When I set out to write an article about fresher’s week, I noticed that there is a shedload of information available to a prospective student and as you might expect most of it isn’t that helpful. What struck me was the mostly exaggerated portrayal of fresher’s week commentators seemed desperate to give, portraying either an aura of mystical amazingness with Comments like: ‘Freshers week proved to be the most important week of my life’[i]; or amplified its scary negative portrayal as a week of debauchery which carried the huge risk of binge drinking, drug taking and sex that students must avoid to stay safe.
What these portrayals fail to tell you is that there is so much more to freshers’ week than partying and that there is so much more to your university life than freshers’ week! With this in mind, it is important to manage expectations. Don’t get me wrong there is so much to be excited about, but it is certainly not the be all and end all of your university career and, for most, probably not the best week of your life.
And so, I have cherry picked the best and the worst of the internet’s seemingly endless freshers’ ‘advice’ and combined it with my own personal experiences to give you Thrive & Survive’s three pillars of freshers’ week.
For me, the freshers’ week experience is summed up perfectly on the UCAS website by this video, (click the link below to watch).
‘making lots of friends, meeting lots of people… just doing loads of really fun things, really fun exciting good people’
The mix of unrestraint hyperbole of how amazing freshers’ week is and the totally underwhelmed tone reflect the strange area in memory that freshers’ week inhabits for many people… However, the content of her speech leads me nicely on to the first and most important of my freshers week ‘pillars’, ‘Making lots of friends and meeting lots of people’.
Meeting people is no doubt the most important aspect of freshers’ week (even my other two ‘pillars of freshers week’ are mostly about interacting with new people!). You will inevitably come into contact with a substantial amount of new people, however this really doesn’t have to be as frightening as it might seem, even if meeting new people isn’t your favorite thing (personally I have never been more terrified than my drive up to uni). What is crucial to always remember is that firstly, everyone is in the same boat. Your new flatmates will be as keen to meet new people as you are. And secondly, Jennifer O’Mahony from The Telegraph’s most important piece of advice:
‘The people in your student halls don’t have to be your lifelong friends’[iii]
And it is the same with everyone you meet in freshers’ week! Social media may trick you into thinking that everyone you know has already found their best friends in their freshers’ weeks – but they probably haven’t. You will build new relationships in the weeks, months and years to come, so there is no need to put pressure on your new relationships. At the same time, if you meet people you love in freshers’ week then great!
When it comes to meeting these new people, the advice can often be patronizing, best exemplified by these golden nuggets from Studential;
‘Smiling a lot will make you seem more approachable!’
‘Bringing a tin of cakes, cookies or chocolate bars will attract people to knocking on your door instantly’[iv]
However, the message these somewhat misguided snippets of advice are trying to get across is actually useful. Being friendly is obvious advice, but it’s also about taking the initiative to meet new people, which will nearly always be rewarded in freshers’ week. So whether you actually get baking or simply leave your door open (the most common piece of fresher advice on the internet) it’s all good! When you take the steps that others are afraid of, people will be grateful and responsive. For example, my flat mate made a sign in the kitchen inviting everyone to flat drinks as soon as we arrived and it was such a relief for someone to take the initiative and encourage everyone to socialize.
Going out and drinking are very much built up to seem like an essential part of freshers’ week. Don’t get me wrong, if done right they can be a fulfilling part of your opening weeks at uni as they are a great way to meet people and make some early memories. What is important is that you can remember. Getting black out pissed is a direct route to feeling embarrassed during freshers’ week,
Let me tell you a story:
On my first night of my freshers’ week, I had a whole pint poured over me by what can only be described as a mess of a fresher- who had spent the night drunkenly pirouetting around the room, smashing glasses, invading personal space and later puking all over the floor.
He soon moved out of our accommodation. There are thousands of stories with exactly the same plot from freshers’ week which is a great shame! Embarrassing yourself doesn’t have to be an awful experience and can be a part of forging new friendships and memories – however, regularly losing control of yourself from drinking can lead to embarrassments you can’t get over- it can define you. Besides, you don’t want to feel the need to move because of it.
If you do have a bad night however, don’t hide away! Trying to hide will only accentuate your own negative feelings of the evening, but if you talk to others that were there it could make you feel better- especially if an apology is due.
Try not to bite off more than you can chew, ‘It’s a good idea to take a break from your partying during the week.’[v] is amongst the most common advice. Save the student’s: 36 mistakes every fresher makes, includes ‘attending every freshers event’[vi]. But don’t fall for their generalization- not every fresher goes to every event, so there is no need to feel like you have to burn yourself out to maintain a social parity. And of course I have to mention, as every other article does, freshers flu is unfortunately real and is a direct result of going to town on the drinks. The Sun’s article ‘uni 101 What to take to uni: the ultimate freshers checklist’[vii]suggests berocca as the fourth most important thing to take to university, in order to avoid freshers flu. Again, this only puts pressure on how much drinking some are expecting you to do, but don’t listen to the sun! You don’t have to drink too much to have fun, besides berocca is (pretty much) bullshit and probably won’t do anything to stop you getting the flu!
If they are your thing, drinking and going out can be a lot of fun, just don’t let it dominate your uni experience.
On the other hand, Unite student survey of over 2,500 people found that only 53% admitted to drinking alcohol during fresher’s week-[viii] So if drinking isn’t your thing you are far from alone and it certainly doesn’t exclude you from enjoying freshers week! There are many ways to get involved without drinking, unis such as Man Met and York have even formed Sober Societies:
‘We started the society with those in mind who occasionally or do not drink to provide an alternative to the mainstream freshers’ nightlife’[ix]
If drinking is not for you, the best advice out there comes again from Jennifer O’Mahony:
‘There is no need to spend time with people who are constantly drunk and boring – the best thing about university is that there will always be someone like-minded out there in the crowd.’[x]
It is established therefore that you don’t need alcohol in Freshers week to meet new people- another excellent way to do this is…
Unite’s student survey found that 46% of students joined a society. I was initially surprised by how low this figure was, before remembering that one of my biggest regrets from my time at Uni is never joining a society.
Try and make the effort to go to the freshers’ fair and see the cornucopia of options available to you! Don’t be afraid to sign up to a number of them, you can give them a try them before you spend a penny.
Not only are societies another great way to meet people, but they also represent life beyond freshers’ week. Societies can become a core part of your uni experience, much more than a fun way to meet new people in your first few weeks. The interests you develop here could even become lifelong hobbies- and these hobbies range far beyond just sports! Freshers’ week is the best time to have a look around and see the full range of societies your university has to offer… there are some pretty interesting ones out there: https://studenthut.com/articles/11-weirdest-university-societies[xi]
Although societies are an important part of freshers’ week don’t think you’ve missed the boat if you don’t attend – you can join societies at any time…
Societies give you great opportunities that could be unique to your university career so I would really advise not missing out.
‘And that’s the key to freshers week: go in open-minded, join all sorts of societies, meet as many people as you can. Step out of your bubble, your comfort zone, your social circle. Let the handbrake off, loosen up, look around you and fall for people.’- Henry Wintern, Times’ [xii]
Obviously don’t go too crazy but I agree with Henry, it is an excellent chance to get involved in things and you shouldn’t overlook these sorts of opportunities all in the name of drinking or even because you are nervous. Perhaps more leveled advice is:
‘In the end, you’ll have the best time if you don’t try too hard to be somebody you’re not and don’t worry too much that you could be having more fun somewhere else.’ – Eion Duffy, Times’[xiii]
Finding an early balance between the social aspects and grasping the opportunities that are presented to you during this time period will result in a better freshers’ week. Meeting people is such a huge part of your university career, but I promise you it will happen. Remember above all that this is just one or two weeks out of three years, the opportunities you get, fun you have and people you meet beyond this week will be far more important. So, please try to enjoy it, be excited, but remember to not take it too seriously and to treat it as what it is, an introduction to something far more important- your whole uni career!
Bede Rauh, Director at Thrive & Survive