Student life: How to survive your first term at uni

Your parents' rose-tinted university advice will be useful, but hopelessly outdated. Here's what you really need to know…

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The Independent Online

You are going to end up showered with unsolicited advice for the next few months from wistful adults wishing it was they who were about to go to university for the first time. You'd do well to ignore them and follow our advice instead.

Hair of the dog is not actually a workable solution

You will probably be spending an astonishing amount of your time drinking in your first term. That's fine, as nobody will bat an eyelid, but do remember to take a few nights off. Fun as it can be, not every social activity is improved by alcohol, and the more you drink, the worse your mornings will feel. What's more, Freshers' flu is very real and equally gross: too many hangovers will wreck your immune system and without the proper amounts of beauty sleep you'll succumb to it.

The friends you make first aren't the friends you're stuck with

You're all thrown together when you move in to halls, and it's natural that you'll fall in with the people you meet first. Don't despair if your neighbours turn out to be weirdos – you'll meet many more people later on, and chances are you'll be able to give the real ale bore next door the slip within weeks. While we're at it, your home friends aren't going anywhere, and they're OK to ignore for now. You'll still see them at Christmas – this term should be about breaking new ground.

Sports clubs are full of predators – and freshers are their quarry

Don't be fooled by the welcoming smiles of those sports club recruiters at the Freshers' Fair: first years are their prey. Expect to face brutal tests – mostly involving booze and cross-dressing – before you earn your stripes.

Of course, if sport is your thing, clubs are absolutely the best way to get stuck in. You'll make friends for life – largely of the kind forged by puking into the same bucket at once. Still, you might even get some exercise done between hangovers.

Do not leave your work until the absolute last minute

This isn't what you want to hear right now, but amid all the revelry, you do still have a degree to get. As with everything in this world, the right work-life balance is up to you, but indulging in too much of either will catch up with you in the end. If you save all your essays up until the last minute, your last two weeks of term are going to be rotten. On the other hand, try not to spend every waking hour in the library fretting about a first until your final year.

You will not have as much sex as you might be hoping for

Freshers' Week, as everyone knows, is a roiling hotbed of constant, regrettable sexual activity. Except, of course, that it's not. This isn't San Francisco in 1969 – it's Leeds in 2013, and it's probably raining.

You may well get lucky, but university isn't wall-to-wall sex parties. The usual advice applies: girl or boy, on a night out, make sure you have at least one condom, because STIs are real and morning-after pills pricy. And try not to be too horrible to your new friend the day after – chances are you'll be sharing halls, lectures and nightclub queues with them for the next three years.

Don't buy any new books unless you really have to

Most courses require you to buy textbooks practically by the tonne, and new ones are bewilderingly expensive. The library will have loads of copies of most core textbooks, and the librarian should be able to order more. Last year's students will also be only too happy to offload their old books on the cheap. Buddy up to some oldies at the faculty, and check the subject message boards or even your local Freecycle chapter – and you can save yourself vast sums.

Eat a salad once in a while

Americans call it "the freshman 15": that sudden switch into a booze-rich lifestyle of intense partying and long lie-ins plays havoc with any previously trim waistline.

The freedom of living alone for the first time is also the freedom to devour chips every day, and those dastardly burger vans do park themselves tantalisingly on the way back to halls, don't they? You can limit the damage by steering as clear as possible of the carb-heavy canteen catering and, well, getting up off your arse every now and again.

Try not to spend your entire loan in the first two weeks

You will go out a lot. In fact, you might never party as hard again in your life, but it's an expensive business, and costs mount up – even at student union prices. This is probably the first time you've ever had thousands of pounds lying around in your bank account, and the temptation to go large will be hard to resist.

You owe it to yourself to be sensible. You'll still have to feed yourself in 10 weeks' time, when tonight's 18th woo woo will be a distant, tacky memory and you've only got bread crusts to toast.

Societies can be fun – but they're often rubbish

Do – absolutely do – visit the Freshers' Fair. The amount of free swag from companies and clubs desperate for your patronage will keep you in branded keyrings for life.

Don't go mad and sign up for everything, though, because that's an invitation for, say, the clay pigeon society to spam you until the end of time. By all means follow your interests, but be judicious.

Freshers' Week is never going to be the best week of your life

We'll let you into a secret: Freshers' Week is not the most fun you'll ever have. Of course it's great to meet new people and get up to no good, but if strawpedos and sexy astronaut theme parties aren't your bag, fret not.

Don't drink if you're not feeling it – there are bound be plenty of quieter mixers, too, and nobody will think any the less of you if you aren't the clubbing type.