5 Things I Learnt During My First Year at University

first year university student

Going to university is one of many people’s life aspirations. Although the experience promises an amazing social life and education, it is also a very daunting shift in life. From leaving home to moving to a completely new area and living with strangers; first year is a learning curve guaranteed to teach you so much about yourself and those around you.

Many of you will soon be moving to university and starting the next chapter of your life. Now everything has fallen into place and your path for the next academic year is set in stone, it’s completely normal to spend time anticipating what’s to come. Having said this, it’s important not to overthink things and think negatively about them before they’ve even happened. Starting your university experience with a positive and open mind is key. It’s the start of a new chapter and you need to make the most of it.

Don’t let opportunities pass you by.

The pandemic is a prime example as to why you shouldn’t let opportunities pass you by. I’m so glad that I managed to fit so much into my first year, despite it coming to an abrupt end mid-March and having to move back home. It’s very true when they say you only regret the opportunities you didn’t take. 

Whether it’s joining a society, messaging someone on your course who you think would make a good friend or going on a night out; do it. You’ll look back and be so grateful that you decided to take the opportunity. Although getting a good education is important, university produces memories which will last a lifetime. Just think about your family members and former teachers who still talk about their university memories to this day – this could be you in the future if you don’t let opportunities pass you by.

Although your time at university should be enjoyable, you need to remember why you’re there. You want to set yourself up for a prosperous career and even though your degree will help you achieve this, so will the other opportunities you take up. Even if a certain activity isn’t related to your desired career path, it’ll still enable you to build on your character and learn new skills.

The importance of being yourself.

The friends you make at university will be your friends for life. It’s important that they get to know the real you. You’re more likely to build genuine, long-lasting friendships this way. For many people who’ve felt that they’ve had to be someone they’re not throughout their education so far, university gives you an opportunity to be unapologetically yourself.

Being yourself will have a positive impact on your happiness. Putting on a front and trying to be someone you’re not is exhausting, so why would you put yourself through that? Your friends will value you so much more for being yourself. Being real will attract the best people for you.

University isn’t a time for you to worry about what other people think and to be a people-pleaser. You’ve embarked on this next chapter of your life for your own benefit, so make sure that everything you do, you do for yourself. There will be thousands of people at your university so if your friends don’t appreciate you for who you are, I can guarantee there’ll be another group of people who will. It’s important not to settle for less than what you deserve.

Comparing yourself to others will get you nowhere. 

University is completely different to anything you’ll have experienced before. You’re surrounded by individuals who’ll have completely different strengths and weaknesses, which is why comparing yourself to them is pointless. Everyone is on their own journey and someone being better or worse than you at something is irrelevant. Supporting other people’s successes will not hinder your own.

Comparing yourself to others is self-deprecating. Nobody compares themselves to someone who’s done worse than them, it’s always someone who’s done better. Whether these are personal or academic achievements, focus on your own. Although it’s important to congratulate others on their successes, these are not comparable to yours.

Having said this, there is a difference between comparing yourself to others and being inspired by others. It is possible to compare yourself to someone else in a positive way. It’s fine to admire the progress of older students who are on the same course as you, or someone who holds a role on a society committee. Where they are may be where you want to be in the next couple of years, so take inspiration from them and allow them to motivate you.

You’re not going to like everyone you meet.

There are thousands of people at university, which is a huge amount compared to the school you previously attended. Of course it’s impossible to meet everyone at your university, but you will come into contact with a lot more people than before. You have to be prepared that you’re not going to like everyone and not everyone is going to like you. Just as long as you have a group of friends that you feel contented with this shouldn’t matter.

By the time we all go to university, we tend to have a good grasp on our sense of self. We’re aware of our morals, beliefs and opinions on particular topics. I cannot stress enough that these will never align perfectly with everyone else’s. It’ll depend on the course you’re on and the university you go to as to the type of people you’re surrounded by. Although it can be good to discuss differences in opinion with others, sometimes it’s best to agree to disagree.

The same principle applies to your lecturers. There are going to be lecturers who you prefer and have a better relationship with than others. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about the fact you have to attend their classes. It’s also important to acknowledge that it’s okay to change your opinions on people as you progress through your time at university. Someone who you couldn’t see yourself being friends with may become one of your best friends, or you may have a great working relationship with a lecturer whose classes you once disliked.

Sometimes you’ll feel lonely, but you’re never alone.

In no way is university a lonely experience, but you’re guaranteed to feel homesick every now and then. It can be difficult to adjust from your home life to your university life. You may miss your parents, siblings, or other family members but your friends are guaranteed to be there for you when you need them the most – this reinforces the importance of being yourself in order to build these genuine friendships in the first instance. 

University can be a testing experience; I can vouch for this. Testing times show you who’s truly there for you. I was very lucky to learn what great friends I’d made so early on during my time at university. Don’t take your friends for granted because they make university your home away from home.

One of the key things to remember is that bad days are only temporary. One day you may feel homesick, but the following day you may feel the happiest you’ve felt during your time away from home. Surrounding yourself with people who validate your feelings and emotions is the best thing you can do. Those who don’t support you, make time to listen and understand why you feel a certain way shouldn’t hold a place in your life. 

Your university experience will differ from everyone else’s, but that’s what makes it such an important time in your life. Make the most of everything it has to throw at you and continue to learn and grow through it all. From a second-year student who cannot believe how fast my first year went, don’t take any aspect of your university experience for granted.

Words by Katie Wheatley

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