Your first term at university will be a welter of new faces and experiences in an unfamiliar environment – an exciting and daunting prospect in equal measure. Freshers' Week, also known as Welcome Week, is the bridge to this new phase of life, designed to help make the transition into university as enjoyable and rewarding as possible.
During the week, you are likely to be confronted with a dizzying choice of ice-breaking activities, from paintballing and pub crawls to foam parties and comedy nights. At times, it can seem more like a Freshers' Frenzy.
Behind the wall-to-wall fun there's a serious purpose – namely to help you settle in, meet fellow students, find your bearings, enrol on your course and join clubs and societies that reflect your interests. If sports and exercise is your thing, for example, you can probably try out everything from archery to Zumba.
"It's all about creating as many opportunities as possible to help new students to meet and build new friendships," explains Ed Foster, study support co-ordinator at Nottingham Trent University. During next term's Welcome Week, Nottingham Trent will be offering around 400 events and activities. Despite Nottingham's reputation for great student nightlife, Foster acknowledges that not everyone will want to go clubbing and they ensure that more restrained alternatives are on offer, including theatre visits and a ghost walk.
Whatever your thing, it's best to do some advance research by checking out the student union website for your university and shortlisting those activities that really appeal to you. You can also look out for your Freshers' Week Facebook group and follow plans on Twitter.
If there's one word that sums up Freshers' Week it's pressure – to meet everyone and do everything. These full-on days and nights will be a major test of stamina for even the most hardened of social beings.
Getting the most out of those first seven days and nights presents a challenge in itself, so here are some useful pointers to get you through.
You can't be everyone's new best friend
Having waved off tearful parents, the first challenge is meeting fellow students with whom you will be sharing a corridor or digs. Make an effort to introduce yourself, even if you feel like crawling under your duvet. Keep your door open. You're not the only one who may be feeling isolated or lonely. But keep in mind that you can't be everyone's new best friend. Pick the people with whom you instinctively feel you will have a good rapport.
"Remember that it will be only the first week of many and the worst way to start university is by burning yourself out. So, get involved, but look after yourself, too," advises Raechel Mattey, vice-president of the National Union of Students.
For many freshers in their first week, alcohol inevitably plays a leading role. It can calm nerves and ease social encounters, but watch your intake. You don't want to be the one who is always being scooped up from the pavement by fellow students.
There's no shame in not being a 24-hour party animal. If you need to catch up with sleep, make your excuses. And don't worry if you don't drink at all. Despite the focus on alcoholic consumption, you'll find there are plenty of others who can enjoy themselves on virgin cocktails.
Empty wallet syndrome
There is bound to be someone who blows a whole term's money in the first week. Make sure it's not you. Work out what you can afford to spend for each night out and leave your credit card safely in your room. Don't try and buy friends. A round of drinks can use up a great chunk of your budget.
Talking of budgets, don't forget to draw one up. If you have received your loan, you may feel super-rich, but avoid the temptation to blow it.
The serious stuff
It may seem like the social scene is all-consuming but you will have important tasks to do, such as formally enrolling on your course of study. There will also be valuable introductory talks and library familiarisation sessions to attend in the daytime.
Make good use of the week to get your bearings. You don't want to get lost looking for your first lecture. Use the time to check out where the student health services are based, as week one is a good opportunity to register.
Keeping healthy and safe
The notorious "Freshers' flu" is ready to pounce on the sleep-deprived and poorly nourished. To keep it at bay, make sure you eat healthily at least once a day, including lots of fruit.
Avoid peer pressure to do crazy things. Tales of Freshers' Week pranks that got out of hand abound. Keep your wits about you after a few drinks. Your new mates may also be in a similar condition, so look out for each other.
Help is on hand
There is bound to be a good support network of student buddies or mentors to help you move into accommodation and offer practical advice. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
Not every new student fits the mould of being 18 and from elsewhere in the UK. When planning Freshers' Week, universities and student unions are keen to cater for students from the local area, mature students and those from overseas. If you fit into any of these categories, look out for special social events for you. If you have special needs, it's important to make sure these are known before you arrive.
Finally, take in all these dos and don'ts but, above all, enjoy Freshers' Week for what it is – a great opportunity to find your feet and make new friends without the pressure of essay deadlines. The trick is not to feel you have to enjoy everything or attempt to do it all. With some sensible planning and self-restraint, it can turn out to be an experience you'll treasure forever.
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