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Feynman Articles

7 things I wish I knew before starting university

1. Societies

University campuses are some of the most inclusive and diverse places on earth. If you have a niche or particular interest you can almost guarantee there will be a society relevant to you – whether this is a sport, acapella, gaming, drama, arts, music, magic – there is literally something for everyone! Societies play a major role in shaping your friendship groups and social life at university. You may choose to join a group representing something you are already familiar with or perhaps you decide to be brave and try something completely new! Societies are a fantastic way to develop a new interest or skill and find like-minded individuals. During the initial “freshers’ week” period take some time to attend a few societies opening nights. You do not have to commit to anything straight away, get a feel for a few different groups or teams and then narrow it down to officially joining maybe one or two. Each society generally asks for a small termly fee to covers overheads such as room hire, equipment etc. but this is usually a very manageable amount – remember everyone is on a budget!

2. Cooking

University is probably your first experience of complete independence, something that is both equally daunting and exciting. Even though there is a huge temptation to heavily rely on fast food or take away services be mindful of both your health and your budget. Take time each week to food shop, try new recipes, work out how to cut that pumpkin without breaking your knife, or be brave and dice the chicken yourself! Try adding one new seasonal fruit or vegetable into your basket each week and working out how to use them. Food is a universal language. Cooking together with your housemates or cooking for them is a brilliant way to develop friendships and make your accommodation feel more like home.

3. Attendance

Many universities, and possibly even more so post covid-19, have the availability of live streamed lectures, online lecture notes and PowerPoint presentations. Now, this could be a very tempting way to avoid that dreary 9am lecture when the weather is a bit naff and you have had a late night but DO NOT GET INTO THIS HABIT. All lectures have been designed and written specifically for your benefit, so why would you not want to make the most of that? Unexplained notes without context will rarely provide you with the in-depth detail or understanding that the lecturer can, so you are only putting yourself at a disadvantage. Community learning is not something we should dismiss. Many studies have concluded that learning in an inclusive ‘classroom’ environment alongside fellow students is one of the most valuable ways to understand new information. Aside from the academic implications, by not attending the lectures you are also ostracising yourself from your course mates and not making yourself known to the lecturers. Having friends on the same course as you is an important way to keep yourself accountable with your work load, but also to support one another during really challenging times – and having the lecturer recognise you is no bad thing, they are the ones awarding your grades! Remember: NO LECTURE IS A WASTE OF TIME – no matter how much you convince yourself otherwise.

4. Accommodation

Get in there quick! It is important to select your halls of residence and accommodation early in order to give you the best chance of securing the place you would like to stay. When selecting your accommodation don’t only rely on their aesthetics, research proximity to your lectures or other activities that you may be interested in (sports teams or drama facilities etc.), common room areas, catering facilities and availability of grocery shops. Sometimes you are not awarded with your first accommodation choice but do not panic! Wherever you end up staying at university will very quickly become home and you will develop strong bonds with your house mates – I was given my last accommodation choice at university and have remained long-lasting friends with most of my housemates, I am now even married to one!

5. Budgeting

Financial independence is a tricky one to navigate. Each university town or city will require a different spending budget and it will take you a few weeks to work out what this means for you. Once you have settled into a routine you will understand a little more about your spending habits and should be able to calculate an approximate budget that you should divide into two categories:
(1) Essentials: this includes food, laundry credit, transport, books, bills, etc. These are essential expenses and will probably remain quite steady throughout your time at university, perhaps only changing with the seasons.
(2) Non-essentials: this includes society fees, socialising, clothes shopping etc. These factors will all fluctuate more than the essentials but again you should be conscious of keeping to a budget within both categories.
Some may prefer to create a monthly budget that is calculated by looking ahead and reviewing commitments, others might want to stick to a more rigid weekly budget – find something that works for you but make sure that it is reasonable enough for you to actually commit to.
Where possible, try to always account for an emergency fund, left over money from your budget does not need to be wasted on frivolous items at the end of the month. Instead save this separately so that you can work towards keeping a small surplus balance which can be used to pay for a train ticket to see a friend or family member, a concert or live sport or even a steep winter gas bill you weren’t expecting – when the time comes you will be grateful.

6. Course

You may fall in love with your course during your first lecture or it might take you a while to warm to it. It is completely natural to initially feel slightly intimidated or that you are in a little over your head but try to just take a breath and give yourself time to adjust. It is important not to give up on your course too quickly but also be open to the idea of changing majors if what you are studying just really doesn’t suit you. Courses are not always what you expect them to be, especially if it is something that is new to you such as Midwifery or Civil Engineering. If this is the case speak to the coordinator or admissions officer and explain your predicament. If you have decided this isn’t the path for you start looking around at other specialties and see if there is something you feel would be more appropriate. Maybe even try to find someone on that new course and ask them a few questions. If you decide to make the change do not consider the time you have spent before this a waste, all experiences are beneficial and you will certainly have developed multidisciplinary skills in all subjects that are relevant across the board. By studying something you are genuinely interested in you will naturally be more inquisitive and your time at university will seem much more fulfilling.

7. Ask

Do not be shy when asking questions. Remember in your first few days everyone is new and nobody really knows where anything is or what they are supposed to be doing. Where is the library? How do you work the washing machines? Should I add hot or cold water to cook rice? Where is everyone going tonight? What are you reading? University is not school, lecturers will not be chasing you for assignments or asking if you understand their content, there aren’t lunchtimes where you get to sit together and make friends easily. It is up to you to be mature and rise above the initial fear and just simply – ask.

“The person that asks is a fool for a second, yet the person that does not ask is a fool for forever” James Clear.


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