Harpenden graduate’s top 10 tips for surviving university
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Former Harpenden resident Holly Brandon, a recent graduate from the University of York, has put together this student survival guide to prevent some avoidable first term blunders.
University is, of course, about academic study, following your vocation, reading Kafka and discussing Kinematics, but more important 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, in a new place, with new friends.
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. The move from Hertfordshire to Yorkshire also involved crossing the North-South divide (they say you can see it from space) and learning to blend in with the cultural rituals of the locals: chips must be soaked in gravy and it is highly frowned upon to wear a coat on a night out, even in the depths of the bitter northern winters.
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 help make sure you enjoy your time at university from your first moments onwards.
1. Get in touch
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Once you find out where you’ll be living, try searching for any groups on Facebook, where you might be able to chat to some of your future flatmates. If you’re feeling nervous about meeting your new neighbours, 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.
2. Gold, Frankincense and Brownies
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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 makes for an easy conversation opener. Whether you opt for homemade Eccles cakes or a packet of custard creams, offering food to your new neighbours makes a good first impression. As they say, the stomach is the way to the heart.
3. Home Sweet Home
Depending on your level of interest in home decor, this tip may be more or less relevant for you. Unless you are 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. But don’t worry. You will grow to love the austere concreteness characteristic of its 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.
4. Door Stop Believing
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. Having your door always open 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 round Europe together. I attribute all of these events solely to my doorstop. So, if you want to go to Prague, bring a doorstop.
5. 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 serve well for 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.
House sharing is one of the best things about university, but there’s no denying, at times it can be a nightmare. When the washing up hasn’t been done for six weeks and there’s an unidentifiable mouldy carbohydrate living in a pan on the hob, the novelty of living with your friends can wear pretty thin. Try using the OurHouse app – it’s a life saver when it comes to house sharing. Whether you’re in halls or a house, this app will help avoid arguments and awkward conversations and make sure you’re doing the things you’re supposed to do with your housemates, like having cocktail nights and watching films, rather than having yet another heated discussion, or more likely un-heated discussion, about the electricity bill. It can set up a rota, so that you never have to argue about whose turn it is to take out the bins, and after the final bin bag has been used up, you can add them to the app’s joint shopping list and the cost can be split by its kitty function. I can’t recommend it highly enough – it makes house sharing how it should be, good fun! Oh – and it’s free – search for the OurHouse app on your smartphone or go to OurHouse.zone.
7. The key to it all
A simple, but important tip – don’t lose your key. Losing your key normally costs you and 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 a 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.
8. Food Glorious Food
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 rota. It worked for everyone, those who loved cooking and would knock up aubergine parmigiana on a Tuesday night, but it was equally great for those who had never opened a tin of tuna and had to be taught how to boil an egg. In his first year, this housemate (who shall remain unnamed) mastered the omelette, in second year, he became an expert at spaghetti carbonara and by his third year, he was making dauphinoise potatoes. I attribute this Jamie Oliver-esque cooking success story solely to the cooking rota as well as the balance of his friend’s encouragement and mockery. A cooking rota is also a brilliant way of saving money, cooking for a group is far more economical than cooking for one and saves you eating the same thing over and over. And 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).
9. It’s a date
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 organisational method – Google calendar. This allows you to sync your uni timetable with your personal calendar, it can be added to it wherever you are, and events can be easily moved around.
10. Money, money, money
As a student, your wallet is like an onion, when you open it, it makes you cry. Before you arrive at university, it is a good idea to work out a budget. Break down all your estimated costs – books, drinks, more drinks. And 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. And political opinions aside, NUS offer lots of great discounts for students, from Top Shop to Coop, depending whether your priorities lie in fashion or food.
Although not all ten tips might be helpful for you, I hope that you’ve read something here that will help you settle into university. Remember, everyone is in the same boat and you will help each other work out how to use a washing machine, even if it does take you until second year to work out that detergent is not mysteriously piped into the back of the machine, you have to add your own (a mistake made by a friend who shall also remain anonymous!). Most importantly, just enjoy yourself and the rest will fall into place. I promise!