September has shown its face, and with it has come the usual hustle and bustle of going back to school or starting university. Having just graduated in July, and enrolling again to study for a Masters degree, I consider myself something of a university veteran! So for all you newcomers I have compiled a little list of advice learned and pictures taken from my time over the last three years. I should state in advance that this is based upon a UK university experience which involves a lower drinking age, the Student Loans Company, different grading systems and no mention of American sororities/rushing!
Take pride in your room: Make your new room a comfortable home away from home, as this will make you happier and healthier than a messy, disorganised dump. Learn to make the most of a small space by getting inventive with surfaces, such as a box that can double-up as storage or a bed-side table. Accept that you will often have to live out of boxes due to moving houses more than once over the next three years, so therefore try not to cram your room with unnecessary junk which may hinder the process. Decorate your walls and desk to reflect you, and to make your friends envious of your secret flair for interior design. If in doubt, fairy lights!
Learn to be considerate: University is often the first time a young person moves away from home to live in the responsibility-filled real world. Whether you move into Halls of Residence or your own flat with other students, there are some universal issues at stake. Recycle. Wash your dishes frequently. Try to reduce your shower time or shower at night. Remember to pay bills on time. However, don’t expect others to be model housemates all the time! Perfect the art of compromise (it’s this big fancy concept that real-life adults use a lot). Get used to a bit of unavoidable mess and second-rate living spaces, some people adjust to living without their mums quicker than others. Telling someone in a calm and friendly manner to clean up their mess or stop playing music loudly all night is a much more effective technique than passive-aggressive notes or screaming at them. But also learn to take some requests to heart yourself.
Invest in a student cookbook: You will be tempted to eat out every night, or rarely eat at all. Try not to fall into the ‘Freshers Fifteen’ trap of gaining or losing 15 lbs purely because you are unable plan or cook your own meals. It took me a while to realise ‘cooking’ doesn’t have to be anything spectacular or fancy, and that’s why student cookbooks are perfect for those on a more restrictive budget or skill-set. Aim for a balanced diet to boost your health and brain power, but of course you’re allowed to slip up a little!
Student loans do not make you rich: Oh boy. This is a major one. PLEASE try not to excessively over-spend the second your loan instalments come in. A good method is to make a list and budget all of your essentials for the month, allowing yourself one luxury item to keep you satisfied. And I know this advice will be hugely disregarded by the majority of you – I completely disregarded it myself, and am now dirt poor but with lots of pretty (useless) things.
Discover your own personal style: These may be the only three years you have to yourself between a school uniform and a working wardrobe, so use them wisely. Be inspired by the street style around you rather than expensive fashion trends or what the shops say you should buy. Pinterest is also a fantastic source of inspiration for those days you blankly look at your wardrobe and come up with nothing. If you are really stuck for what to purchase in advance of beginning your course then take a leaf from the Parisian capsule wardrobe; buy a lot of basic essentials that can be worn in multiple outfits. But remember to consider comfort as having an outfit that you are comfortable in, both physically and mentally, will allow you to focus more on your confidence rather than appearance.
Perfect the 5-minute face: If you are unfortunate enough to be designated a 9am class then this tip is important for those days when you hit the snooze button one too many times. The fundamental idea is to get the basic make up put on fast, with any non-essential touches left to be applied in between classes. Even out your base with a neutral concealer (not one lighter than your skin tone) or a mineral powder foundation. A little bronzer if you can spare the time. Pop some pencil eyeliner across the lashline, or a little smudge of dark-coloured eyeshadow. Mascara, then you’re set. Put your contour kits, liquid eyeliner, lip glosses and full-coverage foundations in a make up bag and use them later if you need to! However, if you want a super quick one-step look then opt for a bright red lipstick with nothing else. The colour will draw attention away from your undone eyes and skin… usually. Of course a good alternative is to wake up a little earlier, but that’s only in an ideal world.
Have a constant tan: It doesn’t necessarily need to be tan per se, when I say this I mean you need to be constantly ready to go out at the drop of a hat. It is a predominantly first-year phenomenon; by second-year you will have a set routine of the bars or clubs to be attended on certain nights with ample time to plan, and by final-year you will be an utter recluse in your grotty PJs sitting up to 2am trying to meet deadlines.
Forge friendships: For most people the exceptional friendships they leave university with are rarely the friends they drunkenly made during Freshers Fortnight. You will be thrown into a mix of people on your course or in your Halls of Residence that have similar interests/circumstances and therefore you will likely make some friendships with people whose company you genuinely love and appreciate – all you have to do is introduce yourself and be natural. You may have to leave your comfort zone but that is what university is all about, and you’ll kick yourself if you don’t try!
Enjoy the little moments: Like studying outside in the sun for a change, reading in the musty library, attending social drinks, or your morning pre-lecture frothy coffee. These unique little snapshots culminate into your favourite memories and routines of university life. Take a lot of pictures!
Participate in events: You may discover interesting sports or clubs that are rewarding and different to the usual humdrum school curriculum activities. I joined the cheerleading squad and became one of the committee members in my second-year – in Northern Ireland this is a very unique and ‘exotic’ sport from across the Atlantic! Make the most of your spare time as these next three years will go by at lightening speed, so you can forfeit your Netflix addiction for a little while to go outside and take part. Also think long term – think CV opportunities! I participated in several workshops working alongside charities such as Mind Your Mood, opportunities I admittedly felt compelled to do out of necessity for my CV but ended up absolutely loving. There may also be social evenings and events tailored to the people on your course arranged by the university, these are a great way to meet and befriend like-minded people.
Utilise university services: Get your moneys worth! Most universities provide financial aid or advice for those struggling to make ends meet. There will also be services set aside for careers advice, course-related enquiries and counselling. Check out your local Students Union for information involving these contacts. Please try not to get too stressed out or worked up over a certain issue, I know it’s easier said than done, but there is always someone put in place to help you.
Never forfeit your studies: A social life may seem essential to your survival at university, but never ever ever forget the reason you are really there. Most of us pay a lot of money to attain a place on a university course, so it seems a waste to get distracted and throw this opportunity away. Take pride in your work, by staying dedicated you will be less likely to fall out of love with your subject. Inspire yourself with pretty notebooks, colourful to-do lists, motivational quotes or whatever keeps you in the right frame of mind. Learn to manage your time effectively; it helps to keep a wall-calendar and planner, and don’t join a gazillion clubs if you can’t keep up commitments to them all as well as your studies. And go to bed at a decent hour (when possible) so you can wake up reasonably early (when possible) as this will not only leave you with more time to get stuff done but it is also the time of day you will be the most productive. Finally, don’t forget to enter the prestigious and international Undergraduate Awards in your final year to reward all your hard work.
Make the most of class time: TALK to your tutors, ATTEND classes, PARTICIPATE in discussion. You won’t be forced to like you were in school, but without taking part you are limiting your learning experience – start thinking like a responsible adult in regards to your time. You don’t want to end up like me and be 0.1% off a First Class – so close! It also goes without saying to avoid falling asleep in lectures. Repeat this mantra after me: coffee is life, coffee is life, coffee is life.
Above all, tailor your university experience to you: This is a unique place where you can do what you want without being judged (minus the exam board obviously) unlike in school or the workplace, as the only person judging you is yourself. You do not have to follow the supposed ‘ideal’ of university experience if you find it is not compatible with your interests, do what makes YOU happy.
I wish you the very best of luck and hope you enjoy your time at university as much as I did. Comment below if you have any questions, or if you are also a graduate with some handy tips!