Clearing 2015: from finance to clubs, how to survive Freshers' Week

Don't worry if you don't enjoy it to the hilt – Freshers is a one off. Take the long view and personal and intellectual satisfaction could be yours

Nick Moore
Tuesday 11 August 2015 18:04 BST
Students arriving for Manchester University's freshers week queue up at a cash machine to draw money in Manchester, England.
Students arriving for Manchester University's freshers week queue up at a cash machine to draw money in Manchester, England. (Christopher Furlong | Getty Images)


Freshers' Week is a rollercoaster – how can it not be? Propelled from the protective womb of home, students are suddenly in a place they may not know, surrounded by curious people with different accents, world views, dress senses and philosophies about bathroom cleanliness. You simultaneously have to do an enormous amount of admin – working out digs, transport, where lectures and seminars will take place, and hang on… do we need a TV licence? (Yes, you do).

Then smiling oddballs shower you with leaflets persuading you to join their medieval war gaming society. The first week has basically been designated by some – although by no means all – as a terrifying week-long Magaluf-style bender, in which you must pour endless shots of green spirits into your eyeballs or be SHUNNED FOREVER. Combined, these factors mean that many new arrivals feel the sudden urge to scuttle back home and live with mum until they’re 43.

The key thing here is perspective. Week one is always going to be bewildering – so give it time. Many people love Freshers’ week, but it is a one-off, so if you don’t, stay calm: you’ll eventually find like-minded people with whom to enjoy your time, guaranteed.


One of the best aspects of year one is the sheer amount of people on hand to baby-step you through pretty much anything that might confuse or bother you. From central university services to the students’ union, your halls of residence organisation (if you’re in one), to tutors or fellow undergrads, always make sure you reach out for assistance when required – whether it’s an issue regarding finances, your course, or a personal matter. Every university has an advice centre – where professionals can give you free, confidential and impartial guidance – and counselling services, should you need them. If you’re looking to join a society or widen your social net, the Freshers’ Fair, usually held in the first week, is also a must. And if you’ve got a supportive family, count yourself lucky, and make sure you stay in touch: they’ll be thinking about you all the time. Find whatever strategy works to keep you productive and happy; and – if you’re struggling to fit in – be bold and do something new. Keeping occupied is the best way to avert early homesickness.


As well as suddenly controlling your own time in a way that might seem refreshing compared to the dictatorial former regime of mum and dad, you might be surprised to find that when it comes to learning, you’re now your own boss. University professors won’t tell you off for chewing, or not doing your homework; if you don’t complete an assignment, you’ll get a fail, not a spanking. This revelation can quickly lead to pitfalls: liberated from former motivational sticks and carrots, you can find yourself procrastinating wildly, choosing to pull an emergency all-nighter rather than get work done in ample time, or opting not to bother with that “recommended further reading” – after all, it is optional. Ultimately, this unprescribed headspace gives you scope to explore your thoughts, to try and fail, to be original. So make sure you put aside some time to ponder what it is you truly want to get out of your course. Job opportunities, sure – but personal and intellectual development and satisfaction are also up for grabs, if you want ’em.


50 Cent and Kanye West probably weren’t thinking about buying supermarket value brands when they rapped about getting their “money right”, but the duo’s wisdom should still be heeded: muck up your finances – easily done in a world of free credit – and you’ll soon be facing a Greece-style meltdown that’ll distract from your studies and curtail your fun, and you don’t want to file for bankruptcy like Fiddy. Work out a weekly budget for essentials – food, rent, phone, travel, college materials –and stick to it (apps like OnTrees and DollarBird, which track overspending, and bargain-hunting mySuperList, can help). Avoid takeaways, check out local charity shops, become a friend of Poundland, and scout around the banks for decent deals: many offer 0 per cent overdrafts and Santander offer free four-year railcards. Budget for some fun, too, but on a night out, take out only as much money as you’re able to afford, and leave your card at home. Check online for the numerous vouchers and offers aimed at students (we’ve found everything from free pina colada to punnets of cherries). If you’re really wily, you can even source cheap food by getting it after ‘best before’ dates (almost always in place for a supermarket’s stock management benefit, and fine to eat). It’s what Kanye would have wanted…


One downside to being a student is that some of the more unscrupulous elements of society think that you’re a naive lamb to the slaughter when it comes to treating you correctly as a tenant or a consumer. If you ever feel like you’re being cheated, do your research and equip yourself to strike back. Housing wise, every landlord must provide fire escape routes, smoke alarms, a gas safety certificate and properly installed electrics. You’ll need permission to do any decorating – most will appreciate it, should you chose to – and remember that landlords also need to give you 24 hours notice to come round: they can’t just storm in whenever they want to. Never let anyone railroad you, so find out your rights and put them forth confidently if needs be; and from phone contracts to restaurant bills, learn when, and how, to complain. If you face eviction or a notice to leave, seek advice from your student services – who can also help you with a spectrum of other consumer matters.


The biggie. As many a student will tell you, Fresh Meat isn’t a just sitcom, it’s a virtual documentary. Put someone from Obsessive Compulsive Cleaners in the same house as the world’s biggest slob; a diligent overseas student in the next room to a death metal guitarist; or an anti-establishment crusader in the same house as a former Bullingdon Club president, and you’ve got a nice, spicy recipe for backbiting, bickering and angry notes left on the fridge.

The key thing is to remember a few factors. First up – you don’t have to be best friends with your housemates or hall of residence near-neighbours, but it is preferable if you can all rub along. Try to be tolerant of behaviour that might not be your cup of tea, and be respectful of others’ requests: maybe stick that guitar onto headphones after 11pm, eh? Don’t make assumptions based on appearances or backgrounds, and try to look on differences as an opportunity to expand your horizons and circles, rather than fuel for bitching. Vive la difference.

Remember, in your second year, you’re far more likely to be able to shack up with a selection of mates who are fully on your wavelength. So be nice, chip in with a fair share of cleaning – doing it all together in a blitz usually works better than a rota – and try to subscribe to the philosophy that house shares are all about respect.


University isn’t a health spa, and with limited budgets, unusual hours and the temptation to party lurking around many a corner (“20P A PINT NIGHT!”), you can soon end up with a complexion like a snooker player and the internal organs of a septuagenarian. The basics of decent nutrition and sleep, however, are the only way to stay sane for an entire year – even Pete Doherty kips eventually – and a few simple tips can keep you in good shape. Eat well, and cheaply, by planning a little in advance: the bog-standard basics of bread, cheese, pasta, frozen veg, fresh fruit, baked beans, tinned tuna, chicken and pizza are all easy to find and prepare. On big nights out, try not to mix your drinks too overzealously, don’t get peer-pressured into downing anything you don’t want to. If you start to feel ill, stop. And if the more hedonistic side of student life isn’t for you, you’re not alone: there are plenty of others out there who’d rather be debating politics, keeping fit or working, just like you – it’s just a case of finding them.


Not leaving your work to the last minute is the best advice for any course – and getting it done immediately means that your original notes and lectures are fresher in your mind when you address them. But there will always be a point when even the most diligent student feels the need to cram a lot of information into their cerebrum at short notice. A tricksy way of doing this is by using the method Derren Brown favours, building a mental memory palace to retain a lot of information easily. To cram, choose a quiet place where you won’t be distracted (a corner of the library works best), turn off Instagram (or, better, your phone completely) and get stocked with water and snacks, minimising any faffing about. Don’t go into revision willy-nilly: work out a plan for every topic you need to cover, assign time periods to each, and stick to it. Chapter summaries and key information boxes are your best friends, and handwriting notes rather than laptop-typing helps retain information. At the end, re-read, highlight and condense each topic to a page. Try to sleep properly before any exam: a well-rested mind will always beat an knackered one, even if the latter has revised a bit more.


One in seven students work full time alongside doing a degree, according to a 2014 NUS Services survey, while 45 per cent do some kind of part-time work during term time. For around 35 per cent, it is a simple matter of staying solvent while at college; but around half of students also hope that working while at uni will boost their employability prospects in the future. Finding employment that is at least vaguely related to the career path you desire can be an excellent double-whammy, offering insight into the business itself while also providing much-needed income. If you do end up working, ensure you get advice about your rights: employed students commonly overpay tax without realising, and this can easily be claimed back via HMRC. Try to graft in manageable shifts, broken up in a way that suits you: most universities recommend no more than 15 hours a week. Can you afford the time off academic studying? Make sure you’ve sussed that out before over-committing.


Finally – and it may seem like a fogyish piece of Hallmark card sentiment – try to truly embrace every moment of university, because there really is no time like it. Fast forward 20 years, probably amid the maelstrom of careers, families, mortgages, and other such time-guzzling elements of real life, and there’s very little doubt that you’ll look back on the freedom you enjoy right now then with some envy. Certainly, going to college has changed over recent decades: it has become far more expensive, meaning that treating it as a three-year chance to muck about is now extremely foolhardy. But even the most dedicated bookworm should still enjoy a period of self discovery, new hobbies, long holidays and, yes – the odd cliché student day spent slumped on the sofa watching the Test Match or back-to-back episodes of Judge Judy – without guilt. It’s all character forming, y’know.

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