Surviving your first year at university

As reading week approaches and deadlines edge nearer, Kate Oubridge-Egan shares her wisdom on surviving the remainder of the first term.

Illustration by Belinda Humphries.

To all the first-years out there: well done, you did it! You made it through the first few weeks of term and—if you’re lucky enough to have one—reading week is already on the horizon.

Now that you’re (hopefully) getting into the swing of things, you might have come across some of the difficulties that university brings: maybe you’re finding it difficult to balance your social life with the hours upon hours of studying you’ve been doing every night. Or—more realistically—you’re still trying to overcome the sinking feeling of homesickness while attempting to simultaneously kick that ever-persistent Freshers’ Flu. It’s okay though; what follows is some helpful advice to help you survive this semester and make it through to the Christmas holidays.


If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the workload, then you’re not alone—chances are that most people on your course feel the same way. Take a deep breath. The first few weeks of university are spontaneous and very changeable, but as you’re settling down it can be handy to make yourself a schedule: when your seminars are, which days of the week societies run their sessions, and when upcoming events are. This is great because, not only does it help you to stay organized, it saves you time otherwise spent stressing over double-booking yourself or missing any social events.


Depending on your course, you may have more / fewer contact hours than you first thought. If you have more, make sure you occasionally take time out to relax and recharge your batteries (especially if you’re still dealing with that awful Freshers’ Flu). Conversely, if you have fewer contact hours, this does not mean that you have all this free time in which to do absolutely nothing.

By all means, go out and have fun; but remember that your tutors expect you to be using this time for independent study. If you have a break in your daily timetable, try and catch up on missed lectures or get a head start on seminar questions. Don’t forget—you’ve come to university to get a degree, but you’re allowed to have some fun along the way!


Whether you came to university surrounded by mates or you’re fending for yourself, making friends and meeting new people is one of the best parts of starting university. The people you meet by chance can sometimes end up your friends for life. Don’t be afraid to initiate a conversation with someone sat next to you on the bus or in a lecture—they’re probably just as nervous and shy as you are! You’re all in the same boat.


There’s no doubt about it—university is expensive. So, take advantage of the student perks: student discounts, vouchers, and free meals offered by societies. You can save money and meet new people; it’s a two-for-one deal.


Grades perhaps not meeting your personal expectations, coupled with homesickness, is a recipe for disappointment. So, here’s a bonus tip: don’t be too hard on yourself. Don’t expect to get perfect results straight away as tertiary study is a complete learning curve—it might take a little while to fully get to grips with it. Keep yourself motivated and you’ll get there. As for homesickness, remember that it’s completely natural. Talk to family and friends from back home, but also university friends as they’re most likely feeling the same way. A problem shared is a problem solved.

Starting university can be a challenge. On the upside, these years will be some of the best you’ll have, and they’ll probably go by very quickly—especially your first. Just enjoy your time here, make the most of the opportunities that come your way, and get involved!