Advice for first-year students

Hi everyone! So this blog is going to be a bit different to normal; I’m going to take you back to September 2018 when I first joined the University of Surrey and give you an insight into what it’s like starting at university, giving my best advice as we go on how to prepare, what to pack and your first week – I’ll also leave plenty of links throughout so should you need more information, take a look at those! Right, time to go back to my first year…

Accommodation in Manor Park

So it’s the Summer of 2018; A-Levels are done, results day has been and gone, and the results I got have opened the door fully to go to the University of Surrey in September! The last few months have been some of the best and most stressful that I’ve ever experienced, with celebrating my last full summer as a newly-turned 18-year-old but also living with the uncertainty of what happens next; What if my grades aren’t good? What if I can’t get into University? These are very common thoughts and worries to have over that summer, but one thing so many forget is that there are many pathways to get to university – it’s just a case of finding the one that works for you. If that’s achieving the entry requirements for the course, then that works, but if it’s applying through UCAS Clearing (for students who haven’t quite achieved the results they need/want, or would like to re-look at the opportunity of applying to University – UCAS Clearing) or taking a year/s out to re-do qualifications or just to take a break, these are all just as valid and might even work better for you!

End of August 2018, and this is where my thoughts changed to “Wait, I’m about to go to University and live for the first time independently… how can I do this??!”. There’s a lot to think about at this point, and to say I was stressed is an understatement, but first in my head was “What do I need to bring with me?”.  Naturally, moving into university accommodation is quite a stressful step and, depending on how far you’re travelling, you would want to bring almost everything you need in that first, and perhaps only, trip to move in. I lived at home 1h 30-ish away from Surrey, so in theory I could’ve travelled home and collected anything I left, but I knew that I wouldn’t want to go home as often when I arrived so it was a case of packing the car with as much as I could fit! But what should you pack?? Personally, I made a continuous list which started at the start of Summer 2018 which I kept updating and adding to as and when I found things I wanted to bring – if there was something I kept using at home in my day-to-day life or a hobby, for example, that I want to or have just got into, I would add it to the list. This method works very well, but so long as you show some restraint – that calligraphy set from when you were 7 years old which you have never touched might not be at the top of your list of things to bring, but your sketchbook you use to destress every weekend might be!

Packing for University doesn’t have to be rushed nor complicated!

In saying all that, I did do some research and checks to make sure that I definitely had what I needed to at least start at university. The University of Surrey has a really helpful Welcome site, with a detailed packing checklist to get you started (there’s an extended one for International Students too to ensure the correct paperwork is with you when you arrive). For me, there were a few things I nearly forgot to bring and were quickly shoved in a bag as I was leaving! These included:

  • P45 from your last job (this is to enable you to get a job while studying at Surrey)
  • Some specific kitchen equipment! Never forget the cheese grater, and a good pair of oven gloves are always useful
  • Bath and hand towels
  • Laundry basket (don’t forget this, otherwise your floor gets very full and smelly very quickly!)
  • Cables – ethernet cables, multi-plug adapters, spare USB cables and chargers (you can never have to many!)

When packing, also check on the few items you can’t bring with you and are prohibited. These include:

  • Candles, joss sticks or use naked flames or ‘hookah’ pipes
  • Heaters, refrigerators or large electrical items (including electrical blankets)
  • Weapons or replica weapons, including guns, air guns, swords, knives etc.

There are checks on your accommodation, and if you’re found to own any of these you can be fined and/or penalised by the University, so it’s simpler to not risk anything! When you are packing, here’s a few top tips that I wish I knew back then:

  • Clearly mark all your luggage with your name, court and room number
    • This is so easy to do, but so easy to forget! This eliminates any arguments about bags looking the same, or luggage being misplaced – plus helps the Freshers Angels in assisting you to move in (we’ll come back to these amazing people later!)
  • Pack your things in containers that can be easily lifted
    • Awkward shaped items are horrible to carry for long distances, so if you find yourself moving into a 4th floor room of a central accommodation block, make sure everything is easy to carry. I put everything into large plastic boxes that had handles on them which made it so much easier!
  • Keep electronic devices, such as laptops, and valuables separate to your other luggage and carry these with you to your room
    • More of a safety thing this one, but it’s always good practice to keep your valuables with you and not leave them unattended in an unlocked room! (You’ll be surprised the number of people who leave their car doors open with their passport on the seat, or their room door open with their laptop on the side with no one around!)
  • Bring food with you for the first few days, or take a trip to Tesco Guildford once you have unpacked
    • Remember it’s not just about the kitchen equipment, but the food too! Tesco Guildford is your best nearest supermarket, but naturally if you’ve got space and fancy bringing some food with you do that too! Your first trip to Tesco is usually a great activity to get to know your new flatmates too!

Once I had my list and had started packing, there was a couple of other things that needed to be organised in preparation for arriving at university. The University of Surrey has a whole page dedicated to what you need to do/remember/consider, such as pre-registration and setting up your IT account (this will include submitting information for your campus card, a vital piece of identification for the University/Union as well as your key access card to buildings and services across campus).

Our Accommodation Blocks on Stag Hill, with Guildford Cathedral

Ok, now we’re into September 2018 – I’ve packed what I can, and know what else I need with me. Paperwork is all filled out, and accommodation is set. Right, it’s time to move out! This day is filled with excitement for the future, a tinge of sadness of leaving home, and the anxiety of finding out where you’re going to live and who you’re going to live with! It’s a whirlwind of a day, and a busy one from start to finish. I started the day waking up in my bed at home, and within the hour I was up, showered and dressed, packing a car with everything I had on my checklist, double-checking I had the necessary paperwork and the satnav to know where I was going! Next thing I know, I’m sat staring out of the car window as the New Forest disappeared from view and we approach the Surrey Hills. In the distance, a tall cathedral with a golden angel stands proud – it’s Guildford! That’s when things start to feel more real and you realise you’re actually going to the University of Surrey!! I arrive to a sea of other new first year students with all their belongings, and the feeling that you’ve got no idea what you’re doing sets in quickly… but not to fear! The Freshers Angels are here to help.

Our Freshers Angels!

The Freshers Angels are current students (more than 100 of them!) who have given up their day to help you move in, and make your transition to university life as easy as possible! They can help with directions and finding your accommodation, any initial questions you may have about the campus and living here at Surrey, and even carrying your possessions to your room!

Now I’m in my new room, and the place I will call home for the next 12 months. It’s bare, granted, but that’s just because I haven’t yet had the chance to decorate! A great way to start feeling settled in is both decorating your room to make it yours, and get to know your housemates! Want to know what it’s like living in halls/university accommodation? Take a look at another blog post I wrote about it here!

My First Year Room (Band C)
At the end of the year, my wall was full of memories!!

So now I’m here at the University of Surrey, what next?? Well, before I ran off with my new flatmates and the first night begins, there were a few more things I needed to get ready – mainly registration. This is when you get your documents checked (i.e. passport for most), and also get given your campus card I mentioned earlier! And with that, your move in is basically complete! A personal Welcome Week timetable is sent out to you with everything you need to know and attend in your first week, from departmental lectures and tours to the Freshers’ Fair! To make the most of your time here, the University has made a New Students Checklist with some main points to consider when you first arrive!

The first week is different for everyone, with some people running headfirst into every activity and opportunity they can get their hands on, and some who want to take it a little bit slower in finding their footing before exploring university and all the fun things it holds! I took on a “say yes to everything” mentality which led to an amazing, chaotic but all-round great fun first year, filled with amazing friends and memories that I have kept even up to now (as I finish 3rd Year and look to go on placement). If you’re studying a course within our Mechanical Engineering Sciences Department, or generally want to know a bit more about what happens in your first few weeks, take a look my blog post here!

Freshers’ Fair – One of the highlights of Freshers’ Week

As I mentioned, those first few weeks are different for everyone and though some might find their footing and spring forward with little to no worry, others might find it slightly harder. Home-sickness hits hard for many, and the sudden change to university life can be upsetting and anxiety-inducing, but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer alone. We have some brilliant support services available, from personal and wellbeing to academic and monetary, with some really helpful members of staff ready to assist you in any way they can! Want to know a bit more about our Support Services? Take a look at another blog post I wrote recently here!

Me waving goodbye to my family from my new room after a busy move-in day!

So it’s now September/October 2018, and the new Semester is about to begin – my first one as an undergraduate Mechanical Engineering student! I’ve packed up my belongings and moved to a whole new town, I’ve started to meet some amazing new people in my flat and in the Surrey community, Freshers’ Week is well underway and at this point I remember taking a moment to think that after all that stress and worry for months over summer, along with the excitement and anticipation, that it all is worth it for what is in store for the weeks, months and years to come!

If you want to find out more about how to academically prepare for your next/first semester at University, take a look at this blog post I wrote here!

We also understand here at the University of Surrey that some of you have be concerned about the future in regards to the Coronavirus, and you may want to know how we have been keeping safe here on campus! Take a took at this blog post I wrote about staying safe on campus, and for all the most up-to-date information regarding the University and the Coronavirus, head to our dedicated site.