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.

Employability & the Role of the University

Should universities teach students how to find a job? Are employment skills a necessary requirement for higher education to deliver today?

photo by micn2sugars

photo by micn2sugars

With so many new graduates each year, employers are spoilt for choice on who to give a job. If a company wants to recruit graduates, it’ll have no difficulty. If a company wants to recruit graduates with specific skills, the choice may be more difficult.

It’s like with A-levels. Universities find it increasingly difficult to work out which students to give offers to, because so many A-level students are receiving good grades. More unis are asking for at least one A* grade to help identify students of the highest calibre. But what happens when this grade fails to identify anything useful? And is this still a reasonable and effective method of finding the most able students?

There was a time when simply ‘being a graduate’ was enough to help you stand out from the crowd. Securing employment wasn’t as tough, because there were fewer graduates in the same position. Regardless of actual ability, having a degree was a notch above many.

Yet today, with so many graduates in the mix, employers look for more than a grade. Even a First at a prestigious university isn’t enough to grab whatever you desire.

Where does that leave you upon graduation? Should universities be responsible for ensuring a certain level of competence or employability before allowing you to graduate?

I’m not convinced it should be obligatory.  As a place of learning, university isn’t solely about business and career.  And it’s not possible to attain a particular level or type of ’employability’.

For instance, Boden & Nedeva highlight differences between Anglia Ruskin and Oxford:

“It is likely that local interpretations of notions of what makes graduates employable would be different for the University of Oxford and Anglia Ruskin University. The University of Oxford website does not contain an employability statement but, despite this, Oxford graduates are widely regarded as highly employable. Moreover, education at Oxford has not been changed in accordance with the employability agenda: broad-based knowledge and cultural capital are still the currencies that students accumulate.”
[Employing discourse: universities and graduate ’employability’]

Despite this, I believe students should be assured the following, whatever institution they attend:

  • Guaranteed availability of assistance and preparation for life after graduation if a student should request it;
  • Continued support from careers services, including a more detailed and personal service in some cases;
  • Clear information & explanation on improving employability and transition into work;
  • Before going in to HE, give students awareness that a degree is not an automatic passport to a job or career;
  • Give those pre-HE students guidance on the alternatives to university, along with general pros and cons to each.

I’m uncertain who would be responsible for supplying the resources for the last two points…universities, schools, government department, outsourced…?  But it is necessary.  Harriet Dunbar-Goddet at 1994 Group makes a simple, yet entirely valid point:

“Information is not enough, prospective students also need advice and guidance on how to make use of it.”

Any number of tools can be offered to students, but it counts for nothing if there is little awareness and an inability to make proper use of those tools.

In response to Harriet’s point, I said that it’s like being given all the separate components to build a car and then being expected to build it yourself with no fuss. You’d recognise some of the parts, but they would mean nothing in isolation.  There is similarity in this:

“As Tomlinson (2007) points out, students nowadays no longer anticipate a clear link between their merit in education and its reward in the labour market.”
[Less time to study, less well prepared for work, yet satisfied with higher education]

A selection of courses at some universities allow a year in relevant industry. This helps many graduates stand out both on their CV and in terms of actual experience, which is often lacking upon graduationBullock et al, say:

“Our study confirms other findings that an extended work placement enhances the likelihood of a good degree and preferred employment. Although the sandwich model preferred in this university is not perfect, the perception shared by students, academics and employers is that benefits outweigh drawbacks.”
[‘Work placement experience: should I stay or should I go?‘]

Even if work placements and generous employability support are provided by universities, is it enough?  A recent paper by Hinchliffe & Jolly examines broader knowledge, identity and well-being as possible keys to greater employability. They look at a more holistic approach whereby students focus not solely on employability, but on the bigger picture:

“Our studies suggest that universities and government would be better employed promoting student employability indirectly through the promotion of graduate identity and well-being (through the provision of opportunities for functioning) rather than directly through employability skills.”
[Graduate identity and employability]

Given the issues discussed above, it’s no wonder that a degree doesn’t automatically result in magical employment.

Boden & Nedeva are concerned that matters go beyond employability. Is higher education in danger of giving too narrow a focus to learning when it should be giving a wider perspective?

“Universities should be the critical friends to civil society, enlightening, informing and engaging, as part of their service. The growth within universities of pedagogical approaches based around the ‘delivery’ of ‘teaching materials’ in a narrow set of ‘skills and competencies’ bodes ill for the execution of this wider public intellectual role. This, we argue, is perhaps the most alarming of implications.” [Source]

And the take home point?

When you identify any goal, career or otherwise, strike out using your own initiative and find who and what can help you around your own actions.

Whatever your university has to offer, take responsibility for your future. Look beyond the grades and beyond the reputation of the institution.  Look to yourself and what you have to offer.  It’s often a lot more that you think.