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the student experience: navigating 1st year

The Student Experience: Navigating 1st year

Tom Braithwaite, Obp Chartered Accountants | 28th February 2020

In part 1 we shared some advice and guidance on the student experience in the year leading up to, and the very beginning of, university life. We discussed applicant days, results day, and moving into your new city! This part will cover the first few weeks (fresher’s included), the beginnings of your course, sourcing second year accommodation, and some other opportunities most universities offer that you might not be aware of! Whilst part 1 of this blog is applicable to both students and parents, part 2 is more geared toward the student experience, which unfortunately you parents don’t get to see all of!

Fresher’s week

Fresher’s week is a bizarre one – an experience you’ll probably never have quite the same again (even if you, like me, take part in again in 2nd and 3rd year). It’s an intense period of socialising for many people, recovering from hangovers and colds with more alcohol the day after, only truly experiencing the aftermath towards the start of the course induction. Sometimes the course induction weeks and freshers’ week (like in Cardiff that seems to have a freshers’ month) happen at the same time, which feels like playing catchup on both sleep and meals. Sleep schedules disappear if you had one before moving in, which is acceptable for a while. Most of the time you do not need whatever wristband your student’s union is selling, and can by individual events separately, which saves you tonnes of money if you plan on making this a big ordeal. You might not manage to get tickets for everything, and some events are better than others, but don’t worry if you miss out one year, as it is likely they will hold the same one again next year.

For most people, this is the optimum chance to get to know your new housemates; cooking at stupid hours of the morning, bonding over dominos pizza boxes and group deliveroos until your bank balance hits rock bottom. But for those of you who aren’t maybe as much of a drinker as the stereotypical student, there are still plenty of opportunity for you to engage in what the uni have to offer in freshers week. Some uni’s are better at organising sober events than others, so you’ll have to scout out on their respective websites what they’ve got going on. Speaking for Cardiff University, they’re excellent at organising alternative events for those who aren’t the biggest party animals.

Like I mentioned in part 1, this is the sort of time where the home sickness can kick in big-style – if you’re not bonding with your housemates well, or are struggling with living by yourself in this mess of a transition period, that’s perfectly normal. I think it’d be more strange to hear about someone who hadn’t had a wobbly moment sometime in the first few days!

House Hunting

An exciting prospect for every 1st year student, but one that almost everyone understates until it’s too late. Finding houses for the next academic year is challenging when you have the pressure from letting agents’ scaremongering you into having to sort and sign by the Christmas break – its almost never that urgent. There are many factors to consider when looking for a shared house: number of people (obviously), locations vs price ranges, and bills. Here’s what to look out for…

1. Numbers

Figuring out how many of you want to live together can be challenging, and might change a fair bit over the coming October and November months. Once you’ve finalised your group, this is when students like to rush into signing tenancy agreements early on houses they don’t really know much about. Always find out what’s included in your rent (bills, wifi, insurance etc) before signing, and make absolute certain that all of your group can, and will be able to, afford the rent over the whole year. Also look out for charges over summer when you’re not there, or whether you will be able to use the house in the summer months at all.

You might think the friends you made in freshers’ week are your closest at the moment, but from experience, the Christmas break is a good indication of your living compatibility. If you’ve already signed before Christmas, you’re locked in.

2. Agencies

ALWAYS read reviews on the letting agencies and landlords you’re planning on renting from – do they have a reputation for late return of deposits? Have students had to question charges for damages they didn’t make? Are they quick to respond to problems? These are the types of things that impact your experience at uni more than you would think. Finding a good, responsive, easily contacted agency & landlord can save you a fair deal of hassle.

Work Experience

I’m able to share this blog with you now as a result of work experience I undertook in my 2nd year at Cardiff, and it’s the best decision I’ve made throughout my uni experience. Finding work experience in uni is one of the greatest ways to get ahead of your fellow graduates, as after all, you’re graduating with the same degree from the same place; what is there to differentiate you from the graduate competition on your course?

Work experience doesn’t even have to be relevant to your course, or even what you think you want to go into in the future – it’s the professional experience you gain in whichever establishment you work for. Take me as an example, I’m a Human Geography student – what does that have to do with accounting or marketing, you ask? Absolutely nothing, but I now have an extra years’ worth of experience in a professional institution, and a major bragging point to put on my CV and into interviews. No matter whether it’s voluntary work for a small business, or a paid internship in a global company, you gain amazing transferrable skills for your next role which puts you a cut above the rest when applying for positions.

Be prepared for the jump

I won’t sugar coat anything, each year gets considerably harder. I’m fortunate enough to be studying a low contact-time course, so I am able to balance my uni work with my paid work here at the practice. However for most people, the jump in difficulty and contact time between 1st year, and then 2nd & 3rd year are quite considerable. This is where it is ideal to find any work experience in 1st or 2nd year before the weight of final year hits you, or alternatively you can find many internships over the summer, which are advertised specifically for students who might have 9-5 timetables during term time.

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