Starting university can be a scary time and, looking back, there may be some things you'd have done differently if only you'd had the benefit
of experience. We asked our Student Ambassador, Olivia Mak, who's currently researching her PhD, what advice she'd give to her Fresher self.
Here's what she had to say:
You’ve made it. All that hard work over the last four years and you’re finally here. At university. In the room you’ll be calling home this year, surrounded by all the things your family helped to unpack. But now your family has gone and you’re all alone. Terrified. Excited. Unexpectedly tearful. Wondering what life has in store for you over the next 3 years.
Firstly, stop doubting yourself so much. You’ve earned your place here. Be brave and strike up a conversation. That student sitting on their own that you randomly sit next to in your first lecture could turn out to be your best friend for life. Or not. But, you’ll never find out unless you talk to them. What have you got to lose? Maybe they’re feeling lost and out of place, too. If there’s a natural connection, exchange contact details so you can keep in touch. If the conversation doesn’t flow and you don’t get on like a house on fire, that’s okay, too. You don’t have to make friends with everyone you talk to - how on earth would you maintain such a huge social network anyway?! Move on but be content that you had a decent conversation with someone and made an admirable attempt to make them feel less lonely. They’ll most likely have appreciated your efforts, especially in the first few weeks. Don’t feel like you have to do this every time you’re in the same place as a bunch of strangers though. You need to reserve some of that social energy for the friendships you do develop.
Sure, make the effort every once in a while to meet new people but do it in an environment that suits you. Find out what makes you happy and do that thing. If it means spending a night in your room watching Netflix or reading while everyone on your corridor goes out partying, so be it. If people think less of you for being naturally solitary, that’s their problem, not your’s. Life is not a popularity contest. It’s okay to be yourself (everyone else is taken, or so the saying goes). You don’t have to pretend to be an extrovert to fit in; there will be plenty of people just like you who mostly prefer quiet nights in over clubbing and small talk. But these like-minded introverts, by the sheer definition of the word, aren’t the type to be shouting from the rooftops so you’ll have to make the effort to find them! This is where shared interests and societies help……from assassins’ society (yes, really) to Quidditch society and everything else in between. You name it, there’s probably a society for it. Be selective when it comes to joining, though, especially the ones you have to pay membership for - the goal is not to collect memberships as if they were stamps in a collection...unless you join the philately club!
You don’t have to get involved in everything; you will feel pressure to do so but do what feels right for you. Equally, don’t be afraid to try new things e.g. sports. University is all about challenge; it’s the perfect place to venture out of your comfort zone and confidence will come with that. With sports, you get to meet new people and keep fit at the same time! You never know where you might find your next big passion or unearth a hidden talent.
Likewise, it’s never too late to start developing those ‘transferable skills’ so sought after by employers. University is about so much more than just earning a degree, so don’t drown in books or lecture notes. You’ll discover a culinary world beyond beans on toast and pasta. You’ll appreciate the reward of volunteering. You’ll realise there is value in everything you do, even the things that don’t work out.
It’s okay to feel overwhelmed or down and to have a cry if need be. Know that someone somewhere at the same university (and many others) will be feeling exactly the same. The first few weeks especially are information overload. You’re dealing with a lot, living independently for the first time, having to navigate new surroundings (and sometimes a new city), learning how to manage your time, complete work to deadlines and eat healthily while also finding the time to keep fit and maintain something resembling a social life. Don’t be scared to reach out for support - that’s what the counselling service is there for. Look after yourself. You will be stressed at some point (even many points) but realise that‘s normal and that no-one survives uni without going through some emotional turbulence, so buck up and brace yourself for the ride. In tough times, give yourself what you need in that moment.
You’re a perfectionist and that can be a good thing sometimes but don’t be disheartened if an assignment mark you receive falls way below your high standards. Detach yourself from it emotionally and look at the feedback objectively to improve next time. You are not your work. You are so much more than what it’ll say on your degree certificate: a culmination of talents, dreams and hopes that make you unique. Trust in yourself and your ability to deliver when it matters the most. Remember that it’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Above all, embrace it. Your uni experience is what you make it and you can shape it entirely how you want but enjoy the journey. You’ll probably never have an opportunity like this again, to meet people from all over the world, from different walks of life, to appreciate the joy of learning…...and you’ll never get to enjoy three months off in the summer ever again (unless you decide to become a teacher, *ahem*). It’s not going to be easy but then again, nothing worth achieving in life ever was, right? This is university after all, a microcosm of the world beyond it. You’re going to change for the better, emerging a brilliant, resilient graduate who is a bit surer of the world and their place within it.
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