Choosing a university

Freshers: what to expect in your first university term

By Rebecca Hughes (Digital content producer, Which? University) - 04 September 2014

Source: University of Southampton

Student stereotypes are all well and good (cheap beer... freshers' week... an aversion to cleaning... the occasional lecture). But what should you really expect when it comes to your first term at university? We spoke to last year's freshers to find out what their first-term experience was like. Here's what they told us.

There are lots of expectations when you start university – that your student days will be the best of your life, that you’ll meet lots of friends – but the reality is that the experience is different for every person. That said, this should hopefully help you work out what's in store, along with our handy fresher first-term report infographic...

1. Students share the 'best bits'

Our student video reporter headed to campuses to speak to students about their experiences as freshers...

 

2. Moving out and settling in

Encouragingly, just over half of the students we spoke to had found living away from home easier than expected. That figure falls to 41% for students aged 21 or over. Similarly, 54% said making new friends was easier than they thought it would be.
 
If you're moving to a new place, there are lots of opportunities to meet people when you first move in – as you’re unpacking, at social events organised by your accommodation reps, even just by knocking on a flatmate’s door. It’s natural to feel shy or a bit silly introducing yourself but everyone's in the same boat - and it's normal to have moments of homesickness, too.
 
Tip: make the most of freshers’ week – there’s no other time in the university calendar when people will be so keen to get chatting.


3. Social pressures..?

Four in 10 students told us they can't go out as much as they'd like to because of money - but about a third of students had also felt pressurised at some stage during their freshers’ term to go out socialising. And with the pressure to go out, there can often be the pressure to drink.

Tip: having a great social life at university doesn't have to mean being out every night, or centre around alcohol. How about a night cooking with flatmates, gigs, watching films or a new sport..?


4. Joining a uni society, club or sports team...

...For the first week at least. More than half of freshers said that they'd joined an interest group - although 11% of everyone we spoke to said they'd dropped out of at least one club or team. And 28% said they'd struggled to find any extra-curricular or social activity that appealed to them at all.

University freshers' fairs will bring you face-to-face with all the weird and wonderful clubs and societies you can sign up to, from the extreme ironing society to the medieval re-enactment club. If there isn’t one that appeals to you, start your own! It's a good way of trying something new, meeting people with similar interests and picking up skills to boost your employment prospects.

Tip: you don’t have to get involved in clubs right from the start. You can always join a club at a later stage once you’ve settled into uni life, or become a member of a society where you can turn up as and when you’ve got the time.

5. Budgeting bugbears

Your first student loan instalment might seem like a windfall, but chances are it won’t go as far as you’d hoped. 39% of those surveyed said that managing their day-to-day costs was more difficult than expected, a fifth had already gone into their overdraft and 19% had got a part-time job.

Remember you'll need to factor in all those extra upfront costs such as course materials, books, trips and equipment, too. 45% of the first years we spoke to told us they ended up shelling out more than expected.

Tip: if you’re really struggling, there is always support on hand at your university. One in 10 of the first-termers we spoke to had already visited student services to talk about financial support. Plus, get budget planning with our student money top 10.


6. A pleasant surprise from your course?

44% of the students we spoke to said they're finding lectures more interesting than expected – and more than half said they’re enjoying the course more than they thought they would.

To make the most of your course, you should always try to turn up to lectures and seminars, even if it’s at 9am and you’ve had a heavy night (6% of the students we spoke to had missed at least half their lectures!).

Tip: get the most out of face-to-face sessions with tutors by prepping beforehand, completing any pre-work and jotting down questions to raise.


7. It's never too late (or too early)...

A fifth of those we spoke to said they’d considered switching courses (18%) – and 2% had switched. Hopefully, you’ll find that you’ve made the right choice and will enjoy your academic life at uni – but if not, it is possible to switch courses – it’s just not always straightforward.
 
And it’s never too early to head to start thinking about life after university, either. 17% of the freshers we spoke to had been to the careers office, rising to one in four for law students.

Tip: Make the most of your careers department - it's there to help you think about what you want to go on to do once you’ve graduated and can help you to secure work experience placements and graduate roles.

Source: An online survey of 1,200 students who have just completed their first semester of university, between 11 and 19 December 2012, conducted via YouthSight.

 

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