Hindsight is a wonderful, yet bittersweet thing. Looking back at a situation with a newfound rationality and thinking (somewhat frustratingly) if only I had known that back then. Now that I am a wise old second year*, these moments of hindsight are becoming all the more common. There is so much advice that I would give to my first-year self if I had the chance now, but for the purposes of this post I have whittled it down to just five little nuggets of wisdom that I would like to share with you.
Friendships take time.
When I came to university, I thought that by the end of the first month I would have found my solid friendship group. Looking back now, I realise how unrealistic that actually was. Don’t get me wrong, you might be one of the lucky ones that have flat mates delivered straight from heaven and find your university soul mates in the first week. However, for most students, this isn’t the case. I found myself feeling frustrated as time went on and I just hadn’t found my clique. Coming from a large and extremely close knit friendship group at home, nothing I had at university seemed to compare. As disheartening as this can be, it takes a while to accept that friendships take time, Rome wasn’t built in a day and (most of the time) friendships can’t be either. Personally, I didn’t meet some of my closest friends until half way through my first year at university, and I am still meeting new people all the time. Although it can be frustrating feeling that you need to actively search for your friends, it will feel SO worth it once you find a few little gems. My advice would be to just relax. Take as many opportunities as you can to meet people: join societies, go on nights out and don’t be afraid to approach others first- why not ask that girl from your seminar if she’s going out tonight? Put yourself out there and your efforts will absolutely pay off.
You never know what goes on behind closed doors.
Despite my addiction to it, I maintain that social media is one of the most prominent encouragers of self-criticism. The desire to share our lives with others fuels an underlying social competition that creates a breeding ground for anxieties. I accept myself as a hypocrite; there are certain things I hate about social media, yet I am aware that I will probably continue to use it for the rest of my life- and will enjoy doing so. Bearing this in mind, it’s important to give yourself a reminder from time to time that social media is simply not real. Social pressure is never higher than when you first join university, as you sit back watching everyone desperately trying to prove that they are having the best time, have met the best friends, and that life has never been better. It’s easy to compare yourself to every single person on your timeline, envying their lives and thinking why am I not having that much fun? But just remember that like you, people only post their best bits- nobody posts the boring stuff. We all fall into the comparison trap every once in a while, but we are trying to keep up with unrealistic standards. Social media is a great way to share your best moments, but that doesn’t mean it’s an accurate representation of people’s lives- so try to keep that in mind when you’re scrolling.
Check, check and check again.
There have been a few times in my life that a piece of news has made my stomach churn. Receiving an email that I had submitted the wrong essay for an assessment worth 75% of a module was definitely one of them. Doing a joint honours degree can be stressful at the best of times, especially when you have two essays with the same deadline, and I found this out the hard way. After an entire blissful week of thinking I had gotten my two biggest assignments out of the way, I received the ominous email marked ‘URGENT’ that shattered my comfortable illusion. After battling with my course convenors and crying to my English lecturer (yes, I really am that embarrassing), I managed to convince them to reduce my penalty to just 5% and just about saved myself from failing the module. It’s safe to say that it has made me so paranoid about future essay submissions that I will NEVER make the same mistake again.
You came to university to learn.
Coming from a small school with a tiny sixth form it was easy to feel like a big fish in a little pond. Most of my life I have felt relatively intelligent and when I secured an unconditional at my first-choice university, I was over the moon. What I didn’t realise, was how horrendously average I would feel compared to the other students on my course. Every student has heard that speech when they were at sixth form, telling you that A-levels are harder than your first year at uni and that everything you do as a fresher is going to be one big doss. So, it was a bit of a shock to the system when, lo and behold, I actually found my course difficult. I had had naïve expectations about my first year and so was disheartened to discover that I couldn’t just miraculously bang out first class essays from the get go. Being at a Russell Group university means that I am surrounded by extremely intelligent people, so when I wasn’t receiving those higher grades, I fell back into the comparison trap. I have always been, and always will be my own toughest critic, so I spent a large part of first year feeling pretty inadequate.
Until one day, I sat back and realised that it actually didn’t matter. The whole point of coming to university is to learn and, especially at a Russell group university, you can’t expect to ace your degree from the get go. What’s the point in paying over £9,000 a year if you aren’t going to improve? In reality, it took most of my first year for me to get the hang of what I was even doing. That’s what first year is all about and why (thank the gods) it doesn’t count towards your degree- so stop being so hard on yourself.
You probably won’t die if you eat that.
Living in my first-year halls, I was unfortunately located roughly a half an hour walk from the closest Aldi. So, after practically dislocating my shoulders every time I carried my bags home, food shopping became my least favourite activity. This meant that my fridge was reduced to a tin of beans and half a loaf of bread more times than I would care to admit- however, finding the motivation to trek all the way to the supermarket proved rather difficult. One thing I definitely learnt in this time is that food ‘sell by’ dates are pretty much one big myth. (I also learnt that I was pretty oblivious all round when it came to cooking). Google rapidly became my worst enemy, a few quick searches and I was left planning my own funeral after eating some mushrooms that might have seen better days. Thankfully, I was relieved to come away unscathed, ready to live another day. If I could advise my younger self now, I’d tell her that she probably won’t die if she stops taking those little dates quite so seriously.**
There you have it, these are just a few of the things I would tell myself in first year if I had the opportunity. Although, above everything that I have mentioned, I think I would remind myself to just relax and stop worrying about everything and anything under the sun. I’ve noticed that things have a funny habit of working out in the end, so it’s not a complete disaster if something doesn’t meet your initial expectations. Make the most of your experience whilst you have the chance, because it won’t be long before you’re stood holding your graduation papers and wondering where all that time went!
*I realise that I am neither old nor particularly wise. However, I am slightly older and slightly wiser than I was this time last year.
** I am not advocating that you should go and eat meat that is past its use by date or a loaf of bread with fur growing on it. As a general rule, if it’s turning green then you should probably steer clear.