It’s that time of year: pack up your suitcase, pop to B&M Homestores, raid your Mum’s kitchen for spare spatulas, load up the car and head off to university. Whether you’re just starting, or going into your second or third year (or beyond!), this is a massively important time of year – lots of things change, friends move on, ground shifts beneath you and everyone tries to find their feet.
For me, having friends and family around me as I went off to university made the transition a lot easier than doing it on my own ever would have been. From my Mum and Dad being ready to drive up to Cambridge and back home again to save me the train fair, to my long term best friends being on the end of the phone when I needed a bit of a cry, to new church family cooking me lunch and taking me in on a Sunday, spending time with people who had been there and done that was the best thing for me in that time.
As you go off to start the new year at university, wherever you will be, consider us your long distance, online friends – we’re cheering you on and can’t wait to see you thrive. Uni is scary, but one of the coolest experiences, and getting out on your own will be incredible.
I asked the Facebook and Cambridge hive-mind to give me some of their top hints and tips to surviving and thriving at university. Here are some of the things we came up with:
Freshers and Settling In
The best piece of advice that somebody gave me as I was moving to uni: take a doorstop with you, and prop your bedroom door open on moving-in day. Everyone is new, everybody is getting there at the same time, and if you are the person with chocolate biscuits, mugs and a kettle in your room and your door open for people to come in, they will love you. Moving in day is a great chance to get to know the people that you will be spending the next year with, so take a deep breath, smile and say hello.
You do not need to sign up to everything during Freshers’ Fair. There will be so many stands trying to get you to sign up to the various clubs, socials and groups that are going on – take it as a chance to get to know all that is going on at the university, but do not let yourself be overloaded straight away – there will be loads of opportunity to get involved later.
You don’t need to go clubbing during Fresher’s Fair, if you don’t want to; but it’s also OK to, if you want to. Remember who you are, remember what you want, and be the reliable friend who looks out for the people around you, wherever you end up. One of our friends had a great time cooking and hanging out with the freshers’ who didn’t fancy going to a club.
Look After Yourself
Try and take a small “care package” with you to uni; you will be so thankful for it later. Anything from shower gel, to washing up liquid, to good tea bags, to your favourite mug will make the first few weeks at uni a bit cleaner and a bit more comfortable.
(If you are a friend of someone who is heading off to university, a small care package is potentially one of the best ways you could help them. Package up a few of their favourite things, and send it to them about a week in, when they are needing something from home).
Don’t be scared to go home – it doesn’t mean you’ve failed! Everyone needs to be looked after every now and then – have someone who can be on the end of the phone and take a weekend away when you need to.
Cook food in big batches and freeze portions for dinners – chilli, curries and spag bol are winners. It’s much, much cheaper than ready meals and meal deals, and it means that you will at least have some healthy food in your diet.
Shockingly, your mental health and capacity will be much better if you are drinking lots of water, eating good food, getting fresh air and exercising, even a little bit. Keep an eye on the people around you, and spend time with people who will make sure that you’re OK, too.
Talk to someone as soon as possible if things feel overwhelming: university can feel like a big place, but you are not invisible and it is totally acceptable to ask for support. There should be a student welfare worker, or a student-led advice station at the SU who can signpost you to all kinds of useful services.
Work out how you recharge- this might be on your own or with people. There’s no point trying to recharge with people if that just tires you out; and it is OK that some people tire you out while others help you recharge. This means you’ll be able to rest well.
Church, and family
Plug into a church! It doesn’t necessarily need to be the same one that everyone else is going to: one of our friends had a great experience at a family-orientated church – “I joined a church that was not the main student filled church which meant I did things outside of the student “bubble”. A lady at my church took me under her wing and had me over for meals and family time all the time and that was the best thing that could have happened. I got stuck into the church family too and it really felt like home. It also meant I had a place to talk to people about stress and issues that were outside of things (I just wish I’d talked openly sooner than I did!)”
Don’t be scared of being you and finding your identity – university is the best time of your life, and it’s a time when you will do a lot of growing up! Use your friends, old or new, as a moral compass and safety.
For me, finding families to slot into and join in life with was super great. Another friend had similar experiences: “I found it so helpful to get outside the student bubble when I could. I used to do the ironing for a family from church and they would feed me a meal in return. It meant I got some time in a normal family setting and that felt so healthy compared to halls of residence and student houses.”
Workload and Studying
Keep a diary or calendar and block out time to do reading and assignments, so that it feels like an appointment rather than optional. Getting work done little by little, rather than cramming it at the last minute will help keep your stress levels down so much – you can tell me that I’m right later!
One friend shared this: “Don’t leave things until the last minute… pulling all-nighters on strong coffee is not an ideal situation so find what works for you in terms of timetabling your workload! Talk to tutors early if you are struggling and there is no shame in talking to talk to student support services about things that are overwhelming you… don’t just bottle it all up like I did. When I did get help they were really helpful but I had left it too late… so don’t do that!
Above all, remember this; write it on a post-it note, for those moments when things get a bit too stressful: I Am Who You Say I Am. Your worth is not found in how well you do at university; you are a child of God, and you are so loved, just because you are you. Have fun with Him!