Seven things I wish I'd known as a fresher

Last updated: 30 Oct 2023, 12:13

Prepare yourself to not only survive, but excel at, being a fresher in your first year at university, with these seven tips from a hardened graduate.

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Freshers’ week is a daunting prospect for any new student. It changes you. I entered as an innocent child and emerged a beer-chugging misanthrope. It takes a miracle to not become a potato-shaped wreck, given the intense diet of booze and kebabs. Hopefully some of you can learn from my example. Here’s a list of some things I wish I’d known to do when I was a fresher:

1. Arrive in good time

You don’t want to be stressed out by leaving things to the last minute, which is exactly what I did. I was the last mystery flatmate. One thing I did right was to unpack immediately, since halls of residence are a bit cosy to say the least. Having a floordrobe is just not an option. It’s a good idea to make a packing list too: utensils, clothes, toiletries etc. You can also bring a doorstop with you, since people are usually apprehensive about knocking on closed doors. It’s a great way to advertise that you want to meet other people.

2. Decorate your room

If you want to bring some colour to your walls, then raiding the Primark ‘Home’ section is good way to do it. The rooms are a bit Orwellian without personal touches. I regret not getting more things like plants, lights and posters. I think it’s worthwhile to decorate because you need an untainted space to retreat to. This is because your kitchen will probably look like a bombsite after pre-drinks. Expect cigarettes in the sink, a minefield of empty beverages and stacks of unwashed plates. The fridge will soon turn into a breeding ground for previously undiscovered bacteria – nobody will ever own up to that mouldy sandwich at the back.

PS – If you do decorate, don’t make your room cutesy. Main offending items include ‘Recipe for Love’ wall hangings with a list of ‘ingredients’ such as ‘1/2 a cup of smiles’ or ‘a teaspoon of goodwill’.

3. Attend university

There’s a temptation to be quite laissez-faire about the whole going to university thing in the first weeks. A lot of people say induction is a waste of time. But from missing this, I lost the chance to find out quite a bit of stuff: information about clubs and societies, room locations, set texts, lectures, seminars and essays. What I was actually doing was spending my time as a bed-bound sunlight-fearing hermit. Don’t do this – it’s better to get stuck in at the start. I’ve heard that sports societies are a great way to find a circle of friends (be wary of initiations though). But I’m probably not the best authority on this, given that I’m not too familiar with sports and whatnot. I’m like a ninja at the gym: you’ll never see me there.

4. Don’t expect clubbing epiphanies

Going to club events in the first week is a necessary evil. You need to get tickets early or get an events wristband. I absolutely hate clubs but you have to go because everyone else does. It’s ridiculously overpriced (for London at least): £10 for a thimbleful of alcohol. One freshers’ event was advertised as a ‘neon glow rave’ (aka a bunch of glow sticks launched into a distressed crowd). Another was a ‘foam party’ (aka cannons spewing white billowy scum). The music was just the worst electronic garbage imaginable.

5. Don’t try to budget immediately

It’s inevitable that you will drink and eat in copious amounts. Don’t fill up on cheap junk, at least put expensive junk in your body. There was a deal in our nearby corner shop: 2 bottles of ‘wine’ for £6. This was honestly the most gut-rotty wine you could find; it tasted like vinegar and despair. The only way the white wine was tolerable was mixed with sprite. But don’t think you need to buy this kind of stuff because everyone else does. It does more damage than good: your hangover will feel like someone squished your brain with a bulldozer. The short-lived drunken euphoria is not worth the pain, so swallow the cost of better quality libations.

6. Be ultra-social

If your default setting is antisocial, this might be tricky to achieve. You have to enter with a splash if you want to make friends. And if you don’t do that at the start, you’ll struggle to make up lost ground later. Try and be approachable and eager. If you want to secure the accolade of being a serious party animal, establishing your flat as a ‘party flat’ is a good way of going about this. You can also bring any fancy dress stuff you have at home with you – some events stipulate a wild dress code. But remember that friends you make in freshers’ week won’t necessarily be friends for life: you meet so many different people that it’s impossible to keep in touch with everybody.

7. Have basic domestic skills

Man cannot live by Pot Noodle alone. It helps to know how to throw together a simple stir fry: the supermarket basics ranges are a good place to start for getting the necessities. I also remember bringing a student cookbook, although it just remained in the corner gathering dust. My first week (and practically all of first year) was full of the greasiest late-night chicken banquets from Tottenham Court Road. Let’s just say it wasn’t easy on the old bowels.

Nick Potter, UCL English graduate

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