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Your first weeks at university

Beginning university can be really exciting, but it can be a little overwhelming too. Follow these top tips to ease you through your first weeks.

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Living in halls of residence

Pros

  1. You will be able to budget effectively by paying your Hall bill each term.
  2. You will have the benefit of a social life in Hall.
  3. You will meet a wide range of other undergraduates.
  4. You will probably be living close to, or on, your campus.
  5. You will have a Hall Committee to represent your interests.

Cons

  1. You might not feel as if you have really achieved an independent life.
  2. You might find that you are living some way from your friends.
  3. You might be able to find a cheaper alternative.
  4. You might feel that you can never get off campus to unwind.
  5. Halls can feel restrictive and the food is not always inspiring.

Dos and don'ts in your first few weeks

Do:

  1. Check your mail and fill out every form that you receive.
  2. Register with the library and the NUS.
  3. Collect your password for access to the university computer system.
  4. Make sure that your initial course choices are still available.

Don't:

  1. Panic if it all seems overwhelming: it will soon become familiar.
  2. Ignore the notice boards: they display essential information.
  3. Miss your first meeting with your tutor, even if you have nothing much to say.
  4. Sign up for too much at Freshers Fair: plan your time first.
  5. Worry if your first set of marks is confusing: your tutor can explain them.

Ten essential places you should find in your first week at university 

  1. The library: register as soon as you can and browse around your subject shelves, periodical shelves and computerised catalogue system.
  2. The IT resources centre: do you need to sign up for any courses?
  3. The Students Union and Welfare Office: register with the NUS.
  4. Your departmental secretary's office: get your face known.
  5. The coffee rooms and canteen: essential meeting places.
  6. The resources room within your department.
  7. The computer rooms in your school or faculty.
  8. All the lecture rooms that you are likely to visit.
  9. Your mail tray and the trays for your lecturers.
  10. The notice boards in your department, Hall of Residence, library and Students Union.

This content has been written by Lucinda Becker, author of How to Manage your Arts, Humanities and Social Science Degree.

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Socialising

Starting at university is an exciting experience, but finding yourself in a new environment with new people around you can be quite daunting. In this section, you can learn about good ways to start socialising at university, and before long, you will have made friends for life!

The first few days

When you first arrive at university, you are likely to be struck by the apparent chaos that surrounds you. Hundreds of new graduates, many of whom are unfamiliar with their surroundings, will be milling around, making frequent trips to and from the car park with boxes and luggage, saying goodbye to parents and family, and generally trying to get organised. Then, after a flurry of activity, the families depart, and the new students are left to unpack their belongings and prepare for the term ahead. At this point the atmosphere can become strangely quiet: people don’t yet know each other so may opt to remain alone in their rooms. It can seem like an anti-climax after a big build up, but don’t worry; this is only a temporary lull!

As lectures will not begin for a few days, this is your opportunity to get to know your neighbours and your new location. You will meet a great number of new people in the first few days at university. However, all the clichés you may have read about freshers’ week are true: it’s common for students to team up initially with people with whom they rarely spend time with after the first few weeks, and everyone seems to ask the same questions about where you live and your course. Be prepared to repeat your stock answers endlessly with a smile as the settling-in process does actually work and eventually you will find your niche and establish your own group of friends.

Freshers' events

Each students’ union makes arrangements for the freshers, and although these vary from university to university, they generally include a Freshers Ball and a Freshers Fair.

  • Freshers Ball

Although this sounds rather grand, the Freshers’ Ball is generally an informal occasion involving an all-night disco and/or live band, together with a late bar extension. It is not normally restricted to freshers, and therefore offers the chance to meet students from other years. The balls are usually good fun, and often mark the end of freshers’ week.

  • Freshers Fair

Another event not to be missed is the Freshers’ Fair, the key purpose of which is to enable new students to see what is available in terms of clubs and societies, and also what local businesses, banks and so on, have to offer. Many stalls offer free samples so it’s worth viewing everything while you are there, and taking advantage of what is on offer. The clubs and societies use the fair to tout for business, but since joining involves a fee, which is usually non-refundable, it is wise to think carefully about what you would like to do, and realistically, how much free time you will have.

There may be many other events, and, if this is the case, it is sometimes possible to buy a ‘season ticket’ for all of them, which can represent good value for money. In addition to events arranged by the union, your department or faculty is likely to organise at least one welcoming event. This normally takes the form of an introductory talk by a senior member of staff, followed by a chance to get to know fellow students over coffee or drinks. It is definitely worth attending functions of this nature, as it is important to find friends on your course. Not only will it be more pleasant attending lectures and seminars with people you know and like, but you will also be able to benefit from a division of labour when appropriate, such as sharing out the reading requirements for a seminar and then discussing your findings.

Students' union

Your local students’ union is at the heart of the social life of the university, and you can obtain a union card once you have registered on your course. Almost all unions are affiliated to the NUS (National Union of Students), enabling their members to enjoy the range of benefits that accompany the NUS card.

The union offers advice, support and representation to members, although the nature of this varies according to the size of the institution. Some unions also offer help to ensure the safety of their members, for example, by providing free escort services home after late-night functions for student living on campus. Through its ‘entertainments’ section, the union also offers commercial services to members such as cheap bars, shops and sometimes sporting facilities and social events.

Union officers are democratically elected following an agreed constitution. There is normally a president and an executive committee compromising either full-time sabbatical officers or unpaid, part-time, non-sabbatical officers or a combination of these.

Extra curricular opportunities at university

One of the highlights of university life is the large number of extra-curricular opportunities available to students. These include a vast range of clubs and societies. For sports enthusiasts there is likely to be a comprehensive array of team and individual sports for all levels. Musicians can expect the opportunity to sing or play their instruments in a range of classical and contemporary music societies. There are likely to be societies for enthusiasts of film, drama, politics, public speaking, religion, art, computing, electronics and many more. You should be able to find something that appeals to you!

Many students opt to join voluntary community action groups, which benefit the local community. Projects undertaken may include running youth initiatives or offering practical assistance to the elderly.

If you want to become more actively involved in college-based initiatives you would consider becoming a union representative, or contributing to the university newspaper, magazine or radio, or helping with RAG week.

This content has been taken from The Student Life Handbook by Christine Fanthome.

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Extra-curricular activity

When joining extra curricular groups:

Do:

  1. Find out about all the opportunities open to you before joining one particular group.
  2. Decide in advance how much time you can give to a group and stick to it.
  3. Use what you have achieved on your CV: it always looks good.
  4. Let other members of the group know when you are and are not available.
  5. Get contact details for members so that you can work together in the vacations.

Don't:

  1. Join too many groups in the first few weeks of your time at university.
  2. Allow yourself to be pressurised into taking on too much.
  3. Forget to use this opportunity to improve your marketable skills.
  4. Ignore the chance of continuing with a group after your time at university.
  5. Forget to tell your tutor if essential groups activities interfere with your work.

This content has been written by Lucinda Becker, author of How to Manage your Arts, Humanities and Social Science Degree.

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