Student Survival Guide: Your First Year Of Uni

That time of year when eighteen year olds all across the nation put on their highest of high-heels and pick up the soon to be empty vodka bottle came about on Thursday of last week: A-Level results day. It’s a day of fate-deciding which is no longer in your hands; either you’d have been celebrating success or drowning your sorrows in attempt to forget that you may have to return to the college you’d hoped to leave far, very far, behind (either way, a great excuse for a drink).

Many will be looking forward to the next splash of fun and adventure on the horizon: uni. For most students, uni is the first time away from home. Think of the independence. The freedom. The ability to do exactly as you wish, when you wish, without the annoying nag from Mum about tidying your room or being back by two in the morning. Bliss. 

Not to dampen what will be some of the best few years of your life, but all the good, independence-y part of uni aside, it’s a huge shock. You’ll realise how much you actually miss home cooked food and a toilet which you don’t have to clean by yourself. And did you know someone actually has to buy toilet roll? And cleaning products? And to pay to do washing? Mind-boggling, I know, but you’ll be amazed at how much you took for granted when staying under your parents roof.

As well as settling in at home (did I just call uni home? Dear God, don’t tell Mum), you then have to actually pass your first year. Uni is all about self-motivation, which is great, but for most of us the idea of a lie in beats attending your 9am lecture (which nine out of ten times you won’t go to). And aren’t you just at uni for parties every night of the week? The balance between social life and studying can be hard to muster.

But fear not! Feast your eyes, my beautiful prospective undergraduates, on my survival guide for your first year of uni. You’ll make it through smooth sailing with flying colours, plenty of legendary stories, and hopefully not thousands of pounds in debt (though really, that may just be an unrealistic added bonus – good luck!).

1. Dealing with flatmates

Try, try, try to befriend your flatmates. If you all get on your life will be hunky dory and you can skim straight over this point to number two. In reality, it’s more likely that you won’t all see completely eye to eye.

Living with people can be hard, especially living with complete strangers. Arguments arise over trivial things which cause huge divides. Who’s left these dishes on the side? Who hasn’t taken the bins out? Who’s eaten all my cheese?! At the end of the day, it does depend on who you’re put with; destiny will have it’s way.

You have to understand that not everyone will be like you. You might be put with spoilt brats or mummy’s boys who have never had to do a thing for themselves. If people aren’t pulling their weight, remind them. If enough of you put your foot down they’ll soon realise maybe they aren’t doing as much as they should be. If people eat your food, tell them it’s not okay. And if things get really really dreadful, you can talk to management. Yes, they may think you’re a snitch, but if you were never going to be friends anyway and now you’ve escaped the cleaning fines and secured your deposit back, who is the real winner?

Though household arguments can be tricky to avoid, flat drama can be drastically reduced by following one separate rule: do not sleep with your flatmates. No matter how good of an idea it seems at the time and no matter how much alcohol is involved (I am speaking from both second and first hand experience here), things get messy. And it doesn’t just become a problem between you and one flatmate, oh no; everyone’s involved. It becomes a whole flat drama; people are forced to choose sides, people get sad, people get jealous, people get angry. This is so easy to avoid and the one thing you can control. Just don’t do it.

2. Improving your kitchen skills

The lucky ones who have some sort of skill in the kitchen are generally okay when it comes to meal times, but for those who have never picked up a saucepan in their life it soon becomes blatantly apparent. And cooking for one can sometimes seem pointless. Even food shopping can be a daunting task. It is incredibly easy to fall into the eating take away meals, pizza, pasta and tinned food routine which is bad for your bank balance, health and waist line.

Go to the shop and buy a load of healthy food. Some people find it hard to eat healthy on a budget, so if you’re struggling on how to do this you can check out my guide here. And force yourself to cook. It sounds cliche but when it comes to cooking, practice really does make perfect.

If you are one of the utterly clueless ones, you may want to invest in a student cookbook (or persuade mum it’s a necessity for you to survive), but the majority of the time the best way to learn is from your flatmates. Yeah, you might sound like a bit of an idiot, but it sure will cause plenty of laughs and it’s better to learn from people than paper any day. I taught my flatmate you can drain the excess fat from your minced beef by using kitchen roll and how to cut up an avocado. She taught me how to poach eggs. You’ll all learn from each other.

3. Cheap nights out

There’s no doubt about it, unless you don’t drink at all, your alcohol consumption will skyrocket during your time at university. The first worry most people have is how to limit their money on a night out. Let me tell you now, freshers week will teach you this the hard way; when loans have just hit your account and you’re feeling pretty optimistic about life it’s surprisingly easy to throw away half your loan within the first two weeks on alcohol.

Albeit, freshers is slightly different as you’ll more than likely be going out every night of the week. Once you’ve settled in to your routine (I’d suggest two nights out a week on average) it’s much easier to control your precious pennies. Rule number one: buy one 7ocL bottle of spirit a week. This will be enough for you to have several blackout drunk nights per week. And I’m not condoning this! But realistically it will happen whether I tell you to get smashed or not, so you might as well do it as cheaply as possible (just maybe don’t tell Mum). Also, don’t be a fancy Smirnoff or Bacardi gal; let’s all just admit here that none of us are drinking until we are sick because we love the taste. Get your hands on the cheapest spirits you can, it all gets the job done. If you’ve got one near you, Aldi is the place to be. Amaretto for £4? Yes please.

Rule number two: get incredibly drunk at pres. Pre-drinks (prinks?) are your bank-balance life saver. The drunker you get a pres, the less you’ll have to spend on drinks when you’re out. Drinking games are a great way to get the alcohol flowing, so make sure you bring a pack of cards along to uni with you. And be prepared for everyone to know everything about you within the first few weeks; a game of never have I ever always crops up somewhere.

Last but not least, rule number three: do not take your card out. It sounds stupid (maybe it was) but if you don’t take your card out, please remember that you don’t have it with you. The first time I went on a night out without my card I convinced myself I must have lost it, spent hours crawling around the dance floor in attempt to find it, and let my friend fund my entire night (which I then had to pay her back for, defeating the point entirely).

If you don’t take your card out, you can’t spend money. Withdraw an amount you’re willing to spend and let that be it. Also, any change you have left from your night out which you didn’t spend, put it in a money box. If you were prepared to spend this anyway it doesn’t feel like a loss, yet it’s a surprisingly good way to save up. I’ve got just over £150 just from doing this through my first year.

4. Coping with hangovers

This is an obvious point to follow; if you’re getting shitfaced at least twice a week, you need to deal with your hangovers. I’m only eighteen, I don’t get hangovers. Bull. Shit. There will be days when you wake up and feel like death, and sadly it’s only going to get worse from there on out. Having had too many hangovers for my own good, I’ve worked out what makes me feel slightly more refreshed the next day.

When you wake up, take painkillers. Your head might not even hurt yet, but the pain is coming! Maybe this is just as much a placebo effect as opposed to anything else, but either way you feel a bit better and your headache is kept at bay. The only other this is don’t opt for aspirin. While this may seem a bit random, my degree has taught me (yes, somewhere between this endless drinking and recovering cycle I did actually learn something!) aspirin can make you feel nauseous, so stick to the paracetamol.

Drink a bottle of Lucozade Sport. I found this out seemingly by accident, but after slowly, very very slowly, sipping away at my drink I felt miles better. Lucozade Sport is an isotonic drink which are fab for when you’re dehydrated. The electrolytes in the drink promote proper rehydration and replace the fluid and electrolytes lost the night before. It’s also full of sugars and carbohydates, giving you a slight boost in energy so tackling the day doesn’t seem like quite as large of an ordeal. 

East simple foods and avoid the grease. I used to be the gal who would make her way to McDonalds the next morning for a cheese quarter pounder burger or cook up some extra greasy bacon and eggs. What actually works much better is eating healthy and simple foods. Make a couple of slices of toast or some plain pasta tossed in a knob of butter. Anything plain that will get your blood sugar levels back up without causing too much stomach upset. Once this carby ‘base-layer’ is in and you’ve managed to not throw it all back up (horah!), try eating some fruit. Tinned pineapple or peaches is a good shout; something juicy. The fruits contain vitamins which you’ve wiped from your system the night before, and also have a high (ish) water content so can help to rehydrate you too.

Lastly, don’t stay in bed. Days where I am forced to get up and go to work (7am breakfast shifts truly are proof that the struggle is real), I feel much better by the afternoon than those where I mope about. Have a lazy morning, a couple hours sleep, eat your food and drink your drink, then get your arse out of bed and have a shower. Put on the comfiest clothes you can find and go for a walk. Fresh air helps, and walking (though only very gentle exercise), helps remove that final bits of alcohol from your system.

5. Managing your workload

Last but not least, you’ll need to learn to balance this sociable, drunk, hungover you and the studious you. After all, the real reason we are at uni is to get a degree at the end of it.

What I cannot stress enough is do not leave your work until the last minute. My attendance at uni was awful. As long as I know the content by the exams, it will be fine, right? Wrong. Because nine times out of ten, no matter how much you convince yourself you’ll get your head down when it comes to exam period, you won’t know the content by the exams. Unexpected things come up, social meetings are prioritised and studying gets pushed to one side. You’ll run out of time. If you have spare time throughout the year, do not have a Netflix binge or spend hours scrolling across social media, use it wisely. You’ll appreciate it when you’re not the one exhaused and stuck in the library until 3am each day over exam period (yes, this was me).

As much as you don’t want to leave work until the last minute, as long as you keep on top of it you’ll be fine. Realistically, you won’t attend all your lectures; 9am lectures are code for an extra hour in bed and 5pm lectures on a Friday night may as well be non-existent. But when you get caught out is in seminars. The key to surviving seminars is to avoid questions; actively participate in the group discussion at the start then avoid eye contact at all costs when the questions start rolling out from your professor. If you’ve engaged in the group activity, most of the time they’ll thankfully leave you alone, thinking you’re on top of everything. And you’ve just got away with an extra week to catch up on content and not having to do your reading. Voilà!

And there you have it! All my tips and tricks for eating and drinking on a budget, avoiding hangovers, dealing your you housemates and still somehow managing to pass at the end of it all. Uni will be one of the best times of your life. The only other advice I can give is join a society (I have written a post on this which you can view here), take as many opportunities as you can, and talk to everyone (though maybe not rugby lads, I’d avoid them at all costs).

Have a fabulous first year freshers! Get too drunk, make mistakes and have plenty of laughs. I wish I could do it all over again.

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