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How to survive your first year at Uni

Updated 01 December 2022

4min read

Nick Green
Financial Journalist

Being a first-year student pitches you headlong into a whirlpool of studies, new relationships, independent living and money management. Here's some advice for staying afloat. Article by Nick Green.

Now the autumn term has kicked off, are you eagerly looking ahead to your first year at uni? We’d be surprised if the answer wasn’t both yes and no! You’re bound to be excited, but also nervous at what this new stage of your life will bring.

If you’re like most students, you’ll be living away from home for the first time. That means tackling the art of being independent – and it’s nowhere near as easy as your parents make it look. And yes, we know they make it look difficult…

But with a little up-front info you can ease smoothly into your exciting new life (and escape the patronising smirks of second-years who pretend they didn’t feel every bit as bewildered). Be a carefree fresher by following these simple tips.


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Plan your life at university

By now you probably think of yourself as pretty independent, making most of your own plans, organising your own travel, generally treating home like a hotel etc. Don’t believe it. There will still be aspects of your life that your parents are stage-managing behind the scenes, probably so unobtrusively that you kid yourself that it’s all you. They’re not here anymore. Now it really is all you.

So think about everything on your to-do list. Paying bills. Stocking the cupboards. Changing the linen. Laundry. Keeping important documents for when you need them. Not losing your keys. Eating healthily. Not losing your keys. Yes, we know we’ve said that already. And so on.

Top student advice: have a routine

Despite its reputation for drinking and partying, a lot of student life is about self discipline. It’s impossible to describe exactly how hard it is to get out of bed when no-one else in the world knows or really cares if you get up or not. The university doesn’t – they’re getting tens of thousands of pounds from you either way. Similarly, you will learn to schedule those hangovers so that they don’t coincide with early morning tutorials, essays or exams.

Here’s another important thing. A regular routine is psychologically valuable too, because it gives you a sense of purpose and structure at precisely the time when you might feel most uprooted and disorientated. It’s a teddy bear, basically. And yes, you can still have a teddy bear, we won’t tell a soul.

A regular routine doesn’t mean you can’t have a good time – all you have to do is schedule it in! Setting aside recreational time is important for a healthy work/life balance, and means you can enjoy yourself more both at work and play – because you can reassure yourself that you’d getting enough of both.

All of this is of course good practice for when you leave uni and go out into the wide world.  Once you graduate you’ll be expected to manage yourself, so get your training in now.

Managing your money as a fresher

One of the key factors of your student life will of course be personal finance. The majority of students in the UK struggle financially and have jobs to supplement their funds.

This might seem obvious, but: learn to budget! Put together either a weekly or a monthly budget, or both! And do actually write it down, or you’ll cheat. (Don’t cheat.)

Knowing your ingoings and outgoings is essential if you want to maintain a lifestyle and not end up getting into money troubles. Sure, someone might be able to bail you out, but even if they can: pretend that they can’t. Seriously, it’s good practice, and one day it’ll be true.

You don’t need great maths skills to knock together a budget that works. As usually, modern technology rides to the rescue in the form of various apps. These do some of the fiddly bits for you, and make your financial wranglings a lot easier to understand. Check out some of the best ones here.

Another way of staying out of money troubles is to earn a bit of extra cash on the side.

There are simpler and quicker ways than you think of earning money, such as ‘cashback no brainers’, couponing and filling out surveys. Find out more here.

Making friends at uni

Last but by no means least is that little thing called socialising. From the night you arrive, unis bend over backwards to get everyone at least acquainted.

Take a deep breath and dive right in! University can be the place where you’ll meet your next set of lifelong friends. Having said that, making new friends isn’t as simple as it might have been back at school. Not everyone gets on well with bar culture, so don’t feel like you have to go out drinking all the time just to fit in (apart from anything else, it’s expensive). A better way to get to know people can be through clubs and societies, and fortunately most unis are bursting with them, catering to almost every sport and niche interest you can think of.

Despite all of this, there will inevitably be times when you feel isolated and lonely. To go from being a senior at school to effectively starting a new life can be an emotional blow to anyone, and even the most independent of people get homesick too. Remember, there are always people you can talk to if you feel you’re not coping with this. And yes, it is perfectly normal to feel that way now and then.

We hope you’ve found this brief guide useful. There are all kinds of questions new students have, so if there’s anything else you need to know a wealth of resources are available.

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About the author
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.