Ten things I wish I'd known before I started university

Old man Alex Jackson is about to start his final term at the University of York. Here he lets all you young whippersnappers in on what he has learned in his many long years of life

I’m facing my final term at university and no matter how much I try and pack light, I know I will still manage to cram the car to capacity.

It’s something I’ve never quite managed to get under control. Yet, it seems mighty strange that I’ll only be making the move to York one more time; three years has flown by in the (drunken) blink of an eye. As college students make their final decisions on UCAS this month, it seems an appropriate passing the torch moment to offer 10 useful nuggets of advice that each and every fresh-faced student should bear in mind.

Modern architecture

You will probably be trying to imagine your daily life at university. No doubt half of your idea is built off fast-paced, drug-filled E4 dramas, or glossy American television shows. University is nothing like that. Each time I watch a film set on a college campus, I ask where these places are; I would certainly like to visit one of these gleaming, ultra-modern, huge roomed, expansive-lawned, minimal seminar universities. Be prepared for concrete, grey buildings, and 60s throwbacks they hid from view at the open events.

Crumbling halls

One of the most time-consuming decisions in the application process is deciding where you are going to live. Inevitably, it’s a competition between price and comfort for most students, and many try to find a happy medium between the two. But do not be afraid of applying to the old blocks. Living in a building that’s close to falling apart really fosters a sense of community and camaraderie between the housemates, especially in the winter, when you’re all crammed into the kitchen for the kettle, or huddled in one person’s room for the heater. It adds to the spontaneity, surprises and overall excitement of the experience.

Mountains of books?

You do not need to buy everything on your book list. I remember sitting amongst perilous mountains of books in September of 2010, being the ultimate keen student. In practice, you are probably only going to read a few chapters from each text for any particular seminar and then need a completely different book the next week. If there’s a reference text, or a book that forms part of the course for several weeks or terms, they’re worth investing in. However, check the library in most cases, before you spend the extra outlay.

Making friends

Leave your bedroom door open. Especially if you decided to buy the hefty book of criticism that makes the Yellow Pages look like light bedtime reading. Wedging your door open makes your room a potential social hub, and it is acceptable to say hi and introduce yourself to anyone and absolutely everyone that passes by the door in a confused mush of words.

First-time laundry

One of the more daunting aspects of university is the practical side of living alone. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to do laundry. No matter how nice you are to the machines, they are going to growl and rumble as if they are a machine possessed and they will occasionally swallow your money. And there will be several buttons on the dash that you never press. Or even understand. Just wash old clothes first and you’ll soon catch on.

Gourmet cuisine

Similarly, cuisine. It is handy to know how to cook pasta when coming to university, but not essential. In fact, don’t worry if your repertoire doesn’t stretch that far. Mixing odd combinations of food quickly gives you an appreciation of fine food and you find your preferences with ease.

Share and share alike?

If you leave your kitchen utensils in the kitchen area, you are saying that these are public property and can be used freely by all in the flat or house. Whether plates, pots, pans, or the cheese grater, the unwritten code of borrowing states that these can be appropriated by whoever finds the equipment. If you’re slightly OCD about finding your spoons in the same drawer as you left them, or you don’t want to play the ultimate end-of-term treasure hunt to collect said kitchen items from various rooms, you may be best investing in a cupboard lock or leaving these items in your room.

Society fatigue

Join as many clubs as possible in fresher’s week and spend a great amount of first term deciding which ones interest you with taster sessions. Most likely you’ll already know which ones you will stick with, but university societies are so diverse and growing year on year. And once you’ve eventually picked on a couple of societies, you’ll just have your email spammed up with all those embarrassing reminders from the time you tried octopush or the like.

Going for broke

Be a bit thrifty with your money. That way you can save up and visit friends at other universities across the country and, maybe, the world. Once the first term of partying at university has taken off the immediate excitement of clubbing, travelling to other cities and meeting new people really reignites that spark of fresher’s week.

Facebook can be good

Facebook. And I’m not on commission. Before university, I barely used social media, and in fact, it was my sister that set up my Facebook account, as she had become bored of my excuses for not having a profile. At university, the website is virtually indispensable and is the adaptable medium for project groups, societies and nights out. I’m not saying that you can’t have a good time with a profile, but the wealth of people and contacts you create not only helps to enhance your university experience on both social and academic levels, but you’re inevitably creating a web of contacts for later life.

More than anything have fun, and find what works for you. Whilst this is all practical advice, you’ll find that your university experience is an absolutely fantastic part of your life and no matter the nerves on arrival, those soon dissipate among new friends, new lessons and new drink combinations. 

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