Top 10 Tips for Starting University and What it Was Like for Me

It’s time to endeavor out on another life’s adventure and start a new era of your life. How should you begin it and what are some things to keep in mind? Here are some tips I wish someone had told me before my time at university.

Choosing the right university for you 

When it comes to choosing your home for the next three or four years, it’s important to consider the following: university and subject ranking, location, cost of living and student satisfaction. As my current uni (University of Surrey) is ranked as number one for my particular field of study, it was obvious it will land in my top five picks.

What I also paid a lot attention to however is the university accommodation and outdoors. Everybody desires to live in comfort and beautiful surroundings! The nature incorporated within the university grounds gave me space to chill out with friends and sometimes even study (I know, right!) but for the most part, it gave me a space where I could unwind and clear my mind.

Feeding the ducks on campus (October 2014).

It is tempting to stay at your local university due to the fear of the unknown, but I recommend getting out of your comfort zone and venturing out to another city or even country. I chose to leave my home town, and Northern Ireland overall, because I knew I preferred having a fresh start and getting to know people from around the globe. I also gained a lot of independence, which I’m so grateful for.

The matter of fact is, whatever you’re afraid of right now, will always come and haunt you in the future. Why don’t we all conquer our fears, face them now, and gain strength for the rest of our life?

Your choice is important, so go ahead and be picky, work hard, choose your dream uni and achieve the goal. Trust me, whatever seems really challenging now, is possible. Take an example from me, I had almost failed my AS year but with determination and ambition, I pulled through and did even better than expected at my A2. You can do it!

Don’t bring seventeen pairs of shoes

My mistake. I thought starting university (and therefore another chapter in my life) will encourage me to wear all of my pairs of shoes, and also prevent me from buying new ones. Girls like their variety, eh? I needed boots, sandals, prom shoes, comfortable night-out heels, running shoes and the list goes on and on. Constantly telling myself I need them just in case!

Let’s put it straight – DON’T BRING OVER ALL OF YOUR CLOTHES. It gets frustrating and overwhelming. None of us have enough room OR time for that! I remember keeping half of my stuff in a suitcase under my bed – hardly ever touched – because it was either too cold or I didn’t love the clothes enough to wear them. Bring only things you love, clear space, clear mind.

Bring fairy lights

Nothing makes me feel more like home than fairy lights and photographs. A lot of my friends don’t understand what I mean by fairy lights making me feel safe (and I don’t get them). I think it comes from the fact that I enjoy falling asleep in a cosy atmosphere, and always run to my bedroom when faced with a dark hallway (I KNOW). They make me as happy as a Christmas tree and are so low maintenance. Apart from those, print out photographs of friends and family to create a photo wall of memories. Just remember – don’t overdo it! You’ll thank me at the end of the year when it will be time to move out. Sentimental pieces are needed, but bringing your whole bedroom over is not.

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Make contact before freshers week

Uni is honestly the most exciting yet nerve wracking experience I have lived through so far (duh, I am only twenty after all). Because of the fact I was always a naturally shy individual, I feared making friends would be really difficult. That is why getting in touch and finding out who you’ll spend your year with before moving in is so important – I found four of my house mates on Facebook a few days after results day. The first person I knew from uni (my next room neighbour) is still my best friend now, two years later. Who knew, maybe we’d never create that bond if we hadn’t taken the initiative to get to know each other prior to our meeting?

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First day of Freshers with Lucy and Tom (September 2014).

Learn to love being on your own

Although university is stereo-typically a very sociable place, it is inevitable at times all of us will feel lonely or homesick. The most important thing to do then is to learn to be okay with being alone. Many of us don’t like our own company, which in fact I never really understood. Personalities and preferences differ, but finding hobbies that fill our time when friends aren’t around is one of the most important things to maintain happiness.

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Preparation for my first year exams (June 2015).

I spent my time alone watching Netlix, reading, doing household chores, going for a run etc. I love time to myself as it allows me to re-charge and keep my emotions balanced, and in turn makes me more energetic when I am in someone’s company later on in the day.

Put in effort into those who do so for you

You’ll make a lot of new friends and unfortunately keeping up with your homies won’t always be your number one priority. This is natural and happens to everyone, and if you’re like me, you’ll start to be a respond within 3 to 5 business days person. A very easy and awful habit to get into, especially when you stop responding because you’re too busy or feel overwhelmed with eight messenger notifications waiting for you. This usually ends up in either losing friends or realizing you’re an adult and can’t keep up with everyone. Don’t get too upset, friendships can be maintained even if you only speak once a month.

However, you must keep in mind that in order to sustain friendships and relationships long-distance you have to put in the effort to avoid disappointment. Set aside a few evenings to make calls, send each other letters and stop coming up with excuses as to why you are not able to see them.

Plan ahead

If you’re moving far away from family or a partner, try to plan your months ahead in regards to travel. It is a lot easier to book flights ahead of time, get the best deals, and see the ‘light in the tunnel’. Missing someone sucks and it’s better to have something to look forward to.

Throw a leaving party

This one is probably one of the things I regret about my own experience. It can range from a full out project X to a small gathering of friends at a meal. I regret not organizing such a thing myself, as I now know looking back, these memories would have been cherished. This is also a great opportunity to start your uni experience on a high note and say goodbyes to all your favourite people!

Explore interests and opportunities

Explore an interest you’ve always wanted to get good at. From when I was a little girl I always wanted to be an ice skater and a cheerleader. I never expected trying either of those at uni since I hadn’t had any knowledge such societies were even present in the UK. I picked up cheerleading on my first year and instantly loved it.

Karolina was a total beginner, and when she found out she will be in the position to fly she doubted herself a lot. Thankfully there is a lot of cheery love between the girls and I found a lot of encouragement from the captains, and by the end of the year I was even able to do a full extension (with support!) without breaking my neck in the progress.

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Cheering at the Surrey Stingers home game (November 2015).

Whatever you think you’ll suck at, pick it up, commit and boost your confidence with practice. Build your passion, make friends and have something to look forward to after a day full of lectures!

One thing I do regret however, is not going on an exchange for a term. All the time prior to starting uni I knew I was going to do it, no matter what it took. However, with time I realized it was not the time to venture out on an adventure as I had commitments I didn’t want to slack on back home. Although if I were to do it again I would certainly fulfill my dreams and satisfy my wanderlust with such a great opportunity I’ve missed out on. But hey, the milk is already spilt right?…

Have Fun.

This is in no way a joke – I have once got told by an academic at my university, that as an employer checks out your CV they would rather see a 2:2 along with a lot of extracurricular activities instead of a 1st hon and nothing to add to it. Keep developing yourself in every way possible and don’t obsessively worry about perfection in every aspect of your life. Keep yourself busy and squeeze out every second of the time you have!

I’m currently on my third year of studies (thankfully a placement year!) and I’m already sad about leaving university in a few years. I don’t ever want to grow up.

Much love,

Karolina ♥

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