Wednesday, 24 August 2011

First-time students: tips for preparing for university/college


Now that the new university year is fast approaching (approx. 1 month away) I thought I would do a post about how to prepare for university for new students.
It is a daunting task, especially if you have no elder family members/friends who have already been there/done that, like I didn't when I was just about to start my undergraduate degree. But don't worry, it's not that scary!

Hopefully by now you have got somewhere to live, whether it is in a university- or privately-run halls of residence, or a private rented place. If you haven't, get this sorted ASAP!! This is the most important thing to sort out after actually applying to university.

Getting information from your university and/or department about anything you need to do to prepare for your course is important. This is usually delivered by email or some booklets etc. If you haven't received this yet, don't worry, a lot of departments won't send them out until September. But if you are getting worried, give your department a ring or an email. Usually, what they will tell you is any equipment you need for your course (e.g. lab coat), a reading list, meetings etc you will have to go to during Freshers' Week, maybe a timetable, and if you are unlucky, perhaps some homework you have to do before you get there!

Now the thing I was most worried about: Packing. And be sure, you WILL over pack!! I took at least twice as much as I needed! Remember, you will be able to get a lot of the stuff you need when you are there! For example, I packed way too much stationary and toiletries, many of which I didn't even use. I also overpacked on clothes. You have to take into account how you are going to get all of this stuff to your university; my poor dad had to drive me in our small car, with all my stuff literally bulging at the seams! This is especially important to think about if you are travelling to your uni from abroad, or just a long distance, for example across the US. If you are taking an aeroplane, or even some sort of ferry etc, there is often a luggage allowance that won't meet all the stuff you want to take to uni. Here are my tricks to limiting the amount of stuff you take to uni:

  • Ask friends/family who have already been students what they really NEEDED at uni.
  • Do a practice pack- try to fit everything in your suitcase or car. If it doesn't fit, something needs to go.
  • Write a list of everything you need to pack. Come back to it a couple of days later, and look at it with a critical eye, crossing off anything that doesn't meet the qualifications of something you NEED. Do you really NEED that second hairbrush? Or that milk pan? How many pairs of fluffy winter slippers will you really wear? Will you really use a whole dining set?
  • For common things you use, like toilettries, make an 'I actually use...' list. This is where every time you actually use things, you write those things on the list. You will be surprised, by the end of the week, how few things you actually use off the big list you made earlier of everything you wanted to pack. This is because it is the human condition to pack things 'just in case'. Well, chances are, those 'cases' never happen.
  • But, that said, there are some situations where you will NEED some things. Think especially about medical situations. Even if you don't have a condition, everyone needs access to medication quickly in some situations. For example, say you wake up with food poisoning. The last thing you want to do when you have diarrhoea is to have to walk down to the pharmacy, so always make sure you have such medication available in your room at uni. Go to the pharmacy with your parents before you go to uni to get them to help you buy your emergency medicine bag for all such situations.
  • Remember: you can buy the majority of things you will want/need when you get there. For example, stationary. I packed enough to last me for my whole degree, let alone year 1. The thought didn't occur to me that I could actually buy all that stuff there!
  • If you really can't take a lot of things with you travelling to uni, draw up a list of things you will actually NEED in the immediate 24 hours when you arrive. Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, bedding (or even just a sleeping bag), money, phone etc. Then, the things you definitely don't want to buy again: laptop etc. 
  • Consider alternatives to transporting stuff. Ask your parents to do a second trip later in the term to bring the 2nd lot of stuff. Use vacuum bags to suck the air out of things like your duvet and pillows to dramatically decrease the amount of room this takes up in your packing. Use a cheap courier service to deliver a box of books etc that you can't manage in your suitcase (I have done this a couple of time, it's very useful).

And most importantly, don't worry! Uni is so much fun, look forward to it!!
If you have any questions, please comment and I will try to answer them!


  1. Over here in the states, if a student is the first in the family to attend college, the odds are very (sadly) high that s/he will not complete a degree. There are so very many issues and situations to navigate. H. S. counselors are overtaxed, so they have neither the time nor the specialized information needed for a first generation attendee. I am a big fan of having mentors for entering newbies. Sadly, I was left to my own devices. The assumption was that an academically talented student would navigate the system on their own. Not so much . . .

    On behalf of your age demographic (I am an oldster and have kids older than you), thanks for your post of encouragement. I do hope your own educational journey is pleasant and successful.

  2. Great post!!! I'm about to go into my 3rd year - which means the dreaded dissertation begins! Any chance you could do a post on how to organise/write a dissertation? the task is pretty daunting :( any tips ??

    Emma x

  3. @Millicent- that is a very sad fact. When I entered my degree, there was no support system, but the next year one was established and I became a peer mentor, which I have been doing since and will be doing this year. I think it is invaluable for all students, especially ones without older siblings etc who have had the experience. Unfortunately, ours only starts when the new students actually get there. I would have loved more support throughout my last year of school from when I started applying for universities. But hopefully the support we give when the students actually come to uni suffices. The students often don't actually ask for help, but I'm here if they need me.

    @Emma- I will do so! I will try to get it done by the end of next week :)

  4. this is a fab post for newbies. i too am just about to start the third year, so am dreading dissertations. i look forward to reading your post. :)