in, some spread themselves too thin trying to experience everything in the first 5 days. While activities differ from uni to uni, it’s good to know what generally happens in Freshers’ Week in order to make the most of it.
Freshers’ Fair is overwhelming
One thing that makes uni life great is that you can find a group of people that share your opinions and interests, no matter how obscure they are. You’ve played tennis ever since you were born? There is a tennis society that will welcome you. You spend most of your time watching anime? Now you don’t have to do it alone anymore. You’ve always wanted to explore Chinese calligraphy, but never got the chance to? There’s a society for that as well! There’s a society for everything.
While this seems great at first, you might find out that there are many things you’d like to try out, especially if you don’t have an established hobby already. Everyone is friendly and welcoming and every single society seems cool. By the end of the day, you will get 100 flyers, 14 packs of snacks, 3 tote bags and some weirdly shaped key chains you have no idea what to use for.
So how do you navigate this situation?
First of all, try to filter through all the interesting flyers and narrow the list down to just a few societies that you find truly interesting. To do that, consider the following:
- Can you afford the hobby? While horse riding is nice, it also costs at least £25 a week and usually happens outside the city. Similarly, other societies require you to buy equipment/pay a weekly fee for classes.
- Do you know how much time you’ll spend studying? Are you ready for the time commitment some societies require? How involved do you want to get? Sports societies, for example, have teams that compete against other unis. Are you ready to train multiple times a week, or do you want something more relaxing and flexible? Science/art societies are great because they hold weekly talks on various topics, which means you can just go to those that are relevant to your interests, without any strings attached.
- Is that hobby useful for your future career? While it’s obviously alright (and healthy!) to have hobbies that aren’t related to your field, doing something that proves your passion for your degree is always a plus on the CV.
Once you’ve settled for a few societies, see if they offer any taster days and try to squeeze that into your schedule. Sometimes an activity might seem great in theory, only for you to find out that it’s actually boring. Ideally, by the end of this soul searching adventure, you will have 1-3 societies left and a bunch of events to attend.
Having fun is important, but so are university tours and department activities
While making friends and attending as many fun events as possible feel like priorities in Freshers’ Week, it is just as important to attend the activities organised by your university, such as library and department tours. You might also have to go through a registration process and attend a couple of workshops on themes like safety and consent. Introductory lectures will help you better understand how to read your timetable (some are quite complicated!), get around the department on your own, install relevant software and apps, set up your email account and manage your schedule. Valuable study tips for your particular course might also be included, so attendance is mandatory!
Unpacking and shopping can wait
I’m not saying that you’re supposed to just leave your luggage in the middle of your new room and go out to party. Putting your clothes in the closet, buying cleaning products and groceries and making your bed are at the top of the to-do list when you come to university. Just make sure not to waste half of one of the best weeks of your uni life in your room, attentively creating a collage of puppy pictures to hang on the wall or selecting the best colour and shape for a rug.
(Oxbridge) College Freshers’ Week activities are better than CUSU ones
If you study at a collegiate university, you will get activities schedules from both the Student Union and your college. It is usually better to choose college activities, as they tend to be better organised (less people to account for) and offer you the chance to meet the people you’ll spend most of your time with for the next few years. This also applies to college societies: most colleges will hold a smaller Freshers’ Fair, with fun societies (such as the board games one) that work at college level. That being said, some CUSU activities (and university wide societies) are not to be missed!
You don’t have to go clubbing every night (but it’s okay if you do!)
Even though peer pressure can be quite powerful, you don’t need to go get smashed every night to truly enjoy Freshers’ Week. Going to the pub crawl that will inevitably take place might be useful, since it gets you accustomed to the nightlife, but repeating the experience for an entire week is by no means necessary. Go out with people you trust, don’t drink to the point of passing out and keep an eye on peers that do!
Time management is key
Unpacking, Freshers’ Fair and the taster sessions you sign up for, visiting the uni and the department, introductory lectures, pub crawls… You won’t have enough time to do absolutely everything. Therefore, learn to prioritize: think about what you need to do and what you want to do and make a daily schedule. Some events will clash,other events will be mandatory and, at the end of the day, you really need to eat something. Write every single task and event down, put the compulsory ones in the right spot in a timetable, then think long and hard about what the remaining time should be spent on. Freshers’ Week is a great occasion to learn how to be organised, a crucial skills that you will need all throughout uni.
Budgeting is the other key
Groceries, pillows, pots and pans, garden parties, club tickets, drinks and signing up to certain societies all require spending some sweet, sweet money. While individually all these things are usually pretty cheap, they add up in the end. Make sure that you don’t spend all your termly allowance in Freshers’ Week, or you’ll end up not eating to be able to pay rent. Being constantly aware of what’s left in your bank account is important. Subtract future rent payments and weekly grocery costs from that to get the amount you actually can spend on stationery, clothes and activities and try to divide it in a way that allows you to splurge on small luxuries a few times a term, not only in the first week. A shopping spree might be healthy for the soul, but not for financial security.
Ask older students for tips and tricks
Believe it or not, older students haven’t been wise, cool and hitting on freshers since forever. They’ve been in the same position you are in now and know that sometimes it’s tough to get the hang of new situations. Feel free to ask them for help, whether it’s giving you directions to get to the laundry room, answering your questions about the course or offering suggestions for the best cafe in town. If your university has a parenting scheme (where older students “adopt” freshers that are on the same courses), make some time to meet your parents and chat with them. They will definitely have useful information on hand.
Extra information for international students
If you’re an international student, make sure to come to university a few days earlier, since you will have to buy the stuff other people can just bring from home in their parents’ car, get a bank account and maybe sort out some other documents. Be aware that your uni might organise an International Freshers’ Week before the traditional one to give you a chance to get accustomed with the new country’s culture and to give you a head start when it comes to making friends. If you need any help, the students’ union usually has an officer that’s responsible for the well-being of international students, so don’t hesitate to contact them.
Make some time for yourself
As much as I know your schedule will be packed, I strongly encourage you to take a few hours to just explore the city and accommodation on your own. Look for the closest supermarket and pharmacy, identify fun places for later in the year, register with a doctor, read a book or just unwind for an hour before sleep. So much information will be thrown at you that you will feel dizzy; taking the time to process it all will be healthy for your mind and allow you to keep up with everything the next day.
And, most importantly…
Everyone is just as clueless as you are
Chances are, people you meet in uni come from many different cultural, social and academic backgrounds. This means you will get to know great singers, international contests winners, amazing athletes, social butterflies and all sorts of other cool people that look like they have their life in order. This might feel intimidating, but rest assured that no one really knows how to navigate uni at first: it’s a completely new city (for most students), with new people and never-seen-before opportunities, responsibilities and requirements. Those who put up a brave front are just as nervous and insecure as you are! If you feel alone and in over your head, just remember that everyone feels the same. Talk to people, find some who click with you and invite them out for lunch. After all, living alone, learning to cook, do laundry budget and balance social life and studying is a bit overwhelming for everyone. Building a support system is important and will help you overcome any troubles you might encounter in this great adventure called university life.