first year university

Let’s talk first year.

It’s probably the first time you have full control over how you spend every hour of every day. Complete freedom.

That is, the freedom to sign up to Netflix, and never look back. The freedom to not do your laundry until you are down to your very last sock. Not pair of socks. Sock. Singular. The freedom to order a large BBQ pizza (no gherkins, extra cheese, and garlic stuffed crust), and it be the norm. The freedom to spend 3 hours scrolling through Facebook trying to establish the life history of the guy who just popped up on your Whats-App saying “Hey hun, did you get home alright? :P” Who is he? No one knows. Not even you, especially not you.

You’re pretty much, well, free to do whatever you like. And, if the above paragraph is anything to go by, this can be a blessing and a curse. I’m no expert on the matter, but as a current final year student with 2 years of university under her belt, I’d like to think that I’ve figured a few things out (emphasis on the ‘few’.)

First year is kind of like being thrown into a dark maze, blindfolded, prior to which you were spun around about 10 times, and so are grossly disorientated and clumsy. In my first week of university, I cried three times, lost my room key twice, and sat through a two-hour “Introduction to Physics” lecture. I study Economics and Philosophy. As I said, grossly disorientated.

And even after you find your physical bearings, attach an obnoxious teddy bear to your room key and get over the almost inevitable home-sickness, there’s still another mountain of elements for you to deal with in the social, academic, and extra-curricular spheres of your new life at university.

Lets talk priorities: I want to tell you to prioritise your degree, after all, that’s what you’re here for. I want to tell you that as well as finding your social feet, you can use the year to find your feet academically; which tutors are the ones to cozy up to for help, and which ones are best left alone. Where the closest gym is, so you can get to work on the numerous Domino’s pizzas that somehow, someway found themselves victims of your consumption… I want to tell you that following those things you should prioritise getting a full experience out of university. This means partaking in activities that do not involve bacon and a hangover the next morning. Failing to explore what your university has to offer can really dampen your experience. Getting involved, and stuck into something, separate from your degree, is a no-brainer!

I really want to tell you all of these things, but I can’t outright tell you what to do. For most first years, your degree won’t count until the following year…focusing on your degree beyond passing can seem like going way above and beyond the call of duty. Who am I, except a fellow student in her early 20’s, muddling through the confusions that comes with waving that freedom flag? Think of this as 3rd year Shope giving, first year Shope a good ole’ talking to.

One of the first things I wish I’d known was the importance of maintaining your priorities; it’s not too dissimilar to maintaining your health. If you don’t look after yourself, be that studying hard; eating well; exercising regularly and ensuring that you are well rested you will get sick. Fact. It’s the same with priorities. If priorities are not established, maintained, revisited and re-evaluated on a regular basis, you will fall ill. One of the diseases, which can be deadly if not caught early, is something I like to call ‘blinded by the buffness’. It’s a medical thing I swear.

The NHS really needs to get a load of this. Hundreds of girls momentarily forgetting the empowering conversation they had with their best friend the night before about self-worth, when faced with the sharpest jawline on campus. It could cut bread, or, your heart. A beard so symmetrical you forget what degree you study. When faced with a guy who has unimaginable rhythm, in a sweaty sea of atrocious two-steppers, rationality is a thing of the past.

You tend to fall sick from the above disease when you, consciously or subconsciously, make physical appearance, or social status a priority in your decision-making. A situation you will only find yourself in if you neglect to consistently revisit and re-evaluate your priorities. On a more serious note, one thing you can’t do is beat yourself up if they ever go askew. Priorities are not a life-threatening, harrowingly concrete set of goals that need to be met in order for your university life to have meaning. You might attend a couple lectures still of questionable sobriety; don’t make a habit of it, but it’s forgivable. The buffness may indeed sometimes blind you. That’s OK. This is the time to make mistakes.

The main thing that is invaluable to navigating through the murky waters of boys with success, is knowing and understanding your emotional comfort zone. Stay well and truly within it, please. Don’t change who you are for someone, I hope that’s a given, but it’s an easy one to forget. This is one of the aspects of your life in which you should not ‘jump in at the deep end’ or ‘get comfortable with being uncomfortable’. Push the boundaries and you will cry. And not the good type of character building type of cry. It’s the ‘omg-my-life-is-over-forget-lectures-and-pass-me-the-ben-and-jerry’s type of cry’. It’s different for each female, whether you thrive in casual relationships or committed ones, but figure out what works for you, and stick to it. Get introspective, and discover how high or low the walls of your emotional arena actually are. Your friends, sanity, grades and focus will thank you for it in the long run.

Secondly, introspection is important: it’s a strangely unique process in that it really allows you to look at your present self, and directly compare this with your future, ideal self. Personally, in the whirlwind of my first year I found myself largely dissatisfied with life. Establishing your goals and who you want to be is important in getting their; dream, believe, achieve etc. Don’t be afraid of being a little dream chaser, even when it feels cheesy. Embrace the uniqueness of this new experience. Take advantage of being in a brand new environment, and own the opportunities that are opened up to you. With respect to your wider university experience, quite contrary to boy battle-field, most definitely jump head first into the deep end, get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and push those boundaries. It’s the best way to learn and discover what you want.

1st year is a time for you to find your feet. To learn how to walk, and not trip over too many times in the process. You’re well within your right to sit in your last pair of socks, drafting the apologetic text to your best friend for kicking her in the face last night because she didn’t tell you that you had lipstick on your teeth, whilst making the mental note that garlic crust and extra cheese is more than a little unnecessary.

Just try not to make a habit of it.

Follow Shope on twitter: @ShopeDelano