I am now a second-year International Development student at the University of Sussex… adios my easy fresher days. But I remember how I felt this time last year – gaining a last-minute place, doing the classic IKEA shop and the numerous group chats (a group chat for every occasion apparently). My first year was a roller-coaster to say the least. Which is why I wanted to pen some thoughts about what I wish I knew before embarking on one of the greatest adventures of my life. Here goes!

1. Learn the life-hacks

The standard stereotype of a student constantly cooking pasta and not much else is pretty true. But learning a few tips and tricks on independent living could be one of the best advantages to give to yourself.

Firstly, crack on with some cooking lessons while you’re still at home. There is more to life than pasta. And while you’re at it, plan and prep your meals as much as possible. Using a shopping-list and freezing food for a later date saves both money and unnecessary food waste.

Secondly, learn how to use a washing machine. I’m ashamed to say that even after a gap year of ‘life experiences’, I was that fresher stuck in the laundry room on Sunday morning needing the receptionist’s help. Don’t be that fresher.

Thirdly, get going on those essays! It’s pretty ironic that I’m writing this, considering the time I spent smashing out my essays in a last-minute flurry. But those all-nighters and long days in the library are far from fun. And the same goes for submitting your work minutes before the deadline. Try to get going sooner rather than later and reach out if you need help.

2. The value of community 

University is an experience quite unlike any other. For most it’s the first time away from home, living independently with thousands of other pre twenty-somethings attempting the same. It’s a bit of a bubble really. For that reason, encountering loneliness at uni is real, and for some, very raw. Which is why finding your community is more essential than you’ll ever know.

I was fortunate to find a community of Christians where literal strangers would invite me out for coffee or open up their homes for dinner. It was so, so appreciated. Being in community offers the chance to be openly honest and allows for long-lasting, deeper friendships to be built. Joining like-minded societies whatever your interests is the BEST possible place to start. 

3. Invest your time wisely 

Terms are short and sweet. Proportionally speaking, you’ll only spend half a year engaged in study, so it’s vital to keep the big picture in mind. Due to the nature of my course (and most humanities subjects), my contact hours were few and far between and my responsibilities next to none. Which was fun for sure, but I really relished having a better routine heading in my second term.

Having a routine was far more productive for effective time-management. I recently read an article about how your habits at university develop and change you for your twenties and years to come, and it’s absolutely true. Your student days have the potential to be some of the most formative of your life. 

4. Allow time and space to settle 

Sure freshers week is great and an experience like no other, but it definitely wasn’t the pinnacle of my first year. There’s way too much pressure and high expectations placed on that one week. When in reality my best days where when I felt super settled and at home. At the beginning, I was absolutely adamant that my first church was ‘the one’, but I actually ended up moving churches after Christmas for somewhere where I felt more grounded.

And that is the reality of university life – you try new things, meet hundreds of people and create a routine which filters down to what suits you. Have fun!