Published: 14 May 2019

First year advice for an undergraduate student

Find out from a recent graduate what the first year of university life is like and some key tips to help you on your journey.

Hi everyone! I’m Chloe and I graduated last year. I was the first person in my family to go to university, so the prospect of studying as well as working a part-time job for the next three years was a little daunting!

Looking back, I am so happy that I made the decision to go though. I grew so much as a person, not just academically but socially too. By getting involved with societies, going on course trips, dancing with my best friends and leading a committee, I created memories that I will fondly remember forever.

Chloe Taylor in Warsaw
This is me on a society trip to Warsaw, Poland.

I’m not going to lie to you and suggest that university is all sunshine and rainbows. There were moments that were really difficult. First year can be full of ups and downs as you’re learning to be fully independent, alongside trying to fit in and keeping up with your course. As long as you seek support from friends, family, or the services the Uni offers, you’ll get through it!

Since leaving, I have been working as a Student Marketing Assistant at the University of Surrey. After speaking to the University’s ambassadors and learning about Surrey’s student life, I wanted to give you some (hopefully) helpful advice to enjoy and make the most out of your first year.

Let's start with Welcome Week!

Top tips:

  1. Remember to buy a doorstop and try to chat to people as much as possible
  2. You don’t have to go to every event if you don’t want to
  3. Go to the Freshers' Fair and sign up for ones you are interested in

You’ve arrived in your room and your parents/friends have just left... Or you’ve already said your goodbyes at the airport and you’re now sat on your bed. If you’re the first one in your flat, I would definitely recommend unpacking your stuff and making your room as homely as possible. It is natural to feel upset or a home sick in your first couple of weeks, but creating and decorating a room that you love will help you relax a little more. Keeping busy will also help take your mind off of things.

Meeting people for the first time can be quite scary but remember you are all in the same position. If you feel a little awkward breaking the ice, you could bring in a cake or some food to share. This will help to start the conversations. Soon enough, you’ll be all chatting away getting to know each other. I would recommend keeping your door propped open in your halls – it means that people are more likely to come and see you!

Welcome Week is full of events. It may be a little overwhelming. I would say try and get involved as much as possible but remember that you’ll probably need some downtime too. It’s okay to say no to some of them! There will probably be a lot of evening events, which include drinking. Remember: you be you, do what you would like to do – please be careful and don’t go too crazy!

The Freshers' Fair is a MUST. I’ll talk a little more about the benefits of this later, but looking around at the student-led societies and registering your interest in the ones you like, will open some more doors into your uni experience!

Your course

Top tips:

  1. Get to know the people on your course
  2. Learn how to reference early on
  3. Go see your lecturers during their office hours

You’re going to have a lot of different modules, so getting to know your course mates, will not only make going to lectures more appealing, but also provides you with support. At the end of your lecture, you’ll be able to chat to someone that’s learning the same topics as you. You’ll all have the same assignment deadlines and can lean on each other for support when these are approaching!

It seemed that there were a lot of freshers that used the phrase ‘don’t worry, first year doesn’t count' but it's important not waste the opportunity to succeed. This is a year to develop your skills for your second year! The more effort you put in now, the easier the next couple of years will be.

Learning how to reference is SO important in first year! My first couple of essays I submitted, I had no idea what I was doing and this impacted my marks. The Uni will often provide website links and guides to help you learn the rules and punctuation needed to references successfully – definitely take note of these. I used a website called Cite This For Me quite often and would reference as I went along, rather than leaving it to the end.


Top tips:

  1. Make the jump and get involved, you won’t regret it!
  2. Go on as many trips as you can
  3. Consider joining a committee for your second year

Hopefully you’ve gone to the Freshers' Fair during your Welcome Week… You would have seen that there’s a society for most degree courses at Surrey! The societies linked to your course are great for bringing people together in their socials. Although you may be the only person in your flat who studies your degree, try and arrange to go with course mates or if you’re feeling brave go on your own and I’m sure you’ll meet some great people.

The society will be led by students and often they arrange trips relating to what you’re studying. In my first year I went to Warsaw and part of the trip was to visit Auschwitz and in my second, we travelled to Berlin. Both trips were brilliant and the evening socials were a lot of fun!

Surrey has a vast range of sporting, music and cultural societies! Whether you would like to continue your hobby or try something new, there something for you. The sports teams train at Surrey Sports Park and have fantastic facilities. Get ready for competitions, team events and socials. Sometimes each society will arrange its own tour abroad. Having different friend groups at uni can be really helpful. Sometimes when your course is getting too much and you don’t want to spend all your time at your flat, seeing your society friends can be a brilliant way to escape and vice versa in all directions!

If you get to the April of your final semester and have been heavily involved in a society, why don’t you consider running for a committee member? In my second year I was a captain and took my team to competitions. I felt so incredibly proud of them all that at the end of the year I went for President of the society! Running a society brings many challenges but overcoming these and achieving whilst being surrounded by your friends is amazing!!


Top tips:

  1. You are not alone – there’s always someone here to support you
  2. Go speak to the academics marking your essays and find out more about other academic services available
  3. Your personal tutor is there to help you

Sometimes there will be times at uni that are hard. Reaching out to friends and chatting about what’s going on is sometimes all you need to pick yourself up. Doing some exercise, eating healthily and getting enough sleep can also improve the current situation.

If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to your friends, Surrey has a Centre for Wellbeing. They can provide you with mental health support, health and wellbeing advice, guidance on the management of stress, workshops and counselling services. Remember it is always better to seek help if you are struggling; they are a very friendly team, who can provide you with the support you need.

For academic support, I couldn’t recommend more going to see your lecturers/academic tutor and asking them to go through your latest essay for improvements. They love to see students and are usually very willing and happy to help! I remember in first year, I was not getting the grades that I wanted. Students would discuss their marks and I would be unhappy because I wasn’t even close to theirs. I was really struggling with all the reading on my course and I went to see my personal tutor. Following an assessment, I was diagnosed with SpD (slow processing disorder) and the support team gave me advice and equipment to help me keep up with my course demands. I persistently went to see my lecturers to seek ways to improve my essay structures. All this hard work paid off, as I managed to achieve a first in my degree!

The Academic Skills and Development team run a range of academic skills support, including workshops and individual one-to-one appointments that you can sign up for. A new service for first-year maths students has been set up, called Maths and Statistics that provides drop-in advice. Make use of these if you need them!

Surrey’s online portal MySurrey (which you can access when you have your IT account) also offers advice and guidance with all areas of student life. If you are struggling with where to go or where to find the information, drop into the Hive. This is a renovated building in the centre of campus, where students can study or chill out with their friends. There are staff available to offer student life support on topics including finance, accommodation, careers, transport and visa enquiries.

Quick summary…

I’ve tried to include as much information as possible about how to make the most of your first year and I hope it’s been helpful! If you are to take just a couple of things away from this, please remember that your first year is full opportunities that you should try to embrace. The more you get involved, the more you will learn and develop but make sure to look after yourself and seek out help if you need it!

I wish you all the best!


P.S. Our current student ambassadors have been writing their own blogs about their uni life too!

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