Beginning university is one of the most daunting times in our lives. The transition from being a high school student sheltered by your parents to being completely independent and having to fend for yourself can be extremely scary.
The time between getting my results and moving into my new flat in Belfast seemed to happen almost instantly and before I knew it I was approaching my first day at university.
I remember thinking to myself: “I am not ready for this. I can’t even work a washing machine. How am I meant to keep myself alive at university?” However, three years later and I can just about say that I can somewhat function on my own.
By reflecting on my first year at Ulster University; here are some of the things I wish I had known when I was starting university.
1. Meet as many people as you can
When starting a new experience, almost everyone tends to shy away from meeting new people. However, this is vital, especially if you live in university accommodation. You will be in the company of these people for a year so spend time with them and make a big effort in the first few weeks to get to know them. This includes keeping your room door open and investing in a doorstop, as sometimes others just need a way to break the ice.
You will have inductions to your course and this is the first bit of contact you will have with the university and your course-mates. Remember, the people you meet in the first few weeks aren’t going to be the people you have to stay in contact with throughout the whole year. From experience, try to be there early: if you’re like me, you’ll either not find the room or it gives you a chance to say hi to other students. Be approachable, smile and don’t be afraid: everyone is in the same boat as you.
2. Don’t go mad with your loan
If you ask any university student about the best parts of going to university, I can guess that they will say “their loan”. Most won’t be able to tell you when their next assignment is due but ask when their next loan is due to arrive, and the date instantly rolls of their tongues. Being eighteen / nineteen and being given a huge sum of money during the first week of your new independent life isn’t easy – the temptation to spend all of it comes very naturally to students.
However, try your best to budget even if it is just writing down briefly what money comes in and out of your account, ensuring that you have enough money for rent and food, etc. Your student bank provider should have an app for online banking, meaning you can keep tabs over time you spend money. After being at university for a while, I learned to work out all my direct debits and how much it cost me a month living away from home. Then I would have a clear idea of how much money I had to spend socialising or on things I wanted.
Your loan comes in every fifteen weeks so by making sure you know how much money you have each week, you’ll be able to make the most out of your university experience and not live on Pot Noodles for the last month of the semester.
3. Learn how to reference
This one is academic-related but once you master how to reference it will stand by you for the rest of your university journey. I had no clue what referencing was or how I was meant to use it. However, Ulster University provides workshops to teach you how to reference, as it is critical to all your assignments or projects. Referencing is when you use someone else’s work to back up a point in an assignment or report. It’s acknowledging the original source or sources. By doing so, you’re ensuring that you’re not plagiarising someone else’s work, which could lead to you being asked to leave the university.
By being proactive when you first join the university and learning how to reference, you will guarantee the highest marks on assignments.
4. It’s okay to be overwhelmed
I think everyone seems to believe that whenever you start university you should know everything, but this isn’t the case. There is such a short period of time from getting into university until you actually start, and it is scary.
The thought of being alone or not fitting in is always in the back of your mind and can leave you feeling extremely lost. At some point in your first semester you will feel overwhelmed or homesick and it’s completely normal and natural.
If you feel overwhelmed get support from the people around you or phone home; after expressing how you feel you’ll soon see that you feel so much better. Don’t be annoyed or frustrated with yourself because you feel anxious; after a few weeks you will become more comfortable.
5. Enjoy yourself
You’re about to embark on a three or four-year degree programme which is going to be a lot of work. Take the first few weeks to enjoy yourself and meet new people. Yes, university is about the academic side and getting the best grade in your degree. However, studying at Ulster University means that you’re exposed to a vibrant place no matter which campus you chose. Get familiar with the area around your accommodation and see what your city has to offer. I wasted weeks in Belfast not exploring my surroundings and just going to the places that everyone else went to. If you and your room-mates / class-mates have a day off just jump into the car or walk and discover something new.
It’s your first taste of independence which means that of course things are going to go wrong: you’ll lock yourself out of your house on numerous occasions, mix colours in a wash, or you might fail a module. It’s not the end of the world if something doesn’t go your way: this experience is a learning curve and you’ll soon enough find your feet. Just remember to keep calm and it will all work out even if things go temporarily awry.
Looking back on my fresher’s experience I’ve realised how much pressure you can put on yourself by worrying and stressing over nothing. I was shocked by how quickly everything seemed to fall into place and I wish I could have enjoyed myself more. It only takes a few weeks before everything becomes a routine and you know what you’re doing.
So, to all the freshers starting with Ulster University: good luck and remember, it was a massive achievement actually getting your place on your course.