'Dos' and 'Don'ts' for freshers: a guide based on what I wished I'd known before beginning university


Catherine Gregson offers her advice to freshers on what to do and what not to do during university

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Image by Nick Youngson, Alpha Stock Images

By Catherine Gregson

Beginning university can be a daunting prospect. Most first year university students will never have experienced that level of independence before. All of a sudden, you have to know what temperature to wash jeans at, how to budget, and how much turmeric to put in a curry. But every year, just like the last, freshers survive and get to grips with living independently – you’ll be surprised by quite how fast you can get used to it.

Every university has its own quirks and differences, and at the University of York the most famous of these is waterfowl! According to The York Tab, in 2018 the university was voted the second highest for duck density in the UK. This brings its own set of challenges, as you carefully give a wide berth to geese and duck faeces on your way to a lecture, or if you live in Derwent or James college in the spring you may find yourself awoken to the noise of geese honking. But despite these small annoyances, you could find yourself (like me) developing a soft spot for waterfowl which you won’t be able to shake for years to come.

However, with that said, there are many other things to negotiate and think about when starting university. So, here’s my personal list of dos and don’ts for incoming freshers:

DO put yourself out there and make new friends!
Making new friends is imperative when beginning university. You will want them: to help you with your studies, for advice, to have fun with, to dry your tears and to share your time at university with. These are the friends that you, potentially, will know for years and will find yourself reminiscing over your time at university with them when you’re sitting in armchairs and beginning to sprout grey hairs! The best way to make new friends is to put yourself out there: whether that’s going clubbing, hosting a party, speaking to new people in your lectures and seminars, or even just going into your kitchen and getting to know your flatmates. Whichever way you choose, have confidence in yourself and maybe compliment something about them or what they’re wearing, you never know where it’ll lead!

DO join societies and sports teams
Another way to make friends is to join societies and sports teams! There are so many weird and wonderful societies you can join: Animal Crossing Society, Album Society, York Student Think Tank, Cat Society, Fashion Society and even a Louis Theroux Society! Take your pick – the university has a society for everyone (check out the YUSU website) . Don’t worry, on joining most societies, you have no obligation to remain as part of them – you can leave if you decide it’s not for you and join another one. Don’t forget about the sports teams too! There are college sports teams if you don’t want to play too seriously, and university teams if you play a sport to a serious level, but they’re all very welcoming.

DO take time for yourself
Amongst all the hustle and bustle of your first year, it’s important to practise some self-care. Don’t let yourself burn out. Take time to check in with yourself every now and again. This could be taking a nice walk around campus (walking around Derwent, to The Quiet Place and Heslington Hall) or, if you’d like to head off campus, to Millennium Bridge and Rowntree Park (a couple of favourites of mine). If you prefer the indoors, then spending the evening in your room watching one of your favourite films, spending time on skincare,playing an instrument, gaming, or doing a long yoga session will help to reduce stress and decrease the risk of burnout in the first few weeks and beyond.

DO go to your lectures and /seminars
Yes, it’s ‘only first year’ but this year prepares you for the next, far more serious years to come. Also, if you’re considering doing a year in industry or a year abroad, then first year does matter. Try to get into good routines of going to your lectures and seminars (you also can’t make friends with your course mates through a lecture recording video!) and completing required work, you won’t regret it. It may only stress you out if you turn up to a seminar without having done the reading beforehand – save yourself the anxiety.

DO educate yourself on spiking and watch your drink
Drink spiking is sadly something that happens nationwide. In March, the York Press reported that the police had issued a warning to people, after an increase in reports of drink spiking in York. Read up on drink spiking and learn how to keep yourself, and your friends safe. Actions such as not letting a stranger buy you a drink and recognising the signs of someone that’s been spiked can help to keep people safer.
DO take care with freshers' flu
It’s not a myth. It happens, and I’ve experienced it first-hand two years in a row. Stock-up on Lemsip, paracetamol, tissues and Vicks products (lifesavers!). Give your immune system time to recover and try to get some sleep amongst all the clubbing to help your body! No one is safe from it as your flatmates and course-mates will pass it on.

DO touristy things in York
York is beautiful. Try to take time in your first year to experience the city through the eyes of a tourist and not just a drinker. The York Walls, independent cafes and restaurants (but the Ask Italian is gorgeous inside), The Dungeons, ghost walks, The Minster, The Art Gallery, Clifford’s Tower… these are just a handful of great things to do when you get the chance.

DO invest in a hand wash laundry liquid
It will save you a fair bit on Circuit Laundry if you just fill your sink with warm water and use the handwash (as directed) on your underwear and maybe other garments every now and again.

DO register at a GP
Don’t forget to register with a GP in York. You will regret it if not: I ended up with a bad ear infection in my first year without having a GP to go to and suffered through on ibuprofen until I got home for the summer.

DO get tested (STDs)
A more serious one. Get yourself tested. Make sure you are clean and have a record of it so you don’t have to worry and can tell those you need to. Use barrier methods of contraception (condoms). You don’t know who is potentially carrying what. I’m sure you’d rather not risk it. This website will help you find your nearest clinic. Or you can get free and discreet home testing kits here. But remember that these kits cannot test for both types of herpes.

DO learn how to cook a good range of meals
Even if you live in catered accommodation in your first year, meals are usually only served five days a week so you will need to be able to cook for the weekends and from second year onwards all the time. Get to grips with being able to cook a good range of meals you enjoy eating. Unless you have money coming out of your ears you won’t be able to afford to live off takeaways, cooking is much cheaper and much healthier. I’d also recommend learning to cook a few quick meals – something like a simple pasta dish for when you’re in a rush.

DON’T annoy the geese
Just don’t. They’ll only respond how they’re programmed to. You don’t want to end up having to deal with angry greylag geese.

DON’T do flatcest
Controversial, but from what I’ve seen and heard: in most cases it doesn’t work. You may manage to last out the year together, but you’ll only realise after that it was out of convenience or because you saw them every day that something ended up happening. What if you break up? You live with them, so you’ll have to see them every day afterwards, which could be upsetting and traumatic. Moreover, it just makes it awkward for your flatmates and can cause divisions if the relationship ends. Don’t settle for the person next door – get out to parties and meet new people!

DON’T stay in your room and isolate yourself
For obvious reasons: you’ll find it much harder to make friends and this could detriment your mental health. However, if you are going through it, Open Door (university counselling support) is available to help you, and your college team will also offer great support.

DON’T rush into a relationship as soon as you start university, take time to enjoy it and have some fun with your friends!
You’re in your first year at university! Partners come and go but some friends are forever (I mean this in the least cheesy way possible!). Don’t be swept off your feet by someone seemingly charming within your first few months there, give yourself time to settle in and meet new people. Don’t abandon your friends and miss out on new experiences for someone – this can all come later. Let your feet touch the ground first.

DON’T be reckless with alcohol
It varies, but some incoming freshers may not have had many experiences with alcohol before being thrown in the deep end at university. Some people will know their tolerances better than others. Take it easy if you’re learning yours: don’t dive in headfirst and end up being vulnerable and having to be put to bed as you’re carried away from clinging onto the toilet seat. Take it easy with the shots, stick to things like Sourz if you’re new to drinking a lot. Line your stomach before drinking always, have a decent meal before you start. Moreover, make sure you’re drinking enough water during the day before the evening if you’re going to be consuming alcohol as alcohol will dehydrate you.

DON’T be reckless with sex
Just don’t. You’ll end up regretting it and there isn’t always a fallback or ‘Plan B’. As exciting as sex can be, don’t have heterosexual sex without a condom: because you run the risk of a pregnancy and the morning after pill is only effective if taken before ovulation and the longer you leave it, the less effective it becomes. Even then, there’s still a small chance it might not work. Use contraception please! Some STDs are untreatable (HIV, HPV, cervical cancer, herpes…), so once you’ve got them, that’s it. If you don’t know if they’re clean do not risk it. You will regret it.

DON’T spend all your money in freshers week!
Work out a weekly budget for university and try to stick to it. Don’t splurge it all in week one!

DON’T be afraid to try new things
This is your time to explore and experience things! You’re young, free and your life is just beginning. Don’t be afraid to try new music, food, fashion, alcohol, hobbies, dance styles, societies etc… You never know who you’ll meet along the way.

DON’T ignore your gut
Listen to it, it exists for a reason. You will need to pay attention to it now, more than ever as you step into independence. If it’s telling you to not trust someone: don’t, if it tells you to avoid something: do, if it tells you there’s bad vibes: don’t ignore it. It’s unexplainable but it might just keep you safe, even if you don’t understand why it was giving you those signals in the first place.

These are just a few of my own tips to help you enjoy your time at university. Have fun, try out new things, but stay safe!