5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started University

In a week or two, my little sister will be starting university. She is the last of my siblings to go - one of my brothers graduated this year and the other is about to start his second year. I graduated in 2014, with a 2.1 in English Literature from Aberystwyth University. I loved it there, and as a whole I loved the experience. But regrets, I have a few.

So here are 5 things I wish someone had told me before I started University...

1. Join In
I feel like so many people I know wish they'd participated more. In Freshers Week you sign up for loads and loads of things, go once and then spend the next three years ignoring everything that comes into your inbox. I wish I'd done more! The only sport I was ever any good at was rounders/softball, which they didn't have at Aberystwyth. So the only 'sport' I did was occasionally going for a swim at the campus gym (I would have gone to yoga with my housemates, but it was always when I had lectures). As for societies, I joined loads but never really joined in as much as I should.

I never really felt like I belonged with English Soc. I somehow ended up spending more time on nights out with History Soc or Geog Soc. Both were a lot of fun, until they got drunk and had a standoff in the middle of The Academy arguing who was better (this would usually result in a drinking competition or a rousing chorus of "you can shove your fucking crayons up your arse").
I was a member of Amnesty International, Unicef and a whole host of other societies. And yet I was too nervous to go (mostly because I didn't know anyone there). This is perhaps my biggest regret, because in third year I found out two of my friends were members of Amnesty International so if I'd gone to meetings as a fresher, I would have got to know them two years earlier. Try things out; if you don't like them, you don't have to stick with them. Maybe you'll find a new hobby!

This isn't just sports and societies, but other activities too. Go on field trips (if you can afford them) and explore the city/town you now call home!

2. It's not all about the alcohol
I feel like going out drinking (or staying in drinking) is a huge part of student culture. Before university, and for the first half of it, I drank like a fish. Then I got sick and decided to stop; It wasn't worth the pain or the hassle. It doesn't mean you're 'boring' - don't let anyone shame you into drinking if you don't want to! Anyone who treats you like a 'let down' for not drinking obviously doesn't appreciate you when you're sober. Yes, I went out less because of this, but it didn't stop me from going out completely. I knew so many people who didn't drink, be it religious reasons or just personal preference. Find hobbies and interests that don't involve alcohol so then you don't feel at risk of 'missing out'.

3. Do your work now so you can do nothing later
My mum told me this one and I was really bad at following it. She said if you treat 9am - 5pm as time to work (not the whole day, obviously) then you'll avoid writing essays in the evenings when you could be doing something else. This totally didn't work out for me, and I actually ended up becoming more productive at around 9-10pm. But I knew that if I was in the mood to write an essay, I should make the most of it. It's better to stay up to 3am writing because you're on a roll than going to sleep and trying to pick up where you left off the next day. I remember trying to get a Romantic Poetry essay done and deciding to call it a night at 11pm. I found it hard to get to sleep, and when I did I kept dreaming about Keats' poetry! Just get it done and sleep later. I know you want a Netflix binge, but if you get your work out of the way you won't feel guilty for procrastinating. Get your work done then lie on the sofa in your pyjamas, watching crappy tv and eating leftover pizza. It is the student way.

4. Don't let the bastards get you down
Ahh, illegitimi non carborundum, that wonderful phrase. During my three years as a student I had an amazing time, but also some pretty low moments too. You worked your butt off to get your A-Level grades to get in, and you're paying an extortionate amount of money to be at university. Don't let crappy people make you feel sad. If a friendship is toxic, cut them loose. Get a bad grade on an essay? Cry about it for a bit then pull yourself back up. University is a three year course in personal development; look out for number one and get as much as you can out of the time you have. Don't let bitchy friendship politics get in your way.

5. Don't be afraid to branch out and make different groups of friends
I loved my housemates from all three years, but I often struggled with the fact that I had very little in common with quite a lot of them. At university you meet people from all sorts of different backgrounds and from places all across the country. If you were in halls like I was, you end up lumped together in a rag-tag team of 25 people from the same floor who are all friends because of circumstance, rather than an actual meaningful connection. We started out as one big family (I think it was safety in numbers) but by the second semester cracks had started to show. And that's perfectly normal.
Aberystwyth has a student population of around 8000 undergraduates, and it's a pretty small university. If you love the friends you meet in freshers week, great! If not, there are thousands of other people in the same boat as you; your friendship soulmate will be out there somewhere!

I don't want this blog post to give you any negative perceptions - university really is an amazing experience. I'd go back in a heartbeat (and maybe actually try to read all of the set texts). I think the jist of this post is to work hard, play hard. Take as much as you can from your three years (four, if you're in Scotland) and enjoy as much of it as you can!

I think another great article to read on this subject is one that The Guardian ran last year, which you can read here. Are you off to university this year? Or, like me, have you already graduated? If so, I want to hear your suggestions too!

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