It’s almost ten years to the day since I started life as a Fresher at Winchester University – and a lot has changed since then. I moved back home after a year, did a Foundation Degree at a semi-local college then topped that up and got a ‘proper’ degree (and a First, thank you very much!) in Journalism. I gave myself a year to try and find my dream job before going for option B and doing a PGCE (those who can’t do…) and wound up getting what turned out to be my initial dream job in marketing right after that! I’ve spent the last four years working at a university, so I think it’s safe to say that I’ve had more than my fair share of Freshers experiences – and Freshers Flu! Heading off to uni yourself in the next couple of weeks? Pour yourself a brew, pull up a chair and read this old fart’s advice!
1. You don’t have to leave home. I was told throughout college that to get a job in film journalism I’d have to go to university and ultimately live elsewhere. It was only when I went back for my second year and wanted to come back to Cornwall that I realised that the perfect course was right on my doorstep!
2. Good grades don’t guarantee a high salary. I got a First (yay, me!) but I spent the first year after graduation working in retail and waitressing. Now I have a decent salary by Cornwall’s standards but it’s still lower than average.
3. Make the most of every opportunity. When I was at university, all I did was study. Sure, I partied as a Fresher, but when I moved back home and spent four years as a commuting student, all I did was rock up, get the work done and come back home again. Now that I work at a students’ union, I’m suddenly aware of all of these freakin’ awesome activities you can and should get involved in. Plus the odd volunteering project will go a long way in CV terms. You don’t have to do everything but there’s bound to be something you’ll enjoy!
4. You’re gonna need to use your overdraft. The year I started uni was the year the fees doubled from £1,500/year to £3,000. And we thought we had it bad! I was able to get a loan to cover my rent and a grant to cover my living expenses. I had a casual job as a campus tour guide but I still needed to use my (interest-free) overdraft as my parents weren’t able to support me. Students these days are having to live without the maintenance grant and their loan doesn’t even cover their rent! What the actual fuck?!
5. It’s ok to change your mind. Whether you want to change course, university or even drop out days after arriving, it’s ok! I’ve had friends who have done all three – and they were happier for it. Make the best decision for you.
6. You don’t have to get a job in the area you studied. Most courses have transferable skills. I think more degrees should have compulsory business modules to prepare students for the possibility of going self-employed/freelance (particularly in the creative arts) but if you’re going for any job after graduation, you’re likely to be able to harp on about time management, communication, team work and all the usual bullshit.
7. You will get sick. Fact. Strange people from all over the country coming to live together under one roof? Late nights, early mornings, alcohol, cooking for yourself for possibly the first time, next-day takeaways… If you manage to avoid giving yourself food poisoning, you’re bound to get Freshers Flu! Stock up on Vicks, Lemsip and Kleenex now!
8. Creature comforts are important. Living away from home? Make your room your own – throw pillows, fun bedding, wall art… I took up most of my DVD collection. As a film geek (and as it was part of my combined honours degree), it was essential – and a great conversation starter with housemates.
9. Ask for help if you need it. If you’re struggling to meet deadlines, speak to your tutor in advance. Don’t understand the day’s lecture? Have a chat with a coursemate over coffee. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything? Your university will have a support system there to help.
A study by NUS found that 78% of students had experienced a mental health problem and 54% of those didn’t seek help. Please, don’t be one of them.
10. You can still live well on a budget. Budget at the start of term and see how far your finances will get you. Need a job? Your university should have a Careers department with campus and local job ads. Run out of money? Your uni should have some sort of hardship fund. Please, please, please don’t get to the point where you have nothing left and can’t get home. If nothing else, know that your students’ union is a vital source of support and information. It’s also worth investing in an NUS Extra card – £12 a year will get you 10% off at Co-Op, 15% off art supplies at WH Smiths, 25% off at National Express, 25% off at Hungry House, 5% off at Amazon and loads more discounts.
Are you like me and well past your own Freshers year? What key advice would you pass on to those heading off into the big wide world?
P.S. Hope you liked seeing my terrible old uni photos!