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Student view: five things I didn't expect in my first year

Our student blogger Joanna has been sharing her experiences in her first year at university – here are five unexpected things she learnt during her time as a fresher.

'Bring a door stop!' 'Beware the freshers' 15!' 'Don’t drink too much!': just some of the things I was told before heading off to university. But you never really know what it's going to be like before you get there. Looking back on my first year (I'm now in my second year), here are five things I wasn't expecting when I started... 

1. Living independently is easier than you think

In Which? University's first-year student survey, a convincing 51% found living away from home easier than they'd expected. It was a similar experience for me.

Here at Durham University, I had no choice but to live in a college  and it pretty much gave me everything I needed to ease me in gently with fellow nervous first-years. Fully catered with a library, gym, bar and vending machines for necessary snacks just seconds away. Six months in and I was shocked to discover that I was far more independent than I had expected to be. I began to feel restless within the confines of college. Having structured meal times became a burden and the presence of the once reassuring tutor restricted our ability to have fun.

Rhiannon, a student at University of East Anglia agrees: 'I expected that adjusting to living with 13 strangers was going to be really difficult. Turns out most people had the same concerns and it quickly became normal.'


2. Things cost money

I was unprepared to move from an almost cost-free lifestyle to one where everything you do has a price tag. Increased university fees are a financial worry, but at present they’re taken care of by our student loans  it's paying for your day-to-day lifestyle that's the biggest concern. I'm not living lavishly, but trying to get by on the bare minimum can be a struggle. 39% of first-year students in the Which? University survey also found managing their costs trickier than expected.

Nights out and books are a given, but don't forget all those extras  snacks, library fines, fancy dress (there are more things you need to budget for listed here). I was convinced I wouldn’t need to budget as I just wouldn’t spend past my student loan. But overspending is all too easy - and although it’s tempting to not check your bank account, staying aware of how much you spend is the best way to budget.


3. You need to be organised and self-motivated

Before heading to university I was told that, at least in my first year, I wouldn’t need to do much work. But the workload was heavier than I'd anticipated  and the level of organisation you need to stay on top of things even more of a surprise. 

Things didn't get off to a great start when I forgot to go to my first lecture  and friends have missed deadlines and even exams. In fact, 6% of first-years said they'd missed at least half of their lectures in their first term!

Gone are the days when you can rely on teachers telling you to work. Yes, it is possible to spend all your term time in bed, and you could class all-night essay writing a student rite of passage. But if you're serious about your degree, you'll need to motivate yourself and organise your time.


4. Extra-curriculars actually require commitment

I spent my first few weeks at university as if I was on a holiday activity camp, trying out just about every different club on offer.

From lacrosse, Model United Nations and even beginners' ballet, I thought it was possible to do everything. Unlike school, where activities maybe take up an hour or so a week, university clubs and societies do expect commitment so don't spread yourself too thinly.

Like the 11% of first-termers who said they've joined and dropped out of at least one society, I eventually settled on the rowing club (and with upwards of 12 training sessions a week, that's more than enough to handle).


5. Everything constitutes a social life

Away from home, everything at university becomes social. There are opportunities to socialise and meet people all the time, and my life is more intertwined with the lives of my friends than I had expected. Meal times are used to discuss college gossip, library nights are long-planned trips and even walking through town you’ll bump into many friends.


Want to find out more about what to expect from your first year at university? Take a look at our first-term freshers' report card infographic here.


Which? University provides guest spots to external contributors. Joanna Thom is currently a second-year undergrad student at Durham University, where she's studying history. 
 

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