10 Things To Know When You Start University – A Fresher Tip Sheet


Ah, the joys of starting university! Always room for surprise, even when you think you’ve got it all sussed out beforehand.

I can’t list everything that’ll happen. Nobody can do that.

But here’s a start.

Now you’re a fresher, here’s a list of 10 things to expect. Time to get relationships (with others and with yourself) in check.

In no particular order:

1. First friends aren’t always your best friends.

The pressure to impress is huge. When you find new people, you may form a lasting friendship.

But don’t be too cut up if it doesn’t work out. New people come into your life all the time at university and you’ll get to know all sorts of characters. Some will turn out to be friends for many years to come. Just not necessarily the people you meet in Fresher’s Week.


2. Everyone is coping except you? Don’t believe it!

No matter how out of place and clueless you feel, there are other students just as overwhelmed as you.

It’s easy to think you’re the only person with issues, because you only know your own mind. Starting out at university is not a walk in the park and there’s so much to get to grips with. But remember the first point…people want to look impressive. Not everyone is being totally honest about their difficulties.

If you think you’re the only person who’s not coping well, you’ll feel even worse about it. All those teething troubles are standard.

3. Homesick is standard.

You don’t think you’ll get over it, but you’re likely to have shaken off the sadness within a few weeks. For some, it takes until after Christmas to settle down. It is rare for the problem to be so bad that you have to leave.

For tips on combating those blues, check out my Help for the Hopelessly Homesick.

4. Give new activities a go, so long as you don’t go against your personal opinions/likes/beliefs.

If you don’t drink alcohol, a Fresher pub crawl won’t be your activity of choice. But what if you want to get involved and be a part of the fun with your new housemates?

No problem with joining in. Just don’t feel the need to defend yourself. Peer pressure goes away quicker when you don’t get involved in other people’s fake debates. And the start of a pub crawl (or halfway through it) is a bad time anyway. Bat conversation away and say you’ll explain another day. If someone is too persistent, it may be best to cut your losses and safely remove yourself from their presence.

Stay confident in your identity. As you settle in over the coming weeks, you’ll find situations to suit your lifestyle. The people you get to know here will at least accept who you are, and may even share your core values.

Oh, and if you just want to limit the booze, here are some tips to tame the spirits.


5. You are yourself.

You can’t work out how to make other people like you, because there’s no way for you to befriend yourself. Besides, you don’t need to fake it at university. There are an almost limitless number of choices, options, opinions, likes and dislikes to explore. As with the point above, find the people who will accept and love you for who you are.

6. Everyone pulled except you? Exaggeration only upsets you more.

Everyone did it except me…

So and so ALWAYS happens…

You don’t need to follow the crowd or succomb to peer pressure, as hard as it feels to go against the grain. And I can assure you that not EVERYONE pulls during fresher’s, even though it can seem a bit in your face at times.

7. What do you want to be known for? Be careful.

Do you want to make a big impact on campus from Day One? Getting exposure is great, but you don’t need to do it straight away. Playing the long game is safer than trying to be a hero before you’ve worked out the lay of the land.

Known to be known, no matter what…Is that enough?

8. “If I think the worst, then things can’t get any worse. They’ll only get better.” NOT TRUE!

With this attitude, you’ll only ever think the worst. No matter how good it gets, you’re fixed on the worst outcome, which blinds you to what’s happening.

Prepare for the worst, but don’t think it. Preparation is different to expectation.


9. You’ll work out most things sooner than you think.

The impossible struggle only feels impossible while you’re struggling. Beyond that, it gets better.

It practically always gets better. In all my dealings with freshers over the years, most start with issues that feel insurmountable and nearly every one recovers without fuss. Of the few who find it more difficult, most of them still manage to get over that hurdle.

And if you think your case is different, just remember Point 2. You’re much closer to the side of hope and recovery and success than you think.

10. SU activities are great, but don’t dismiss them if one doesn’t work out.

I made this mistake. I signed up for clubs at the Freshers Fayre, went to my first meeting for one of the clubs, found it disappointing, and decided clubs and societies weren’t much good.

I hardly bothered for a while after that. Yeah…well done me. Sigh.

I’m one of the first people to tell you to look beyond first impressions. Dig deeper, even if your opinion stays the same.

I didn’t follow my own advice here and suffered a little for it. Don’t be quick to dismiss!


There’s a lot to think about settling in as a fresher.

And as soon as you’ve calmed down with these lifestyle issues, then comes all the studying!

If you’re worried about the academic work for the year ahead, I’ve got a great freebie for you…

Get the upper hand and learn to appreciate what’s expected of you and how to prepare for it. Download my ebook ‘Live Life, Study Hard‘ right now.

7 Crucial Considerations To Help You Stay In Touch With Uni Friends After You Graduate

I sometimes wonder if I’m the absolute worst at keeping in touch with friends.

Okay, I have some close mates who like to compete for the title. So maybe lots of us are like that.

How well do you keep the sparks flying? Are you fiendishly friend-focused, or do you have serious trouble touching base?

If it’s bad for you now, think how tough you’ll find it when you graduate!

So this post is for you (and me) to reflect on how we can do better at having meaningful relationships, even from a distance and when your lives go in every direction.

Here are seven thoughts on staying BFFs with heart and passion:

1. Understand that not everyone is brilliant at keeping in touch.

You may already be amazing at relationships. Some people keep the flame burning with ease. Others treat the flame like an oxygen-free room would…It goes out instantly and it’s practically impossible to reignite the fire.

If you NEVER hear from a friend and they aren’t excited when you get in touch, maybe it’s time to cut your losses. Otherwise, try not to sweat it. Be happy that you can reach out better than most people.

2. Embrace the inevitable change that comes your way.

Whether you’re leaving the comfort of campus in your second year, or you’re moving back home at the end of your degree, one thing is always the same…Change!

A common response is to lament how people move on, but why not enjoy experiencing all the developments that your friends go through, just the same as you’re developing yourself?

That mindset alone helps you let go of unimportant things and keep hold of what really matters. You awesome friend, you.

3. Get in touch meaningfully.

Go beyond social media. Send a letter or a postcard once in a while. You don’t have to be on holiday or doing anything special either.

Buy some fun postcards and stamps, keep them close to hand, and write a few brief words of love every now and then. Make it a habit. I wish I’d done this. I got as far as collecting some postcards, but didn’t get much further. Don’t make my mistake!

4. It’s all about the little things in life.

Telling your friends what you’re up to gets you thinking about the big news you want to share. But if you want to stay in touch more frequently, nothing beats a bit of boring detail.

Your day-to-day life is what makes you tick. The big experiences are profound and worth talking about, but not at the expense of the other weeks in the year when you’re not doing something massive.

Share your small stories and let your mates know what it’s like to be you in the calmer, everyday moments.

5. Don’t begrudge them new mates.

When you’ve lived in someone else’s pockets for a year or three, you can get pretty possessive. And it’s fair to be a bit jealous when you know someone else is hanging around such a good mate on a regular basis.

But would you rather your good friend had no other friends? Would you prefer that they stayed in every night and had no social life?

It would be strange if your friend had left university and NOT made some new mates. There’s no need to feel like it’s a competition or that your friendship has been overtaken by someone else.

All friendships are unique, so drop the comparisons and love your matchless bond.

6. Find new ways to get together.

I’ve found that the best way to keep long-distance friendships sparkly is to vary the activities.

Go to events, go on holiday, go to their place, invite them to yours, meet up halfway and explore a brand new place…

7. …Or have a regular meetup.

Routine reunions are another way to ensure you have something to be excited about from one visit to another.

The reason why I prefer to mix things up is because it’s difficult when circumstances change and the regular thing becomes too difficult. Jobs can make it difficult. So can kids, moving further away, and other commitments.

But a change in situation doesn’t mean a change in friendship. You just need to be willing to work with new conditions.

If that means a new routine can be found, great! Otherwise, don’t be afraid to focus more on special events to keep the spark alive.

How good are you at keeping in touch? I like visits and events, but I’m not so good with the everyday communication. There are people I haven’t seen in years who I think about almost daily. If only they knew that I was thinking about them.

My job is to get back in contact and let those people know. That’s next on my list.

What’s next on yours?


Living Together Through the Years – Top Tips From Fresher to Finalist

How you experience living with others depends on what year you’re in at uni.

Everything changes each time you move somewhere new. Situations, workload, location, friendships.

Since it’s the start of another academic year, I’ll run through some tips and experiences for each year. Just when you think you’ve got communal living sussed, you’re thrown into a brand new set of circumstances.

photo by David Reece

photo by David Reece

Fresher Year

Support those not settling in so well

I wish I’d done this better. I was experiencing loads of new stuff myself, but I could have tried harder to help integrate those who were finding life away from home tough.

In my first year, one housemate was torn apart from being away from family and it seemed only a matter of time before they would leave. It didn’t take long. But in that short space of time, I could have done more to reach out and show a friendly face. I tried once or twice, but I wasn’t consistent, and that’s key.

Work as a team ESPECIALLY when one or two won’t pull their weight

You could easily adopt a ‘down tools’ attitude when one person isn’t willing to get involved in cleaning and other little jobs. But that makes it worse for everyone. Don’t choose to live with mess and muck as a matter of principle.

Start a conversation. Be kind when you speak to them about the situation. Anger will only make matters worse.

And don’t make it a five-against-one showdown either. Before having a house meeting to vent on that single subject, take a soft approach. One or two housemates could have a quiet word first to find out how things are and discuss the situation constructively. Gently does it.

If you’re lucky enough to have cleaners, you may not have these issues. But please spare a thought for whoever is making good your mess.

Prepare to learn a lot in a short space of time

If you’ve never lived with others, especially a bunch of strangers, you’ve got your work cut out. Some positive stuff, some negative.

Use this time as a learning experience, as you do with your degree work. You’ll face surprises, but don’t react too quickly (y’know, unless it’s a fire, in which case GET OUT!!!). Let each situation sink in and make a measured response.

Branch out beyond your own space

No matter what your living situation, university lets you find all sorts of new people. Now is the time to make new friends, connections and contacts. You don’t have to stick with the people you’ve been placed with in housing. While it helps to be on positive terms with them, there are many more opportunities to make new friends from the outset. Make the most of it.

Learn how to hack your life

Washing, cleaning, and admin. Delightful! It’s no surprise so many students ignore stuff like this until it’s crucial. If it’s not the end of the world, it can be left.

But now is the best time to learn how to make life work for you without resorting to professional help (i.e. Mum & Dad).

Take your laundry, for instance. Washing machines look daunting. They have loads of dials and buttons. But it’s not difficult. At all. I used to panic about temperatures, times, spin speeds, and all sorts of settings just to wash my clothes. In my first year, I only washed my own clothes in an emergency. Most of the time, I just got others to do it (yes, parents again).

This was a mistake. I should have taken responsibility much sooner. Five to ten minutes is all it takes to understand what’s going on. That includes looking up what all the cleaning symbols mean on clothes. You’re welcome. [What, that’s not enough? You want a printable PDF of those symbols now? Oh, go on then!]

So long as the clothes get washed, it doesn’t really matter. Most stuff goes at 30 degrees (40 degrees is the norm, but uses more energy and often isn’t needed) and most stuff can have a good old spin session without worry. Those laundry symbols come in useful to find out those odd items that need special attention. Remember those ones and move on!

So this isn’t much about hacking, more about dealing with the issues from the outset. But it’s such a rare treat that your advanced work will seem like hacking to much of the world around you.

Just be aware that you’ll be in demand as the guru to go to…

Second Year

Typically the year when you branch out to private accommodation if you haven’t already.

If you’re living with more new people, the first year tips apply. Read those first.

For the following tips, I’ll assume you’re living mainly with people you know and that you’ve chosen to live with.

These are good times, but you still need to be mindful. Even friends can be difficult to live with when they’re under your feet 24/7.

photo by Ethan Moore

photo by Ethan Moore

Respect the place

This goes without saying, no matter where you live. But some student accommodation through a private landlord may look weathered and worn from heavy use by other students over the years.

That’s no reason to treat your place without care.

Also, inform the landlord of any problems. Don’t leave them to get worse. If the landlord isn’t helpful, try speaking to your Students’ Union or student services for more advice.

Walls are even thinner

Noise can be a problem. Why? Because you have different deadlines, you come in at different times (including very late at night), you have different tastes in music, you have various ‘romantic’ situations, and so on. Just remember that you’re not the only one in the house. The occasional lapse is forgiveable. Don’t make it more than that.

Have rotas

You’re unlikely to find a way to give each person the same responsibility for particular tasks, especially if they are unpleasant ones.

A rota helps everyone pull their weight and allows you to keep on top of the most important household tasks.

Little and often. That works magic. When you leave stuff, it piles up and gets worse. A few minutes here and there makes a big difference over time. So, little and often.

Understand extreme personality traits

Some people are more fussy about cleanliness than others. It’s not unusual to live with extremes. While one shrugs at massive mess, another gasps at a fleck of dust.

It’s a difficult road to travel, so prepare. And listen. And seek solution at the earliest possibility.

Failing that, seek compromise.

Whatever happens, try to steer away from outright household battles. They’re ugly. You don’t want them.

Pay bills on time

Especially ones where it’s in a single housemate’s name. If bills are all inclusive or you’re all responsible for your own shares, that’s wonderful. If not, please PLEASE do the right thing and pay when you’re meant to. Don’t be responsible for giving someone else financial grief.

Final Year

I was a Senior Student, so I went back to university accommodation. But being in my final year, the game changed and I was working on my dissertation among other things.

I didn’t hide away though. I went out a lot more.

Whatever your circumstances, a few things are different about your final year, because you’re closer to the end of your degree.

photo by _bernd_

photo by _bernd_

Be selfish

You need to knuckle down. If you haven’t already made changes, now is the time. Don’t be swayed to go out when you’ve got work to do. Make decisions for yourself and have clear reasons why that’s your choice.

You may need more of your own space. If you need to make your room off-limits, make it clear why. You’re not being anti-social, you’re being sensible. Of course you’d love to spend every waking moment having a laugh with your mates. But it’s not practical.

Have downtime

You may be busy and getting your selfish groove on, but you need to find some time with your housemates.

There’s something wrong when the people you’re living with forget you’re there…

Continue washing, tidying and organising

The odd jobs are the first to go when you’re trying to find time to fit everything in.

Bad move. You waste time living in a mess. It’s impossible to live when you can’t find anything, you’ve got nothing clean to wear, and everything is a general state.

I went to the laundrette on Sunday mornings, very early. I knew nobody would be around that way. I’d take some work to get on with while my clothes were being washed. The best way to avoid temptation is to leave your phone in your room. At a laundrette, it’s the only thing left in your way between work and procrastination.

With no phone to hand, the prospect of doing reading and coursework is (hopefully) better than staring at a spinning machine for an hour or two.

Final Thoughts

When you live with others, you have to take care of them. And yourself.

Sometimes it’ll be tough. You’re trying to work with the situation while it feels like others are messing you about.

Other times it’ll be brilliant. The group dynamic will work just right.

So you’re bound to go through all sorts of emotions, highs and lows. When things are good, cherish it and don’t take it for granted. When things go wrong, know that you will get through it.

For more tips, check out my 20 hints for living with others. Good luck!

Worries that don’t go away…and how to make them go away

How different is it to be a student now compared to five years ago? Ten years? Twenty years?

The world continues to change. Your experiences are shaped by advances in technology. What you take for granted today may not have existed when you were born.

But how different are your worries compared to previous years?

Feeling anxious? (photo by jαγ △)

Feeling anxious? (photo by jαγ △)

A YouthInsight poll of more than 1,500 students has asked current students and this year’s uni applicants about their anxieties about campus life. Times Higher Education reports on the top five concerns as:

  1. Money (63%)
  2. Difficulties settling in (50%)
  3. Trouble making friends (48%)
  4. Getting on with flatmates (44%)
  5. Too much partying/drinking (22%)

There is nothing new in this list. And it’s understandable that you’d be worried about these things. For many, stepping on campus for the first time is also the first time away from the family home. The first time you’re fending for yourself in a major way.

If any of these matters are causing you anxiety, check out these links from the archives…


Settling In

Making Friends

Getting Along


Many of your worries may be similar to others around you. The cliché goes that you’re all in the same boat when you start university. Cliché or not, that means you’re all trying to make sense of what’s new. And that’s not always easy.

Remember, you’re not getting it wrong. You’re exploring and discovering. The awesomeness can take time.

It’s worth the wait. 🙂