Explore your university town
This is essential in your first year because everything seems new and you won’t take things for granted. By second and third year you’ll feel as though you’ve seen everything and know the place inside out, even if you don’t. While you’re in first year you also have the least amount of work, so make a bucket list of all the things you want to do and places you want to see, so that when you graduate you’ll be satisfied that you made the most of your time there.
Join a random society
This is what university is all about, aside from the degree obviously. Universities love to boast about the hundreds of societies on offer, and while many are typical choices, there are usually a variety of obscure, random and unusual ones. This could include anything from a cheese tasting cub to a Harry Potter society, alongside a whole range of other activities you’d never thought of trying.
While you’re still settling in during your first year, try a new society or club. You’ll meet new people outside of your subject and accommodation, and you might even discover something you end up loving. If you wait until second year, you may feel as though you’ve missed the boat or can’t fit it into your busy schedule.
Impress your parents
Perhaps you want to prove a particular point, or maybe you just have your eye on an expensive Christmas present. Either way, there are lots of reasons for wanting to impress your parents. First year is a great opportunity to do this while your parents are still adjusting to you being away and don’t know what to expect. How can you impress them? Write an article for your university newspaper, stand for a position on a society committee or become a culinary genius and learn to cook a Michelin starred meal. You may only get a pat on the back, but it’s satisfying to know you’ve made an impression.
Flickr (Hotel de la Paix Genève)
Go on a RAG Jailbreak weekend
When else are you going to be able to hitch-hike your way as far around the world as you can get, in fancy dress, all for a worthy cause? RAG (raising and giving) are charitable fundraising organisations run by students at most universities. They have events and fundraisers throughout the year for different causes, but Jailbreak is by far the best. Students form small groups and attempt to get as far away from the university location in a set amount of hours with no money. Success stories often include countries such as Australia and Hong Kong, but even if you only make it halfway across the UK, it’s still a unique experience which raises money for charity.
Flickr (Howard Lake)
Learn a language
Learning a language is highly beneficial: it makes you more employable, makes travelling easier and helps exercise and challenge your brain. First year is the perfect opportunity to learn a new language because many university courses allow you to take open units, so you can choose a beginner’s language unit.
You can join your university’s language and culture societies to improve your skills and practise your language with fluent speakers. If this isn't an option at your university, most local councils offer adult education courses and languages are always an option. While you have less work in first year, why not use your free time productively to learn a valuable skill?
Flickr (Jean-Etienne Minh-Duy Poirrier)
Travel the UK
Despite living in the UK, most students probably haven’t ventured far beyond the area around where they live, except to visit family every now and again. University offers an invaluable opportunity to travel to new parts of the UK to see the Great Angel of the North, try some haggis in Edinburgh and watch some rugby in Cardiff. Why? Chances are you’ll have friends at other universities scattered across the UK and if not, the friends you make at your own university will have come from a range of places, including other countries. Staying with friends will not only keep costs low, but they’ll know all the best places to go and see. Go during first year while your friends are all still in university halls - they’re the most sociable places and best for soaking up the university atmosphere.
Flickr (Wilka Hudson)
Learn the basics
You don’t realise how easy things have been in your life until you’re faced with a load of confusing buttons on a washing machine. Everything is new when you start university and, no matter how well you prepare, there will always be things you didn’t know how to do before.
Use your first year to master the basics: cooking, washing, cleaning, budgeting and organisation. It may take time and at times it will be boring and frustrating, but if you can learn how to do the basics you’ll save yourself a vast amount of money, time and most importantly stress - which you definitely won’t need in second and third year. Start as you mean to go on.
Flickr (401(K) 2012)
Go on a university trip
Moving from a small school or college environment straight into a giant university can be overwhelming. Suddenly, you feel like a small fish in a very big pond. Going on a university trip will make a difference - it will be reminiscent of your old school days because you’ll get to know a smaller group of fellow university students and you’ll feel actively connected to your university.
Trips are often a lot cheaper too because they are subsidised for university students and often take place during off-peak periods. You can use the opportunity to experience new cultures or learn a new sport for a much lower cost.
Have a duvet day
There are few things better than being able to lie in bed all day, watching the entire box set of your favourite television programme while gorging on some pizza. The coveted duvet day is a must - for the first time you will be free to do absolutely nothing without your parents forcing you to get out of bed and do something productive. It’s a necessity in first year because it will still be a novelty - by second year you will be trying to avoid the temptation of duvet days as much as possible. Save them for a rainy day or after a big night out for maximum satisfaction.
For most universities the results you get in your first year don’t count. So yes you can take things easier (and do all the things already mentioned) but you should also work hard and use the time to adjust to university, especially the new work load and higher standard required. It’s better to make mistakes and experiment with different work and revision techniques while it doesn’t count, so that when it does, you’re fully prepared.