Freshers' week 2014: The essential survival guide

Befriend the metalheads, make the tea, buy a bike, boil an egg, join the quidditch team, take a nap, forgive yourself: here's how to survive - and embrace - your first week at university

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The Independent Online

Give it a chance

For as long as there have been universities, there have been freshers hysterically crying on the phone to their mums about how they hate it and need to come home immediately. This is entirely normal. Moving to a different town or city - often for the first time, away from regular, happy routines that you've developed over nearly two decades - can be a massive shock to the system.

The first fortnight is an exercise in stretching your comfort zone and adapting. Dismiss the wholly human instinct of believing that everybody else is doing a whole lot better at fitting in than you are. That confident, booming oaf holding court at the bar is just as likely to be putting on a brave face (insecurity often manifests itself in such a way), so don't pretend to be somebody you're not. Behind closed doors, pretty much everyone is pining for home cooking or lying in the foetal position, weeping into a teddy called Mr Fluffykins. It'll pass.

Try to pace yourself

Freshers' week goes on for a fortnight in many places - even Keith Richards would pause for a cup of tea and a little shut-eye during such a marathon. To avoid freshers' flu, have a Berocca or two, eat regularly and get some sleep.

Don't panic about all the weird new people

As anyone who has revelled in the endless berk-on-berk bickering of Big Brother can testify, cooping up very different individuals in the same building can produce mixed results. You may feel like putting yourself up for eviction when you first meet the curious occupants of your student house or halls of residence.

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There are three things to realise here. Firstly, don't feel like everyone has to be a close friend: it's statistically unlikely that your future bezzie has been assigned next door. You're far more likely to locate them on your course or through a mutual interest.

Secondly, you do need to live in harmony, so be amiable, don't make assumptions based on appearances, do your share of the chores and don't nick anyone's food. Thirdly, this is a rare opportunity for expanding your horizons, so even if someone doesn't seem quite up your strasse, give them a chance. Northerners, southerners, rich kids, poor kids, jocks, nerds, gays, straights, straight edgers, metalheads, potheads, pissheads, Siamese twins, transvestite eskimos - they're all at your uni, and life is immeasurably richer by getting to know them.

Learn a recipe

The number of students arriving at college unable to boil an egg beggars belief. Sussing the basics (and there are plenty of cookbooks out there) will go a long way. Perfect something like a Thai green curry or a Sunday roast and you'll find yourself worshipped as a virtual deity, surrounded by friends and admirers.

Sort your budget

The temptation to bellow, "Free money! Keg party!" on the appearance of a student loan in your bank account is almost overwhelming, and the temptation to then blow the ruddy lot in a single whirlwind afternoon of spending looms not far behind. But of all the sage advice that fusty older generations can offer you, this is the biggie: budget properly.

Smash through your cash irresponsibly and you'll doubtless end up working extra hours in an inevitably dull job to make ends meet when you could be enjoying yourself (and should be studying). Work out a weekly budget for food, rent, travel, clothes, college materials and fun, and stick to it. Avoid too many takeaways, find the charity shops, buy a cheap bike to save on buses, remember that Poundland and supermarket-own brands are your friends.

Apps can help you get this right, too. Try OnTrees or Dollarbird (which link to your bank account and let you know if you're overspending) and mySuperList (which identifies bargains).

Use a phone locater

Losing your shiny iPhone or Android is the modern-day freshers' flu: everyone is vulnerable, and it hurts. A new home, different transport, lecture halls, bars and  libraries, all with a drink or two stirred into the mix, spell the perfect conditions for smartphone misplacement.

Luckily, you can now download clever apps like Find My iPhone andAndroid Device Manager (plus other equivalents), which will then tell you where you left it.

Get to know your surroundings

This isn't quite Bear Grylls territory - try not to kill anything or drink your own urine - but familiarising yourself with some of the basics of your immediate surroundings early can pay dividends. Work out your best route into university, into town and back - Google Maps, the National Rail Enquiries app and Bus Finder are all invaluable here - and try to learn your new postcode.

Sort your room out, too: a few plants and pictures from home will create a positive, comfortable headspace, while the freshers' fair will inevitably sell that timeless favourite - the cheap, gigantic poster, invaluable for covering up Blu -Tack-devastated walls. Unpack with your door open, and welcome anyone who passes by.

Consider the dresscode

Student life is the chance to express yourself in a way that you were maybe unable to do so back home, limited perhaps by parental pressure, small-town mentality or a basic lack of opportunity. So by all means, sculpt your hair into mauve dreadlocks, get your eyeball pierced, buy a top hat and wander round campus on stilts, if that floats your boat.

A few things should be considered, however. Provincial nightclubs can operate a fascistic "no trainers" policy, so it's worth having a pair of shoes unless you want to run the bouncer gauntlet and end up not being allowed in.

It's also worth having at least one smart outfit for various campus occasions, and it's probably best to resist the temptation to bowl up on day one dressed as a comedy chimp/banana/naughty nurse. While you'll certainly attract attention, it'll mainly just help bond other people together by laughing at you.

Hit the fair

Want a balloon? A goody bag stuffed with packets of soup? Step this way. The freshers' fair is a vital recruiting group for the hundreds of clubs thriving at every university, and it's well worth heading along to bask in the charm offensive.

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A few vital functions are performed here: it's a way to meet like-minded souls, usually through something as mainstream as joining the football team, or orchestra, or by locating other connoisseurs of a niche activity (Gregorian chanting, Morris dancing, quidditch and speculative fiction groups are all currently active at Oxford). It's also a golden opportunity to try something that may have tickled your fancy, but you've not been able to access or afford (clubs are generally subsidised).

Most have taster sessions, so you can try something out before committing.

Don't feel pressured to go berserk

It's become something of an annual tradition: newspapers packed with horror stories of students gone wild in week one, rutting in alleyways and being bundled into ambulances as the pavement slicks with vomit. While only the deluded would deny that freshers' week does involve a drink or six, the shock stories are sensationalism: there are as many experiences to be had as there are freshers (around 180,000 a year), and the idea that every one of them is suddenly on a giant Club 18-30 holiday is ludicrous.

Have fun before the studying starts, but stay within whatever limits you set for yourself and don't get arm-twisted to have that final sambuca, or any sambuca at all, if you don't want to. If it's not your scene, there are plenty of alternatives out there in studentland for you.

Get a TV license

Not rock'n'roll, but necessary: the dreaded "man in the van" still exists and is hoping to hand you a £1,000 fine.

If you're living in halls and have a telly in your room, you'll need your own licence, and you also need one to stream live TV on your laptop, PC, tablet, smartphone or console. It's £145.50 - payable quarterly, monthly or weekly - and you can get a £36.67 refund if you move out of your term-time address for the summer. Visit tvlicensing.co.uk/studentinfo or call 0300 790 6113 for more.

Feeling uncertain

You're paying a fortune for your education, so don't be shy about getting right on your tutor's case with regards to preparation and reading. Their job is to guide you through this journey, so never feel bad about using them as a sounding board. Make the most of it by giving them a call or emailing them.

Keep the feeling going

The end of freshers' week doesn't mean that you should stop doing some of the positive things that you've thrown yourself into, such as getting out of your comfort zone, chatting to people and investigating different activities.

Keep this open-minded attitude going throughout university and you'll make the very best of the experience and discover new confidence. And if you did do something daft during the first week, forgive yourself. It's all part of a wonderful learning curve µ

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