First-week aid

Everyone's in the same boat in Freshers' Week - it's up to you to ensure it's not the Titanic. By Anna Edgley-Smith
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The Independent Online

The most important thing to remember in Freshers' Week is that if you're a) confused beyond measure, b) half wishing you hadn't come and c) longing for just one moment when someone isn't trying to make you sign up for something, you're certainly not the only one. Oh, there are always a few people who seem to know everyone already and dash about name-dropping like crazy, most people, however, will be just as bemused as you - and, to be honest, the loud ones are probably the most scared. So if you don't enjoy your Freshers' Week, don't worry. It will all get better from here on in.

The most important thing to remember in Freshers' Week is that if you're a) confused beyond measure, b) half wishing you hadn't come and c) longing for just one moment when someone isn't trying to make you sign up for something, you're certainly not the only one. Oh, there are always a few people who seem to know everyone already and dash about name-dropping like crazy, most people, however, will be just as bemused as you - and, to be honest, the loud ones are probably the most scared. So if you don't enjoy your Freshers' Week, don't worry. It will all get better from here on in.

To get the most out of those first few hectic days, the thing to do is to make your room your own. That way, you'll always have somewhere to go when it all gets too much. If there's a fault with your room - no electricity, missing a vital piece of furniture, ceiling falling in - tell your accommodation supervisor right away; if you simply don't like it, it's unlikely you'll be allowed to move (at least straight away) and you'll just have to make the best of it. Your room is probably going to be small, shabby and thin-walled - that's how student rooms are - but it's amazing what a few posters and your favourite duvet cover can do.

Introduce yourself to your neighbours as soon as possible; it's often the case that the people you start out living near are those who will become your closest friends. Even if you don't end up close, it's always nice to have a group you can sit with at meal times and say hi to in the bar while you're settling in.

Once you've created your haven, it's time to go out and get involved. There's no getting round it - most activities offered to you in the first week are going to include alcohol in some way. If you've been going to the pub since you could walk, great, get on with it. If, as I hadn't, you've barely touched a drop before you start college, or you don't want to drink for whatever reason, that's fine too. Believe it or not, there are plenty of ways to meet people and take part in student life that don't involve alcohol. Don't feel pressured into drinking - you may feel a bit out of it in the first few days, but after all, you can chat in the bar, go out clubbing and stay up past 4am talking with the best of them, and all that without the raging hangover everyone else will suffer the next day.

The Freshers' Fair is a great opportunity to see what your uni has to offer in the way of sports and societies, continue with something you're passionate about or take up something completely new. However, be warned: it's also a great opportunity to lose lots of money signing up for life membership of hundreds of societies in which you're never going to take part. Remember that you don't have to sign up for anything right away - most societies will allow you to come along for a session of whatever it is they do before they make you pay membership.

Your first term

By the end of your first term, you'll probably feel completely at home. However, if you really are living at home, rather than in halls, it's easy to feel a little isolated from everyone else. Living at home means that you don't have that sense of community with the people around you (though, on the other hand, you get to have a good night's sleep), so it's important to take part in lots of social events in order to feel a part of things. You're probably living at home because it's within easy reach of your college, so you should be able to have the same life as everyone else, only with good food. If you have understanding parents, you could invite a few people back to the house for a meal or drinks from time to time. You might not be able to stay out until the early hours, but get it right, and you'll have the best of both worlds - student life without the disturbances.

Similarly, if you're a mature student, you might feel rather detached from everyone else to begin with. Your fellow students will probably seem exceptionally young, perhaps rather frivolous - especially if you're working part time to pay for your course, or looking after a child as well as studying. If you don't want to spend endless evenings on the town, but still want to be a part of student life, you just need to socialise during the daylight hours instead. Have coffee with fellow students on your course, or join a club that allows you to see the same people regularly. If you have time, try to take one evening off a week to go to the bar or the cinema and catch up with friends.

Whatever kind of student you are, it's easy to get swept up in your new life of friends, parties and interesting new activities, and forget that you actually have some work to do. University/college is not the same as school - if you went to a sixth form college, you'll have some idea what it's like. If you get into bad habits in your first term, you'll probably keep them for the rest of the year, which will lead to a nasty surprise when it comes to exam time. Sure, a 9am lecture is about as appealing as sitting in the waiting room of a doctor's surgery - lasts forever, takes place in a hot and uncomfortable room, and there's always someone with a loud, hacking cough sitting directly behind you - but like waiting for the doctor, it's a necessary evil. And yes, your first term essays and assignments do matter. After all, a foundation year is exactly that; it provides the basis for the rest of your degree. You may be able to scrape by, but then you'll get to the second year and discover that you're actually meant to know everything you covered in first year. So if you don't work now, you'll only have to do it later, by which time you'll have more important things to do. Be warned!

Your first year

Your first term was probably a socialite's dream, with never a spare moment to sit down and contemplate life. However, painting the town red is all well and good, but when's it's over, you may find your bank balance is a similar colour. I know it sounds dull, but at the beginning of the year you should at least set an upper limit on your spending for each term - to be kept to at all costs. When allocating the money, don't forget the necessities: first of all tuition, then accommodation, food and bills. At the start of your degree you're likely to have to buy textbooks or other materials for your course, so budget for them too. You'll also need money for sports and societies - and then there's a little thing called insurance which is vital, since a lot of people see students as an easy target. After all that, you may find you have less left than you thought - but don't despair. Charity shops are great for party costumes and even the odd ball dress or vintage smoking jacket at bargain-basement prices and drinks in a student bar are roughly half the normal price.

By the time the end of your first year is approaching, you'll have been to enough fancy dress parties that you never want to see another sequin or silly hat ever again, and will probably have a lifetime aversion to at least one type of alcohol. You'll also be aware that a little thing that seemed oh-so-far-away in those first crazy weeks is looming like a monolith on the horizon - namely, the examination period. It would be a good idea at this point to know the significance of the doom that is nearly upon you. How much do you have to get to pass? If you don't pass, will you be allowed to re-sit or are you out for good? Do these exams count towards your final degree, or are they just a method of making sure that you haven't done absolutely nothing this year? Even if the exams don't count, you really don't want the hassle of resits (which are likely to be bang in the middle of your summer break), so aim to do as well as you can. Trust me, working hard in the weeks leading up to the exams is actually the most time-saving thing you can do, however much you may hate it at the time. If you've been lazy throughout the year, it's still not too late - you might not get a great mark, but you can definitely pass.

We all know revision is not the most exciting pastime in the world - after all, by definition you've seen it all before. The best way to get through it is by having regular short breaks to make sure you can keep concentrating (by which I DON"T mean do half an hour's desultory reading followed by several hours' worth of computer games). Make yourself a schedule, because then you're more likely to stick to it. As for what you should actually do, it's a proven fact that the best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else - so don't get annoyed if your friend who hasn't lifted a pen all year comes round to ask what the definition of "indolence" is. Other than that, repeatedly writing out the things you need to know will help you to be able to write them out again when it comes to the exam, and on the whole this works better than just reading through them. Good luck, and don't panic!

Anna has just graduated in maths from the University of Durham

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