My first day at Glasgow University was memorable for several reasons. The realisation, for instance, that there is a place where the just-out-of-bed-look is acceptable, where purple velvet flares can be worn with clogs, where Goths gain the right to sneer at the attire of others and where deodorant has not yet been socially integrated.
Yes, university is the parallel universe where, for four years of your life, the terms 'dress-sense' and 'personal hygiene' will be ousted from your vocabulary and a constant mental battle shall be waged between attending lectures or drinking cheap beers at the Student Union. The shock of your first day will fade to insignificance in the coming weeks.
The Researcher above obviously slipped into his student life with an ease of grace that is rare. For those of you who are still a little unsure about what to expect in your first few weeks at uni, the following should help.
You might find you have to share a room. This can be quite good, or a nightmare, or anywhere in between. The first thing to note is that the powers that be are likely to pay the bare minimum of attention to the room allocation form, because they will assume you are lying. Sad but apparently true. A plus point about sharing a room initially though is that you have someone to socialise with right at the beginning. You'll probably also find that you spend most time with people in your corridor.
On the domestic front, you should teach yourself the skills you'll need before you leave home. Learn some basic cooking skills. Don't just settle for fast food in a box; learn how to cook healthy, tasty foods such as stir-fry or homemade soup (these are things that can be made with a minimum of dirty dishes, too). Know how to manage laundry; for example, what items can be dried in a dryer and which need to be hung up to drip-dry, when you need to separate coloured clothes from white ones and when it's okay to mix them, etc. If you try doing this stuff for yourself while you're still at home and have people to turn to for advice and help, you won't feel so lost when you get to school. It's also good to have your own fridge; it saves a lot of money if you can buy groceries instead of living solely off your meal plan (and it's healthier too). Look for used bar fridges, and you'll get a good deal. Sometimes you'll be able to rent one, but usually the cost of renting one for four years will be more than the cost of buying one brand new.
If you have a room-mate, you should discuss as soon as possible what both of you expect from each other. I told my roommate that I was messy sometimes but I would keep my mess on my side of the room. Since I had my own fridge and she didn't, I said she could keep her food in my fridge as long as we remembered whose food was whose. She said that since she would be using my fridge, she'd pay for the phone bill (I would pay for my long distance calls, of course). Just ask them early on when the two of you can sit down and talk about it. Don't be bossy, and don't be a dictator; you're not in this to take control, you both want to do this in order to avoid nasty surprises and personality conflicts later on.
Things You Might Need
For your room:
Bring some books. They spruce the place up a bit, and make it feel a bit more like home away from home. They can be quite a comfort to read if you're feeling a little low and don't feel like going out with your mates.
Extension cords are an absolute must. Most halls were built at the time when going by candlelight was de rigueur or else when transistors were the big thing and any one mentioning chips would have been asked if they 'wanted a sausage with that?'. Therefore, if you are planning on bringing several electrical items, you will find the number of plugs woefully lacking.
A TV is a good idea if you've got a portable one; telly facilities are usually provided in Halls of Residence but abandon all hope if you want to watch Walking with Dinosaurs when the football is on the other side. In the UK, it is illegal to use a telly without a TV License. If you are caught you will be in line for a hefty fine. You are not covered by your parents' existing license nor by any blanket cover afforded to university facilities. A good tactic is to buy the TV license coupons from the Post Office each week and save up for the license. That way you avoid having more large out-lays of cash upon arrival.
Computers can be expensive to buy but they pay dividends when you have to finish that term paper for the deadline next week and the queue to the computer centre stretches around the block; this is not rare. Of course, if you can have a graphics card installed as well you can hold networked death matches on Quake 3 across campus. But your parents (if they are buying) will only want to invest in an abacus. Bear in mind that if you are planning to make use of any networking facilities the university offers, you will need a network card and not a modem to connect; check with the uni first to see what the requirements are.
What else will you need for your room?
- A lamp (you may already have one but it helps to double up)
- A clothes-horse
- Coat hangers - essential to avoid creases
- Tuxedo (for any official functions/balls you may wish to attend)
- A box (label it 'Very Important' or 'Filing System' - stick every piece of official paper in there over the year. You will be surprised how often you return to it for the little bit of information that you can't quite recall)
- A clothes line (you may not have a wardrobe in your new apartment yet, so a clothes line is perfect for storing your clothes)
- A kettle
- A saucepan
- A wok
- A toaster (toast is quick, easy and cheap)
- Several plates and bowls
- A full set of cutlery
- A whisk (handy if you are making hot chocolate)
- A wooden spoon (remember science at school? Well the metal ones conduct the heat from what you are cooking up the handle to you hand)
- A waterproof pen (to write your name on the food stuffs you buy, so random visitors to your fridge are less inclined to think it is unwanted and claim it for their own)
Before your parents leave with the car, get them to visit the local supermarket with you and pick up provisions. These should include:
- Tea (if an Englishman's home is his castle, then cups of tea are the moat)
- Salt mill
- Black pepper mill
- Fruit (again it's cheap and good for you, apparently)
- Shaver and shaving foam
- Shampoo and conditioner
- A mirror
- A clock - like for taking into the bath so you don't prune.
- A camera - you think you'll remember these days for the rest of your life, but you won't.
- Sticking plasters
- A ruler
- Blue tack or similar product (to put posters up)
There, that just about covers it, but bear in mind it's all got to fit in the back of the car - so take only what you think you'll need/ will actually fit. You will invariably end up buying more stuff when you are there than what you originally left with.
Halls of Residence
In a British uni, you'll usually have the option of staying in Halls for your first year. This is definitely a good idea - even if you live fairly close to the uni. You'll get to know a bunch of people who you might otherwise never meet. Your Halls will probably have single bedrooms (although some may be shared - these are often slightly cheaper) and shared kitchens and bathrooms. When you move in, leave your door open while you're unpacking. That way you'll get to know everyone from the word go. And you might even get people offering to help!
Just watch out - Freshers' Week (the first week) is liable to be a full week of noise, drunken cavorting and the inevitable fire alarms if you're living in Halls. But it's still better than living in a house from the word go, because there's a certain measure of support for the lone and lost, and it is indeed the best way to gain a circle of friends quickly - or at least people you can go and talk to when the urge to kill and maim strikes.
There are times when you will want to scream, cry, kill everyone else in the building, and generally be extremely unpleasant to your fellow residents. You will want to run away, drown yourself in the nearest lake/river/moat, get yourself arrested in order to spend the night somewhere comparatively quiet, and even sleep outside - but stick with it. If you manage to survive your first year in Halls, you can move into a house with people you like and know and can get on with for the remainder of your degree.
But I don't recommend staying in Halls any longer than that. Some people love Hall life, but I found that after three terms of it, even with an en-suite bathroom in a brand-new building, I felt like I had no privacy, and no personal space. Sure, you can lock your door, but the walls of most rooms in Halls are made of paper (or something with similar sound-blocking capabilities) so you can never escape the noise of someone else having a party, or listening to terrible music.
Get Some Sleep!
Try to be well-rested before getting to your college/university/whatever. It may be hard for people flying or driving a long way, but try. First of all there are always all sorts of bureaucratic hoops to jump through the first day. Second and more importantly, if someone bursts into your room at 11pm saying, 'Hey, a bunch of us are going to go run around and explore!' you want to be able to say 'Wheeeeee!' instead of 'I'm too... tired...'
Hold a get-to-know-you party for your corridor. Get your mum to bake a couple of cakes before you leave, and buy a couple of bottles of both soft and mildly alcoholic drink (or not, according to the local rules) when you arrive. The great secret is that all your neighbours will be sitting alone in their rooms wondering what the hell has hit them, just like you. So find your six or seven nearest neighbours and invite them over for a party. Nothing outrageous, no drinking games or other dumb stuff, just a chance to get to know each other and talk about things. It's amazing how well it works.
All that can be said about making friends at university is to go at it with all the verve and energy that you can muster. Go to all the open days, participate in every 'getting to know' event you can find, join as many societies as your mind can cope with and smile inanely at every person you bump into. By doing this you will find that there will be at least a dozen other people doing exactly the same thing for exactly the same reason, and a common ground is found from which friendship easily grows. It also means that you won't be missing home life as much as you thought you might and university isn't quite as bad as all the horror stories suggest. Most of all, enjoy it - it only lasts three/four years.
Oh, and don't expect to remember everyone's name. They won't remember yours either...
At many universities, students are besieged with offers of free credit cards. Don't accept one. These cards are fine except for the insane interest rates they charge if you don't pay off your balance each month. (Sure, this is how all credit cards operate and make money, but 25% is a bit hefty when it's compounded monthly). When you get out of school in a few years, you'll be faced with a lot of bills (student loans, etc) you don't need to add credit card debt to the list.
Just think of all the beer you could buy...
On the other hand, if you manage your credit card wisely, you will be in for a lifetime of the capabilities that good credit can provide. The reason so many credit card companies solicit university students is that they know that they can sort the wheat from the chaff early on. Put on a good show at this point, and they'll be there for you for life.
Two good tips; request a manageable credit limit, so that even if you can only manage to pay the minimum, it's not catastrophic. Second, keep your credit card frozen in a block of ice in your freezer. This way, you'll have to think about your purchase before you make it.
One good thing about using a credit or debit card is that itemised list of all the foolish things you purchased at the end of the month. If that doesn't scare you into reality the first time you receive one, you better cut up the card. Also, notice whether you left any gratuities larger than the bill...
Manage your Money!
Budget yourself and stick to it, otherwise you'll regret it once you've blown your entire student loan/grant/bursary/etc on parties and alcohol in the first few weeks.
It's usually a good idea that if you do go out for the night then only take enough money to keep you afloat for the night.
If your Halls of Residence/shared house is not near the main campus, then invest in a bus pass. This may be a large amount to shell out in the short term, but they usually pay themselves back after a few weeks.
Just work out how much you have for the year, and therefore how much you can afford to spend in each week (and remember that you may not have a secured income for the summer holidays either).
Only take cash with you on a night out, and leave your cash point card at home. That way, you can only spend the money you have at that moment and avoid clearing out your bank account under the influence of alcohol. When you sober up, you'll wish you hadn't done it!
There are a few scams to avoid, in the UK at any rate. These play on the natural greed and unworldliness of students by offering something for nothing. Avoid at all cost!
The Pizza Scam
Someone rings your doorbell, and offers a discount on pizzas for a whole year if you pay only a few pounds now. Ignore him, and send him on his way, because almost every pizza operation offers a student discount/free delivery/2-for-1 offer that will probably offer better value, and a wider choice. In any case, you'll find that you need to order a lot of pizza to recoup the 'investment' on the discount card.
The Club Pass
For only £10, you can go clubbing for cheap, with no queueing, every week! Yeah, right. These club passes generally offer entry only to the least desirable establishments. You won't use it. Don't buy it!
Student Unions and Societies
You'll be amazed at what kind of clubs you can find on a university campus. Even if you were a loner or a misfit in high school, you'll be able to find like-minded people at university. Get yourself involved with a club for people in your academic programme, so you can talk to others who have been through/are going through the same classes you are. If it's a good club, not only will you be making social contacts, but it'll also help you learn and maybe even help you get summer jobs and such (if the chemistry professor knows that you're enthusiastic enough about chemistry to join the chemistry club, then that's a good thing). Join at least one purely-for-fun club, too.
What Societies to Join?
Most sports societies have a 'have a go' session so you can try out the sport before paying out. Watch out for whether there is a one payment for all the clubs system or whether you have to pay each individually. Some sports like equestrian have extra charges. Large universities, or large sports clubs usually have the money to budget for competitions. But individual or optional competitions are usually a pay as you want to go kind of thing, with minibus hire and petrol split between you.
When there is a fee to join a club with no trial session then leave it for a fortnight until there has been a meeting and then ask around to what was the crappiest - you can save a fortune. If there is a trial session, then go because it is nice to be at the first meeting. But if you are on a really tight budget then it is nice to be able to avoid wasting £30 on fees for a few societies that turn out to be a waste of money and time.
If you are feeling lonely because everyone is at a club, then go down the corridor and bang on every door. Introduce yourself and ask if the occupant is bored and do they want to wander. You will be surprised at the amount of people you can collect in half an hour. Even if you all end up in someone's corridor sitting on the floor saying you are all bored then it's better than nothing... and it's free!
Don't hand over your cash straight away. If you think you're interested in joining a particular society, then find out more about it first by attending one or two meetings. If you are still interested then join up, if not then you've saved yourself a few quid.
On the other hand, you could just do what I did. Several of my housemates were members of the Open Air Club (a hill-walking society). I didn't join, but I used to join them on the pub crawls and party nights they organised.
I am aware that the whole premise of this website is based on a work of science fiction, however I shall risk the wrath of many Researchers when I forewarn all prospective students to avoid the clutches of the sci-fi societies at their respective educational establishments.
Beware the geeky, pimpled youth with the rubber Klingon forehead, or the 'buxom' honours student in that all-too-revealing Princess Leia bikini. For all is not as it seems. Science fiction loses its place as an acceptable medium when the cafeteria is invaded by 'Daleks' constructed from old boxes and binliners, threatening to exterminate you if you do not join the 'Federation', 'Rebel Alliance' or any other illegitimate organisation. Get away from them - run up a flight of stairs and then, like the sci-fi geeks they are, they will refuse to follow to complete their perfect rendition of 'Doctor Who's nemesis.
So if, on your first day, you are assailed by cruel imitations of Starfleet operatives, do not under any circumstances let them 'take you to the brig'. Set your record bag to stun and sock them in the wormhole. Live long and prosper.
A response to the above...
While I have to agree that many members of my uni's sci-fi club were a little odd, I wouldn't advise steering clear altogether. I went along to the first meeting in Fresher's week and four years on, I'm getting married to the one normal guy that I did meet there. If you can sift through all the wannabe Klingons and Psi Cops, it is just possible to have a great time and make some good friends along the way.
Agreed. I rose to the heady heights of President, and I too married a co-member. We discovered that the trick was to run two events at the same time, one of which was a 'nerd decoy' like a 'Dr Who' video. Then those of us who weren't personality donors would go off and paaarty!
Overall, have no expectations going in. University will be so unlike anything you will have experienced before that you'll be setting yourself up for a fall if you daydream beforehand about what it will be like. It's closer to the real world than high school, but it's still a self-contained ecosystem with its own rules and experiences. Get in there and see what it's like.