Freshers Week Advice

‘If you’re not enjoying freshers’ week, ride it out’ – why it doesn’t have to be the best week of your life | The Guardian clearing hub | The Guardian

Some new students will love the first week of university. But if your own experience isn’t living up to the hype, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Here’s why it’s worth giving yourself more time to settle in.

If you believe the hype, freshers’ week is one long party: filled with nights out, new friends and dubious amounts of booze. For anyone heading to uni, it’s a rite of passage – but although there is a huge amount of pressure on students to wring every ounce of fun out of that first, whirlwind week, they sometimes find it’s not quite the experience they were expecting.

As well as settling into your rooms and meeting people who could be a friend for life (or ditched by week two), your first week can be a mixed bag, with highs and lows. The thrill of independence is likely to be interspersed with moments of homesickness and anxiety.

“Fresher pressure can be overwhelming for new students – expectations of freshers’ week, the need to attend endless pre-drinks to avoid Fomo, the thought that they’ll have to perform academically,” says Rachel Vora, lead psychotherapist at CYP, a wellbeing service for young people.

“There are extremely high expectations that you’ll meet your best friends, have fantastic nights out, and love your new environment. However, many students take time to settle in, and homesickness and anxiety are extremely common. Some may find it challenging meeting new people, dislike clubbing, or prefer more alone time.”

The distorted reality portrayed on social media, of students enjoying a thriving social life, is an experience of freshers’ week many students can’t relate to, she says.

Illustration with quote - “It’s important to feel in control of your own space”

Oscar Jordan-Burrows, 19, is studying history and politics at the University of Hull, and agrees that expectations of that fabled first week don’t always match reality.

“I thought freshers’ week was going to be like the stories I’d heard: going out every night, lots of sex, everyone being happy,” says Jordan-Burrows. “Before I arrived at uni, I felt there was a lot of pressure to make my experience reflect those expectations, but when you’re actually there, you realise it’s not necessarily like that.

“Freshers’ week is sold as the best week of your life, but it’s not, really. You start going out every night, then quickly realise you’re just doing it because everyone else is. I’d advise new students to enjoy it – but enjoy it at your own pace.”

And if you don’t make any friends during freshers’ week, don’t assume you’re not going to make any throughout the whole year, he says. “The first week isn’t going to decide your future.”

If you arrive at uni and it’s not quite what you expected, it’s important to realise that you’re not alone, and that freshers’ week is just one week of an experience that stretches over several years.

Quote - “The distorted reality portrayed on social media is an experience of freshers’ week many students can’t relate to”

“Unrealistic expectations can result in feelings of self-doubt, disappointment and low mood, as students question why their experience isn’t matching their expectations,” says Vora.

“It’s important to set manageable expectations prior to going to university, to prevent those feelings developing into mental health conditions. You should also try talking to your peers about how you feel, to avoid loneliness and isolation.”

Felix Hawes has just completed his politics and international relations degree at the University of Nottingham. He agrees that it’s good to talk if you’re finding freshers’ week difficult, and advises students who are struggling to ride it out.

“I was quite frightened about starting university, moving away from home and not knowing anybody,” says Hawes, 21. “I also don’t drink, so I was worried about whether that would hold me back – all of which meant I didn’t really enjoy freshers’ week. I decided if I felt the same way after four weeks, I’d go home.”

He spoke to a student mentor and told her how homesick he was feeling. “She told me: ‘I felt like that too, but by the end of the first term I didn’t want to go home for Christmas.’ I thought: ‘No way will that be me.’ But by the end of the term, that was me.

“The first week isn’t a good representation of university, and it’s just one week out of the whole year. So if you’re not enjoying it, hold on. If you don’t like it, that’s perfectly normal – you just need to give it time.”

Illustration of three people hugging with quote - “freshers’ week is sold as the best week of your life”

If you prefer social events that don’t revolve around drinking, there are likely to be plenty of options for you. A study by Alcohol Impact, which works with universities across the UK, found there had been a 50% increase in non-alcoholic events in freshers’ week in 2015.

Finally, Hawes advises that being yourself and opening up can help you manage your fears and find new friends.

“Lots of people put on a happy face, when in reality they’re probably not enjoying themselves,” he says. “It’s really important to be yourself, but don’t sit in your room and hide away, even if that feels more comfortable – because the more people you know, the more people that you’ll meet that are like you.”

Five top tips for getting through freshers’ week – from Rachel Vora

1. Set realistic expectations
It’s helpful to view freshers’ week as an introduction to university life, rather than a week where you need to form new friends, perform well academically and become a social butterfly.

2. Join clubs that are right for you
Set your own expectations, rather than relying on outside perceptions. For example, students who are interested in reading might want to join a book club rather than attending a night out.

3. Make your environment homely
This could include putting up pictures of relatives in your room and posters of your favourite artists. It’s important to feel in control of your own space.

4. Don’t be afraid to say no
You don’t have to attend activities you don’t enjoy. It’s more useful to choose activities based on specific interests – plus you’re more likely to meet people you have things in common with.

5. Normalise difficult feelings
University is a huge change, and it’s very common to feel anxious, overwhelmed and homesick. Give yourself time to process those feelings.

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