What to expect from your first year

Starting university can be an exciting but daunting time, and your first year can often feel like a whirlwind of new experiences, new opportunities and new challenges. Knowing what to expect beforehand can help prepare you for what is to come, and it may also put your mind at ease to know plenty of others will be in the same boat.

Based on what students have told us about their own experiences, we've put together some common issues that may arise during your first year and a bit of advice on how best to handle them. The issues below are typical for many students and it is completely normal to have the odd doubt or worry during a time of such change. However if you do find yourself particularly struggling or if any more serious problems arise, then support is always at hand.

 

August

Finding out about your accommodation

Around this time you will find out which halls of residence you have been allocated and which flat you will be in. If you aren't assigned halls on campus it can be easy to feel disappointed and worried about missing out, but many students find that off-campus halls naturally create a tighter sense of community to compensate. Once you know your flat number you can also use the Student Mentors' 'Flatmate Finder' app to get chatting to your flatmates on Facebook before you arrive.

Preparing for university

You will no doubt feel a mixture of excitement and nervousness about starting university and moving away from home. Going to university will offer a whole host of great opportunities and experiences, but it also means leaving behind the sense of security and comfort of home. The best thing you can do is to prepare well by packing everything you might need and learning how to carry out a few basic tasks such as using a washing machine or cooking.

Planning Welcome Week

Once your place at the University has been confirmed, one of the most exciting tasks is planning your Welcome Week. You can build your Welcome timetable online which will show you what events are compulsory but will also show you what optional activities are taking place based on what you are interested in. There is also an official 'Freshers' Fest' Facebook page run by The Guild of Students which can help you decide which events you would like to attend. 

 

September

 Making friends

It's important to everyone that they make friends when they start university, so it can be hard if you don't find a great group of friends immediately. The important thing to remember is that building strong friendships takes time, and it may take a while to properly get to know people on your course. Don't be discouraged if you don't feel as though your flatmates are going to be your best friends - there are plenty of other ways to meet people. Get involved with groups and societies and make the effort to chat to people on your course and you will eventually settle in to friendships, even if it takes a little longer than you'd hoped.

Welcome Week 

It's more common than you may think for students to have worries about Welcome Week. Some students feel there is a pressure to party hard, and worry that if they don't they will miss out on a crucial period of bonding with those in their accommodation. Though it is good to get involved in Welcome Week social activities, you don't have to do anything you don't want to, and the Guild of Students put on a number of events that are not centred around alcohol. The main thing to remember is that it is only one week, and though it seems important at the time, very soon it won't matter what you did or didn't do during Welcome Week. 

Looking after your health

The start of the university year often brings with it a bought of illness commonly called 'freshers' flu'. The combination of mixing with people from all over the world, alcohol, exhaustion and a poor diet often leads to most first years feeling run-down and suffering from flu-like symptoms at the start of term. For this reason it is important to spare a thought for your health at this time. Perhaps organise a more subdued social activity one evening and try not to only eat take-aways for an entire week!

 

 October

Homesickness

Once the excitement of starting university begins to die down, for some students homesickness can start to kick in. This is a completely normal part of moving away from home and there are things you can do to make it easier. Many students find that it helps to stay at university until reading week, as going back home too soon before you've properly had chance to settle in can make it harder to come back and adjust to your new life. Remember that homesickness is temporary and living away from home will eventually feel normal. 

Beginning your course

Once term begins everyone will be getting to grips with their new course and the degree-level style of teaching and learning. It's normal to feel slightly daunted when you first begin, and making the transition from A level can take a while for some students. To help make the transition easier you can get support from the Academic Skills Centre who help undergraduates develop as academic learners. If you find yourself questioning whether you have chosen to study the right course, the best thing to do is talk to your personal tutor. 

Living in shared accommodation

If you are living in shared accommodation October is the month in which everyone begins to settle down and relax around those they are living with. Becoming comfortable with your flatmates is generally a great experience, but people letting their guard down can lead to some tension and possibly the odd argument. Sharing your living space means that some disagreements are natural, but if you find that there are some more serious issues between yourselves you can always talk to your Student Mentors who will help mediate any problems. 

 

 November/December

First assignments

Around November most students will be submitting their first formative assignment. Tutors will not expect these first assignments to be perfect, but they will want to see that you have engaged with the module and have put effort into your work. If you feel you need extra support with your assignments you can always visit your tutors in their office hours, which are specific times of the week that they set aside to discuss work with students. Using your tutor's office hours is not a sign that you're struggling more than those that don't; students at every level can benefit greatly from additional contact time.

House hunting

Talk of finding a house for next year can start as early as November. Even if you begin to hear of groups already signing house contracts it's important not to feel as though you have to rush. You may very well need more time to arrange who you are going to be sharing with, as friendships at this stage are still not written in stone. It's also important not to feel pressured by your peers or a landlord to sign a contract too early on as it's a better idea to look around and consider your options first. The Guild of Students put on specific house hunting advice events as well as events aimed at helping you meet potential housemates if you haven't yet found yourself a group to live with.

Returning home 

Most students return home for the Christmas break which lasts around four weeks. Students are usually glad to return to the comforts of home and spend time with their families, but it can also come with some mixed feelings. Now that you'll have been living independently for a term, it can sometimes be difficult to fit back in to family life. Try being open with your parents and discuss with them expectations from both sides, such as helping with chores or letting them know your plans. 

 

 January/February

Returning to university

Coming back to university after a long Christmas break is often one of the hardest points of the year for students. It is common for students to have mixed feelings about leaving home again, and without the excitement that came with starting university, moving away in January can sometimes be harder than it was in September. If you do find you feel this way, try to distract yourself with your studies and the opportunities available to you at university. The Guild of Students' 'Give It a Go' fair is held in January and can be a great chance to get involved in something new. 

Exams

Some students will have exams when they return in January, which will be their first experience of university examinations. The best way to beat exam stress is to prepare properly. As well as revising make sure you know the practicalities of your exams such as how long they are, exactly where on campus they are and how long it will take you to get there. 

Transition review

Every first year student will be asked to attend a transition review when they return in January. This is a compulsory meeting with your personal tutor to discuss how you are getting on academically and how you are settling in to university life. Although this is a formal review, it is not something to be concerned about as tutors will be looking for ways to help you with anything you're struggling with. Make sure you prepare properly for the meeting so that you can get the most out of the support available to you. 

 

March/April

Coursework deadlines

Often coursework deadlines fall in the first week of the third term, and students are sometimes unprepared for how close this is to exam season. Learning how to manage your time well is really important for independent study and will help to make sure that you don't feel overwhelmed by your workload. 

Revision

April is typically revision period. It's a good idea to work out early on how you work best, and whether you work better from your accommodation or a study space on campus. If you find you aren't coping well, don't feel as though it is a weakness to seek support. Students' work ethics in the first year can vary greatly, but make sure that you are doing what you need to do regardless of how much revision your flatmates are doing. 

Planning for the summer

This time of the year is also when many students start to organise their summer. Whether you decide to go travelling, work part time or get an internship, these things usually need organising well in advance. You can use Careers Connect to search vacancies for summer jobs and work experience and you can also set up a meeting with a Careers Network advisor for help with your application and interview skills. 

 

May/June

Exam season

This time of year is exam season at the university. If these are your first exams at Birmingham then make sure to familiarise yourself with the examination venues and how to get there. Keep eating well and get lots of sleep and exercise to combat stress. Though there may be no compulsory contact hours during this period, your tutor will still be available to meet with you during their office hours, so make use of this if you are unsure of anything relating to your course.

Returning home for the summer

Most students return home for the summer at the end of the third term. Make sure you know the procedure for clearing out your accommodation and have made the necessary arrangements for getting your possessions back home. Often students find themselves returning to a slower pace of life, and it can be particularly difficult if your old social circle has faded over the past year. If you find yourself missing university life, keep busy with part time work or get stuck in to your reading list for next year.  

Reflecting on your year

At the end of the year students often naturally reflect on their time at university so far. If you feel as though you haven't made the most of the opportunities available to you, now may be a good time to make a list of what you hope to achieve in the coming year. It is never too late to join a new society, volunteer or gain valuable work experience, so don't feel discouraged if there are things you are still yet to get involved in.