the first few days at college or university may be daunting, but you'll soon settle in and start to enjoy yourself, as these three students did...

18, from Northwich in Cheshire

Environmental Analysis

University of Huddersfield

"My things were packed the previous week and I could not wait to be off. I had applied for a flat in a large Huddersfield student self-catering block. We could choose between single- or mixed-sex flats, smoking or non-smoking and quiet or noisy. I chose mixed and so found myself on my first night away the only occupant of a six-room flat awaiting the arrival of two more girls and three blokes.

"I arrived a day early for Freshers week. That first night was horrible. A senior resident phoned inviting me to go out with a group but I didn't fancy it. So I went to bed and felt scared and missed home.

"The others duly arrived - the girls crying when their parents left, the blokes doing the stiff-upper-lip routine. So we began by asking the obvious questions - `Where are you from?' `What's your subject?' Then we all went out to the pub and had a really good evening.

"The same questions cropped up during the week in queues. I queued all week to get an NUS card, sort out my finance, register at the health centre and undergo the necessary medical, register option choices and collect timetables. But the queues were another chance to say hi.

"The Freshers Fair was a chance to collect freebies while resisting invitations to join everything.

"Introductory lectures included useful advice on how to write essays, take notes and were a gentle introduction to my first year which has not proved to be too pressurised."


30, from Stockport

Environmental Management

Manchester Metropolitan University

"The weeks before I started college were daunting. I was unsure about studying alongside people whose school career had not started when mine finished. Would I share their understanding of work organisation, the demands of essays and projects, or student dress codes?

"The first day started in a room full of 60 strangers - four of them `mature'. We were herded like sheep through registration routines, mildly panicking about completing administration correctly, sorting loans, paying fees. Learning how to use the library was difficult. But everyone was in the same boat.

"I thought my fellow students might have the edge in things like concise note taking. But we are now all used to being taught by 12 different lecturers with their own styles. Younger students at first expected mature people to take the lead in organising group activities for project work. So I found that I had experience and skills which helped them as much as I was learning from them. From being at school where the teachers were older than me, it was strange coming to university where that age difference was blurred.

"A university mature students group started to form in the first week as we all gravitated to each other. But the people on the course have turned out to be a natural and enjoyable group in their own right.

"Mature students tend to live away from university. Commuting adds time and expense to each day. I was taking private study home while other students used the library. Student travel discounts helped. I enrolled to use the sports and social facilities, though now I use them perhaps less regularly than students in university accommodation do."


20, from Weymouth in Dorset


Dartington College of Arts

"Going to a performing arts college was what I wanted, but the prospect of it in the week or so before I went was worrying. Would everybody else be arty, pretentious types? Would they be easy to talk to? Dartington is a small college community in the heart of the countryside. How would I find that, having been brought up accustomed to city life in Manchester with its theatres and clubs?

"My first impression was that smallness actually had positive advantages. The finance office for example knew who I was - I was not just another faceless student. Then small things began to be issues. Looking after myself without Mum on hand to buy food, deal with moods, talk to me if I got depressed - all this took some getting used to. I found that you couldn't just sit and mope in your room. If you did you might well be ignored. You had to go out and deal with things, talk to people, get on with your work.

"It helps to discover that everyone else goes through similar feelings. In the first few weeks some folks tended to over-react and blow things out of proportion but we all settled down after a while. We have all learned to be ourselves and accept everybody else on that basis.

"The course work is fantastic - everything I wanted it to be. Most of it is practical performance work. I have to undertake research and produce essay work on topics such as cultural theory. The whole scene is helping me change in a very positive way."