Fresh-faced students, meet Fresher’s Week.

It’s that time of year, and indeed that time in the new university student’s life, when the first big social gathering and university investigating gets under way. That’s right, I am of course referring to the infamous Fresher’s Week: a week of general mayhem, meetings, events and adventures for new – and returning – university students.

There can be no doubt that this week is an important one, most especially for those new to the university scene and lifestyle. It is an opportunity to learn more about your university and its Student’s Union, to make new friends, to discover the social scene and student organisations. Essentially, consider it a whirlwind tour of university life in general, and what it is like to be a university student.

I’m heading back to university myself for my final year. It will be surreal after a year away, and sobering to consider the countdown until graduation.

If I cast my mind back and reflect upon Fresher’s Week in my first year of Law, I can recall a wonderful feeling of being swept away, caught up in a new and exciting world with many new faces in the same boat as myself – new to university, new to the student life, and eager to get started and leave secondary school behind.

It was a week of educational and informative events by day on campus, including the all-important Registration day (hello, new QUB student ID card) and IT induction day in the library (this stands out all too vividly, as I had to trek to Queen’s in the torrential rain with a broken umbrella). This was by day. By night, it was parties and nights out, whether organised by student societies such as RAG, or informally thrown together at the last-minute on a Facebook page/group. It was hectic, it was interesting – and I loved every minute of it. I felt at home at Queen’s, whether on campus or off it, and I knew I had most definitely made the right decision to make Queen’s ‘my’ university for the next three years. (Which in time would become four, due to my study year abroad.)

Fresher’s Week was called ‘Orientation Week’ at Coe, my host US college. It was a week filled with information, meetings and fun activities to make you feel at home.

With that in mind, here are some of my top tips for making the most of Fresher’s Week, and adapting to student life and the new challenges – but wonderful memories – that come from entering tertiary education.

Dates for the diary: Trust me, this is important. Buy a diary, and use it religiously. You will be emailed about important dates and times for meetings/events as a new student at the university, including Registration on campus. You may see an informative meeting about a society posted on Facebook, or training/try-outs for university sports teams posted around the campus. I remember that I found out about a meeting for my university’s student newspaper and subsequent deadlines for articles via Facebook, and heard about various student organisations information evenings/nights out on Twitter. I could not possibly remember everything, so to my trusty companion in my diary I went. Ditto during Orientation Week at Coe College – I jotted down dates and times in my diary, and was able to plan where I go and what I could see.

Basically, you will be bombarded with dates and you will want to make a note of them to remind you, lest you forget and potentially miss out on meeting new people, or hearing information pertaining to your degree.

Check your university email: You will need to check this – and your postbox too, if your university prefers the traditional means of communication – on a regular basis. You may be instructed when to appear for Registration, where to go for information sessions – maybe you will even have emails from your lecturers introducing themselves.

I know that some of the emails will appear be generic ones regarding library opening times, gym opening times etc, but ensure you read them. You do not want to miss any details and maybe miss out on events that could help you enjoy your first few weeks of university.

Equally so, should you have questions or concerns, find out the emails of those you will need to contact and go ahead and do so. Just because you have not yet attended lectures or classes does not mean that you cannot avail of student support or student services on campus.

Social media can actually be social: Check out Facebook and see whether your year/degree year have their own Facebook pages. If so, go ahead and post an introduction, and see if anyone else from your degree and year tracks you down. If you cannot find the pages or they have not been created – go ahead and create them. You can guarantee that there will be other students out there searching for their peers, and you could be the one to bring everyone together.

Whilst you are browsing Facebook (the only time when you can waste time there without feeling guilty about procrastination) see whether there are any student organisations and societies with pages or groups that you can look at and join. For example, I looked up the Law Society for students at my university, and volunteering organisations, and was able to find out when they were holding introductory meetings. You can find people from different years and degrees with the same interests as you, and may just find new friends in the process.

Your university may even have a specific Facebook page or Twitter account for Fresher’s Week; have a look and if they do – follow them. You will be kept up to date with all the latest events and nights out.

Student’s Union – your hub on campus: Whenever I hear students say, “oh, I have hardly ever been in my SU,” I just cannot grasp this, because they will have missed out on a vital hub of resources and contact.

Utilise what your university’s SU has to offer. Most offer everything from student advice centres, volunteering opportunities, enterprise zones, study rooms to cafés, computers and bars. They can provide free informative classes on money advice, tenants’ rights (if you are renting student accommodation) mental health awareness and so much more. There will be elected student representatives you can contact and request advice from, and a platform for student activism and democracy in elected Student Councils.

The SU at QUB has most certainly been a hub for me over my time at university, whether for purchasing stationery from the shop, having a coffee break, or relaxing with friends at the student’s bar. I have enjoyed volunteering opportunities and interesting classes, meeting new people in the process. Definitely check your SU out – it is there to assist you as a student.

The night is young, as are you: I will start this off by saying this – if you are not comfortable with alcohol, socialising in bars or clubs, prefer to spend the nights in with Netflix and friends (which is a delight) – you continue acting in a manner that is comfortable for you. Do not feel under pressure to experiment with alcohol and/or illicit substances or go to an unfamiliar area or with strangers to an unknown house. Please stay safe and take care if you are going out at night, or are drinking. If at any point you feel worried or uncomfortable, leave the situation.

If you are someone who is comfortable with going out and socialising at bar/club-hosted events, then avail of these events if they are hosted by societies you are interested in. I remember attending a house party of a fellow law student in the weekend of Fresher’s Week; I did not know anyone per se but felt comfortable as I had been chatting to a certain group of other law students and knew who to look for. It was actually a brilliant night, and the people I talked to most that night have become my closest friends at university.

Some of these night events can become the talk of your degree year for the next couple of weeks, and be a great way to swap numbers and Facebook names. So if you do enjoy nights out, put yourself out there and have a good time. But please: stay safe.

Be campus-savvy: I may sound like Captain Obvious here, but get a map of your university campus and spend time reviewing it, and associating yourself with the layout. Track down your university’s library, and see how the printing/photocopying etc system works. Find the main lecture halls, scour out the tutorial rooms and spy out the cafés dotted around campus – this will greatly help you when classes commence, and you will not run the risk of being late to lectures and tutorials when you are already at ease with the university layout.

If your university has multiple campuses requiring you to travel between classes, use Fresher’s Week as an opportunity to time yourself moving between campuses in preparation for the start of term.

If your university has a campus gym, go and visit it and enquire about student rates and opening times.

Finally, keep your eyes peeled when walking around. Students and staff will regularly post on boards around campus and inside buildings. You could come across people hiring themselves out as tutors, students selling textbooks and/or giving away notes, staff requesting volunteers or giving details about evening classes.

Books, glorious books: textbooks, the lifeblood of  students. However, you may feel bewildered (and perhaps a twinge of trepidation when contemplating the effects on your bank account) when presented with a reading list for your modules. My advice? Second-hand is best. Enquire with past students about whether they are selling their books, and feel free to post on Facebook pages about this. I was able to get in several EU law books before classes started for easily 50% off. Do not wait until the start of term to do this, as many past students may have sold their books by then, and you will face competition from your peers, too.

Also – avoid chain bookstores, buy from independent retailers if this is possible. Not only are you supporting independent and local businesses, but you can strike up a rapport with the owners, who can maybe even slip you some advice. I was told which books I would need, and which to avoid or just share with friends in my first semester. It saved me a lot of money, and time too as I did not have to trawl through another textbook which would not provide me with new information.

Careers Centre: Far too many students leave university without visiting their university’s Career department, and availing of the staff and resources there. Please don’t be one of them.

During Fresher’s Week, make a point of dropping in and looking around: there will be many leaflets, booklets and other documents discussing how you can make the most of university in terms of career development. These materials and the Careers staff can help you write a CV, plan covering letters, prepare for interviews and assessment centres… The list is endless. You can make appointments to have a one-to-one sessions with staff to look over your CV and applications, and even request mock interviews.

And finally…

Fresher’s Fair: This event is a great way of introducing you to university life, by acting as a gateway to student organisations you can join. Your university may offer two types of Fair – one which is a graduate/careers Fair, where companies and firms set up stalls and invite you to talk to them and learn more about their graduate programmes. The other is the university-specific Fair, where student societies, political groups, volunteer organisations and sports groups will pitch their stalls and you can browse to your heart’s content.

Do make use of this opportunity. Visit all the stalls, and see what is on offer. Try to sign up to several organisations which you have an interest in, be it degree-centric societies such as Law or Politics, or general organisations such as youth-wing politics or Amnesty, Greenpeace, etc. This will enable you to meet other like-minded people, develop friendships and continue with your hobbies and interests in campus. It’s an enriching experience to be involved in student organisations on campus; one which I have always enjoyed, whether at QUB or in the USA.

Bear in mind that some societies will request a membership fee and email address when you register. Talk to the organisation reps – they are fellow students, and are only too happy to discuss their organisation and what it can do for you.

Not only is this a great way to establish yourself on campus, have fun and meet new people, it will also stand you in good stead career-wise. Membership of groups will help you develop key skills such as communication, planning and organisation – and if you have a role or committee position, you can gain leadership skills too. All of these will help in answering competency questions in applications and at interviews.

Hopefully the above advice proves useful, and may you have a wonderful first week at university!

burrito finals
Enjoy Fresher’s Week: soon lectures, coursework and exams will creep up on you! (Seeking solace in masquerading as a ‘blanket burrito’ will come later.)

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