Diary of a Fresher: 'I get one chance to be an undergrad, so I don't want to mess up'

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The Independent Online

After spending a year away from school, my uni's "welcome pack" comes as a shock. I always knew it would be coming; I just didn't expect there to be quite so much of it. I count 17 separate documents before dumping them on my bed for perusal sometime later. Much later.

Unfortunately, under the guise of removing dirty laundry, my mum manages to invade my room and read the lot before I have the sense to hide them. I am doomed.

Next day, she asks me over breakfast if I've chosen the books I want to order from my reading list. I tell her that I need time to decide which papers I'll be taking first. True enough, but that doesn't stop her asking me twice more before lunch.

I'm discovering that Mum's way of coping with my departure is to micromanage my life until I leave. Admittedly, a part of me enjoys this – the attention, the concern, even the ruthless efficiency – but the older I get, the more I resent the control. Left alone, I'd get myself ready for uni in plenty of time. Now, though, I make a point of leaving it as long as I can before eventually trudging up to my room, where my welcome pack (now helpfully encased in a clear plastic folder) awaits.

I flick through it. The only document that stands out (printed on eye-catching, off-orange paper) is about tuition fees. I quickly skim a list of diseases I'm likely to catch (mostly fatal), fill in some forms and circle a few of the more bizarre titles on my reading list. (Who wouldn't want their own copy of How To Get a First?) Mum beams when I return the list to her. I'm done. The next morning, a terrible sound echoes through the house. It's Mum. "You've made a huge mistake!" she wails. I dash to the source of the uproar (my room), where I find her brandishing one of my half-filled-in forms as if it were a death warrant signed by mistake.

"You can't arrive then," she exclaims. "You have to apply to the Senior Tutor's Assistant for permission to come up earlier!" She's right, annoyingly, so I just nod. I would have checked before I actually sent it, after all.

Later, we discuss it over dinner. Happily, Dad is cynical. "He'll have to take responsibility for his mistakes soon enough," he assures my anxious mother. "That's what university's about. You can't protect him forever." Mum seems unconvinced.

"What advice should I give you?" she muses. "Definitely be friendly. I saved some containers of long-life milk for you in case some friends are in your room and want coffee." Mum's decided that, because I don't drink tea or coffee, I'll never have any social contact. Such is the addled logic of the caffeine addict. Dad and I exchange a glance. Mum sees this, and quickly adds: "I resisted the temptation to keep little packets of sugar, though."

I ask Mum if she realised that she just asked herself for advice for me. "Yes," she says confidently, "and I also realise you've done nothing to encourage my ruminations. Notice that hasn't stopped me."

I'm anxious too, of course. I know I'll only be an undergrad once, and I don't want to mess up. I feel I could have got more out of secondary school if I had known at the start what I know now. I thought the same when I left primary school. I just hope that, in three years' time, I won't be thinking it yet again.

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