Student finance: 'Just smile and enjoy it'

Advice from fellow students can help to relieve the anxiety of your first week at university, says Charlotte Bailey

Ask anyone heading to university how they're feeling, and they'll probably answer: "Excited – but nervous". Of course, your level of confidence as freshers' week draws near will depend on your situation: someone who has already lived away from home, for example, or spent a year travelling and meeting people, might be less anxious about leaving home. But, to some degree, everyone is uncertain about how they'll fare.

This year, some of the stress of settling into university life has been alleviated by Student Aid, which worked with universities around the UK to put together bespoke starter packs that will be waiting on each student's bed on the first day of freshers' week in September. These free packs include shampoo, shower gel, toothpaste, tea, sweets and a CD. Students also get a guide to starting out at university, containing useful information on budgets and finding the nearest doctor's surgery – as well as tips about where to see the best bands and get the best student food deals.

"When you start university, you've got a million and one things going through your mind," says Andy Fidler, managing director of Student Aid. "Often you forget the essentials. With so much happening over the first few days and often not knowing the area, it's hard to find time to go out and find them. In our guide, we've combined advice written by each university for their students with general tips for starting out. We want to help students get settled in to independent life so they can make the most of being a student."

Fidler and his business partner Gordon Bennell were running recruitment firm Graduate Fasttrack and gap-year website findagap.com when a friend suggested making starter packs of information, samples and vouchers for freshers after he saw the success of a similar scheme for new mothers, in which packs were distributed on maternity wards.

Unlike the official information heaped on students during freshers' week, much of the content in the Student Aid guides is written by a student. "I remember arriving on my first day at university and being given piles of lists, maps and checklists," says Sian Rowe, who wrote for the guide during her final year at the University of York last year. "The student guide comes from a different perspective, and talks about things you'd only know if you were a student. I know it would have helped me settle in, because it's just that bit of extra support and is presented in a way that actually engages students. Starting university is hard work – the lifestyle is different to anything I'd experienced before. I think even people who say they're completely cool about it and don't need help settling in will probably sit down, read it and find something they'll use."

Leeds Metropolitan University student Ellie Badminton was in the first batch of students targeted by Student Aid last year. "Because everyone had one, it gave us a good conversation starter," she remembers. "I loved all the freebies and discounts – we used a couple of the restaurant ones in the first month to treat ourselves and it helped us all get to know each other."

University staff who work closely with students have also seen the benefits of welcoming students with something unofficial: this is only the second year that Student Aid have made the packs, and already demand has almost doubled – 20 universities handed them out last September; this year, 35 are on board. "When students first get into their rooms, they're quite bare and minimal – not like home," says Helen Gentleman, who works in the accommodation department at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. "It's nice to have something to welcome students to the campus. The big pile of rules and regulations we put out can be intimidating, and the guides are a bit more jazzy, so they're more likely to be read."

And because they're presented in a way that's appealing and relevant to students, adds Gentleman, staff at Heriot-Watt have found that the guide has even given students more independence – they'll look there for answers to the practical questions, instead of asking staff.

An accompanying website, student-aid.co.uk – where students can connect to share lecture notes, find out what's on locally and download discount vouchers – will launch in September, and packs for second- and third-year students, are also in the pipeline. "If only they made a pack that tells everything you need to know about life after you graduate," sighs Rowe.

'Submerge yourself in it'

Andrew Smith is president of the students' association at Dundee University.

"I didn't know what to expect. I worried about how I'd settle into a new city and make friends, and I think lots of students feel the same way. But freshers' week was a great way to meet new people.

University is a completely different social and learning environment from school, but I got a lot out of it socially and academically. The first week is so busy – I spent most of it rushing between induction events and finding out about my courses. A one-on-one session with my course tutor really helped me settle in: it made me understand how life at university was going to be.

If you're about to start university, submerge yourself in it. Join a sports team or a society, get involved in nights out, go to introductory sessions in your department and chat to as many people as you can."

'I wish I hadn't worried as much'

Natalie Crisp is president of the students' union at Durham University.

"I was so apprehensive before I went to university – it seemed like I would be a very long way from home. I was unsure about so many things: would I make friends? What would it be like living away from home? Would I cope? But when I arrived, I soon forgot my fears. I was surprised how quickly I found people I felt comfortable with. I remember being with a big group in the pub on the very first day. We were bonding by discussing how badly our Oxbridge interviews had gone, and even then, I could imagine being friends with these people for the rest of my life. I wish I hadn't worried as much now.

However, freshers' week is intense: it wasn't the defining moment of my university experience. My advice about going to university? Make the most of it! You'll have so much fun, so just smile and enjoy it."

'Everyone wants to meet you'

Steve O'Reilly is president of the students' union at Southampton University.

"I was excited and eager to start university, but I was also anxious about leaving all the mates I had at home. I decided that I would just say hello to absolutely everyone I met, and it worked!

Everyone was equally keen to meet people and chat, and that eagerness lasted for months. I met people during that first week who became my closest friends throughout university – I still live with some [of them] now.

Freshers' week seemed to last for ever. It was busy, but I loved it because I had the chance to meet so many people. You'll never get the opportunity to make so many friends all in one place again.

Have confidence in yourself. Don't forget, everyone's in the same position as you and they want to meet you too. My advice? Get involved in everything you can. My university experience was made not by academic work, but by everything else I did."

'It was a mixture of excitement and nerves'

David Walker is president of the students' union at Nottingham Trent .

"I don't think anyone knows what to expect when they come to university. For me, it was a mixture of excitement and nerves – I knew I'd meet lots of people but I was also anxious about being completely alone for the first time. I knew I'd be moving in to a flat with six strangers, which was probably the most nerve-wracking part.

But freshers' week was excellent. Within hours, my fears had gone. Everyone was really friendly: being thrown into that situation means everyone makes an effort to get along with everyone else. Freshers' reps came round every day and night, organising events and getting everyone to meet each other.

I know starting university can be daunting, but don't worry. Enjoy every minute. Get involved, meet people and take advantage of every opportunity: you'll regret it if you don't and I promise you, you'll have a great time if you do."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
election 2015The 10 best quotes of the campaign
News
A caravan being used as a polling station in Ford near Salisbury, during the 2010 election
election 2015The Independent's guide to get you through polling day
News
people
Voices
David Blunkett joins the Labour candidate for Redcar Anna Turley on a campaigning visit last month
voicesWhat I learnt from my years in government, by the former Home Secretary David Blunkett
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Guru Careers: Solutions Consultant

£30 - 40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Solutions Consultan...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£30 - 35k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux - Central London

£40000 - £48000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Systems Engineer - Linux ...

Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator - Windows, Linux - Central London

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrat...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'