How to get through Freshers' Week: recent university graduates share their tips

The first week of your new university life can be terrifying but Elsa Vulliamy's tips can help get you through it

1. Your flatmates probably are not going to be your best friends

The good news is that when you first meet your flatmates, you'll think you've found your soulmates. You will spend a large part of the week desperately clinging to them and thanking your lucky stars that you are not alone. But don't let your new-found BFFs stop you from going out and meeting new people.

As Kirsty McArthur, a geography student at the University of Plymouth, says: "Halls can make it easy to form fast friends but most of the time the lack of common ground can make the rest of the year hard." Once the novelty fades, you'll probably realise you don't have as much in common as you might think (all of you liking pizza and Harry Potter isn't that much of a coincidence).

2. The budgeting won't work

Keeping track of your money is one of the most important things about moving away from home. It is important to listen to advice when it comes to money, but the sad truth is that strict budgeting in your first week of university isn't going to work. Even if you're not spending a fortune on alcohol, it's very likely that there'll be a necessity you've forgotten (or didn't know you needed!).

Catherine Watson, a biochemistry student at University College London, remembers: "The accommodation just asked me to provide 'linen' for my bed, so I thought the duvet and pillows were included. It seems stupid now, but I had to make an emergency trip to Argos on my first day to correct my mistake."

Don't despair if things feel a bit out of control at first, you'll get the hang of your new lifestyle, but try to ensure that you have some extra spending money for the first couple of weeks...

3. Make sure you have a financial contingency plan

What many people don't know when they first start at university is that a student maintenance loan is rarely generous enough to cover you completely. Almost all students need to take out an overdraft or borrow money from their parents to get by. Many banks offer interest-free overdrafts for students, but it might be a safer option to borrow from a parent or relative (just in case you have trouble paying it back). Don't go off to uni without having a Plan B.

4. You don't have to do things you don't want to

Many people ask, "will I have to go clubbing every night?", "do I have to go to all events?", "will I really need to wear fancy dress?", but the fact is that no one is going to make you do anything – you are free to make your own decisions just as you were at home. You may worry that certain freshers' week activities are compulsory if you are to make friends, but this just isn't the case. The first few weeks are not the be all and end all, there will be hundreds of other club nights you can go to if you feel like staying in one night, and if you miss the activities fair you can join the society another time.

What you do in the first week is not going to affect your whole life. You will end up making friends whatever you do; there is no reason to put yourself "out there" any more than you wish to. Hannah Thomas, a French and Italian student from the University of Leeds, says: "I barely left my room in the first four months but I still somehow managed to make friends. When I did decide to come out of hibernation, I was welcomed with open arms."

5. Bring an ethernet cable

It's necessary. You'll just have to trust me on this one. The university doesn't always provide them, and sometimes the wi-fi doesn't work.

6. Find a hobby

The best thing to do when you start is to join as many societies as possible. You're unlikely to stay committed to all of them throughout the year, but getting involved in a club or society is the best way to get to know new people. You'll meet people with similar interests, and interact in a smaller group which is much less intimidating. Universities are huge and are filled with all sorts of people.

Lasting commitments will also be great for your CV. As Glenn Hicks, a third-year geography student at the University of Sheffield, puts it: "At the end of the day, the only real value of most degrees is to get past the first page of an online grad application – the rest is all about extra-curriculars."

Everyone applying for a graduate job will have a degree, so you need something else to help you stand out from the crowd.

7. Choose the right modules

Sounds obvious, I know. But having to make big decisions in your first week can lead to panic, and you're likely to be so caught up in the whirlwind of events that you fail to take things such as picking modules seriously. Unfortunately, this could have a lasting impact on your degree. "I wish someone had told me about how my module choices in first year would affect me later," says Charlie Richiardi, a history and politics graduate. "No one said that to do second- or third-year modules in another department, you had to qualify through doing a first-year one."

It's easy to find out from the academic staff which modules will be needed for what – just make sure you ask. If you do go wrong, most universities have an add-and-drop period of a few weeks during which you can adjust your module choices.

8. Buy books second-hand

Before you spend extortionate amounts of money on new textbooks, it's definitely worth trying to find second-hand ones from previous students. Don't spend unnecessary money, as third year history student at the University of Sheffield, Alice Burrow, found out after shelling out more than £100 on textbooks: "I could have turned to society and subject Facebook pages to get hold of barely used second-hand copies for a fraction of the price from older students."

Some textbooks will be completely useless after you've finished your first term of modules, so it's a big waste to buy them new.

9. It's OK to call your mum

In freshers' week, you are bound to come across some macho, laddish youngsters who claim that they don't miss their parents at all. Even at the end of the first year, there will still be some who claim they have not called home once. This is unlikely to be true. Don't worry if you feel the need to call home every few hours, this won't be the case forever. Homesickness can be distressing, but it is usually short-lived. Until the discomfort subsides, allow yourself to call home whenever you need.

10. Actually attend lectures

Having this much responsibility when it comes to your studies might be a bit hard to get used to. Especially for those whose first year doesn't count towards their degrees, the temptation can be to slack off when it comes to attending lectures. However, as Achan Deng, a second-year economics student at the University of Leeds, puts it: "It's much easier to listen to a guy teaching you something in an interactive way for an hour than to learn it yourself by going through slides, which takes about five hours."

You can make things much easier for yourself in the future if you go to that 9am lecture – you're going to have to learn the content either way.

11. Freshers' flu is real

You've probably heard people joke about freshers' flu, and many will tell you that it is just a glorified hangover. Sadly, this isn't the case. With thousands of students coming in from different places, freshers' events are a breeding ground for illness. As Talia Robertson, an English student at the University of Cambridge, found out: "Everyone's getting ill at once, so the chances of you getting a nasty one instead of a mild one are increased because you're being exposed to more pathogens in a short time." Don't panic: it's very unlikely that you're going to get anything serious, but come prepared for coughs and colds to make sure your first week isn't ruined.

12. It's all right if you don't know anyone

We all know the type – the positively inseparable people at your school who are going to university together. You want to laugh at their lack of adventure, but secretly you're terrified that not knowing anyone at your university is going to leave you lonely. Thankfully, not true. There will be lots of other people there who don't know anyone.

Rashada Balasal-Simms, a law student at the University of Westminster, says: "Being at a university where you're the only one from your sixth form or college isn't that bad. If anything, it gives you a lot more freedom and expands your social circle, exposing you to different things and people".

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