10 life skills to learn and master in your first year

What will you remember about university in 20 years’ time? Take it from someone who knows. It’ll be the things you learned about life rather than what you learned in lectures.

Every student takes a course they never signed up for. Adulting: An Introduction and lectures run every day during the first year.

Joao Miguel Rodrigues Pereira

Here are 10 things you’ll be able to do like a pro by next summer.

1) Make a budget

Budgeting is about making sure there’s more money coming in than there is going out. Making that happen takes discipline and organisation.

Learn how to set and stick to a budget early. Make it a part of your daily routine, and you’ll dodge a major source of stress for new students.

2) Turn down an invite

Yes is a great word. Yes gets us into all sorts of exciting situations – especially when we’re meeting new people. Yes, can be just what the doctor ordered.

But you can’t say yes to everything, and being able to politely refuse is a seriously underrated life skill. ‘No, I’m gonna skip this one thanks, maybe next time.’

3) Clean a flat

First time living away from home? You’re about to learn how to keep a home clean and tidy and just how little some people care about doing that.

Get a cleaning rota in place. Start a shared kitty for cleaning products. Wipe up, wash up, and clear away straight after cooking. And stick to the rota for the shared spaces.

4) Give a presentation

Nobody expects you to give a TED Talk right now. But you will probably have to present to the class this year. For lots of undergrads, that’s a new experience.

Does your heart race at the thought of presenting? If it does, look for opportunities to practise now – it’s the best way to improve your skills and raise your confidence.

5) Say you’re sorry

Compromise – shared living is full of it. Whether you’re at uni or in full-time work, you can’t share a home with other people without learning to let some things slide.

Choose your battles wisely. Not every annoying thing is worth a fight. Learn to laugh off some of it. And if you’ve messed up, saying I’m really sorry goes a long way.

6) Manage your time

You’ll notice quite quickly how little time you spend in class compared with A-Level and GCSE. Welcome to university, where self-study is the name of the game.

Use calendar and to-do list apps to keep on top of your deadlines. Get into a healthy study/social rhythm. Avoid the stress of leaving work till the last minute.

7) Introduce yourself

In your first few weeks at university, you’ll have more conversations with strangers than at any other point in your life. That is until you start a new office job.

Unsure how to start a conversation? Try the compliment-and-question technique. ‘Hi, I love your boots. Where are they from?’ 60% of the time, it works every time.

8) Cook a decent meal

Your new independence means you now have to put a roof over your own head and food on your own table. The former takes care of itself. The latter you’ll learn.

Keep the cupboard stocked with essentials. Shop smart. Start by mastering five simple, nutritious dishes. Then discover batch cooking, Tupperware, and freezing.

9) Ask for help

We can be so reluctant to do it. But we can’t – and shouldn’t expect to – do everything alone. Life is about connections, shared experiences, and compassion.

By your second year, you’ll be an expert at finding the people who can help – financially, academically, and professionally. There’s no shame in accepting it, none at all.

10) Check your work

You don’t get to university without knowing your way around a spellchecker. But proofreading goes up a notch at university, with higher word counts, bibliographies, and references.

Plan your time, so you have plenty left for proofing when your assignment is written. Go slow, double-check the facts, and be meticulous about finding typos.

Joao Miguel Rodrigues Pereira