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Top Ten Tips for Starting University

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By Holly Brandon

University is, of course, about academic study, following your vocation, reading Kafka and discussing Kinematics, but more importantly than all that, for a lot of people, going to university is their first step into the big wide world. University is about learning how to survive in the wild, and (hopefully) making life-long friends in the process. 

As a recent graduate, my three years at the University of York taught me just as much about washing machines and landlords as it did about my course, Linguistics. So, having just about learnt how to successfully survive as a student, here are my top ten tips to help make life a bit easier and to ensure you enjoy your time at university from your first moments onwards. 

Get in touch with people before you arrive


Once you find out where you’ll be living, try searching for any groups for your halls on Facebook, where you might be able to chat to some of your future flatmates. If you’re feeling nervous about meeting your new neighbors, you can stalk everyone on your corridor or, better still, put your “brave pants” on and actually chat to them! It’s a good way of reassuring yourself that everyone is equally nervous and – probably – actually quite nice. 

Bring gold, frankincense and brownies


OK, maybe the first two aren’t realistic, but it turns out it’s pretty easy to make friends when you greet people with food. As well as being a friendly first gesture, being laden with excess brownies is a good excuse to knock on some doors and provides you with an easy conversation opener. Whether you opt for homemade Eccles cakes or a packet of custard creams, offering food to your new neighbors makes a good first impression. As they say, the way to the heart is through the stomach.

Make halls feel like home sweet home


Depending on your level of interest in home decor, this tip may be more or less relevant for you. Unless you’re lucky enough to live in student accommodation built when asbestos was no longer an integral building material and after double glazing had been invented, first impressions of your room may be that is appears somewhat reminiscent of a prison cell. Don’t worry. You will grow to love the austere concrete and brutalist architecture. In the meantime, bring something with you to make it feel more homely. Whether it’s bunting, a death metal poster or a photo of your grandma, get something up on those empty walls, so that when you get into bed on your first night, you’re not questioning whether you stumbled back from the nightclub and into the Soviet bloc.

Have an open-door policy


Bring a doorstop! Yes, you’re not supposed to wedge open a fire door, but this minor rebellion is definitely worth it, especially in the first few days. An open door is a great way to cement those friendships. A hello to a passing flatmate may well lead to a cup of tea, an awkward chat about the speed of the kettle, a debate about whether the brutalist architecture of your halls is in fact aesthetically pleasing (it isn’t) and the next thing you know you’ll be backpacking around Europe together. I attribute all of these events from my own experience solely to my doorstop, so, if you want to go to Prague, bring one.

Play your cards right


Bring a pack of playing cards. When the initial small talk has run dry, cards are a great way to carry on getting to know your new friends, and they’ll serve you well in the inevitable drinking games. Within weeks, my playing cards had become martyrs, sacrificed to great causes, including many a poker night and game of ring of fire.

Find a way to share the household chores


House sharing is one of the best things about university, but there’s no denying that at times it can be a nightmare. When the washing up hasn’t been done for six weeks and there’s an unidentifiable moldy carbohydrate living in a pan on the hob, the novelty of living with your friends can wear pretty thin. Apps such as OurHouse have been invented to deal with these problems though, helping to avoid arguments and awkward conversations. These apps allow you to set up a schedule, so you never have to argue about whose turn it is to take out the bins. You can also use an app as a joint shopping list (for when you run out of bin bags), with the cost then split by its kitty function.

Remember your key is the key to it all


A simple, but important tip – don’t lose your key. Losing your key can cost you money at some universities, but even if it doesn’t, you’re locked out and the porters won’t look on you too kindly, particularly if you’re wearing your pyjamas or dressed as a pirate after last night’s party in the block next door. It’s easier said than done, but I would suggest you find a place for your key – a hook, a bowl, just on the side – but always put it in this place. Then you’ll get into the habit of picking it up when you go out and putting it back there when you get in.

Share the burden of cooking


Dinner is, without exception, the highlight of my day, and it was no different at uni. One of the best experiences I had at university was my house’s cooking schedule. It worked for everyone, those who loved cooking who would knock up eggplant parmigiana on a Tuesday night and those who had never opened a tin of tuna and been taught how to boil an egg. In my first year, one housemate (who shall remain unnamed) mastered the omelet, became an expert at spaghetti carbonara in second year, and by third year was making dauphinoise potatoes. I attribute this Jamie Oliver-esque cooking success story solely to the way we shared the burden of cooking. It’s also a brilliant way of saving money, as cooking for a group is far more economical than cooking for one and saves you eating the same thing over and over. Also, what could be finer than heading back from the library to a home cooked meal with your friends (except heading back from anywhere except the library)?

Keep on top of your diary


University is a bombardment of things to do and places to be: the pub quiz tomorrow night; the trials for the underwater hockey team on Tuesday; the seminar next week where you will be discussing that book you haven’t read yet. Unless you write it down, it can all get a bit much. Different things work for different people. Depending on how much of a Luddite you are, you might want a calendar on your wall, an academic diary, or, my preferred organizational method – Google Calendar. This allows you to sync your uni timetable with your personal calendar and it can be added to wherever you are. 

Plan your spending and save money where possible


As a student, your wallet is like an onion: when you open it, it makes you cry. Before you arrive at university, it’s a good idea to work out a budget. Break down all your estimated costs – books, drinks, more drinks. Then (the harder part), attempt to stick to this budget. Secondly, make sure you set up a student bank account, so you don’t need to worry too much about going into your overdraft. And check out the competition, as a lot of banks offer really great deals to entice you in. Finally, invest in a 16-25 railcard and an NUS card – you’ll save loads of money on trips home or to visit friends on the train with the former, while NUS offer lots of great discounts for students, from Top Shop to Co-op, depending whether your priorities lie in fashion or food. 

Lead image: Danny Ryder

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