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Thriving freshers 101: How to navigate your first year of university

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Off to university soon? Here are five tips to help you navigate your first foray into higher education.

The transition to university can be overwhelming. Whether you’re excited, preoccupied with packing or even filled with trepidation, you’re not alone. Current students and university experts reveal how you can not just survive but thrive in your first year of university.

Put yourself out there

When it comes to making connections, Facebook groups set up by universities ahead of arrival can be very helpful. “Read the chats and don’t be afraid to message people,” says Ruby Fullman, a second year law student at Oxford Brookes University.

Lola Roberts, who studies biology at Cardiff University, adds that “it helps to remember everyone else is in the same situation as you. Talk to as many people as you can and just enjoy the experience.” If you’re less confident, Beth Sturgeon, a seasoned higher education adviser, recommends propping your door open on the first day so your new flatmates can pop in to say hello.

Sign up to societies

Joining a society or a sports team can transform your university experience socially and structurally. Zach Ingham, a first year history student at University of Sussex, says: “[Societies] massively helped me in the early weeks, as they gave me the opportunity to meet like-minded people and combat homesickness.”

Joining societies means you’re less reliant on your accommodation friendships and it can inform who’ll be your future housemates or even lifelong friends.

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Manage your finances

Burying your head in the sand isn’t the way to handle your finances, nor is blowing your cash at socials and living off cereal for the rest of term. Having a frank conversation with your parents and setting a weekly budget, or asking them to ration your student loan, can help you stay in control.

Lola advises using an app like Monefy to record your spending. Dr Michelle Morgan, dean of students at the University of East London and a student experience transitions specialist, urges students to use the supermarkets off campus for better deals.

Stay on top of classes

While you may be tempted to skip that 9am lecture, Ruby explains that the work you put in during first year will pay dividends in your second year. “Speak to your academic advisers — it’s valuable to know where you’ve gone wrong or to get extra information”.

During class, Lola says, it’s best to “take in the information instead of trying to get everything down”. Michelle also advises to not compare yourself to the other students on your course and “read your course handbook, so you know what to expect”.

Read more: What is social-emotional learning and how can it set students up for success?
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Look after yourself

When you’re caught up in the frivolity of freshers week, you might not be thinking about multivitamins or balanced meals, but do yourself a favour and look after your immune system. Beth recommends to “have five easy meals in your arsenal” and to batch-cook some budget-friendly dishes.

Socials can also have a big emphasis on drinking but don’t feel pressured into hitting the club. Izzy Watkins, senior programme manager for Student Space at student mental health charity Student Minds, says: “Loneliness continues to affect many students post-pandemic.” If you find yourself feeling cut off, know there’s no shame in asking for help; contact student support, your accommodation officer or your course adviser.

For more support information visit or for more tips on how to thrive at university check out Dr Michelle Morgan’s website

Words by Eleanor Hicks

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