Updated: Aug 5, 2021
Returning to university this autumn? We share our tips to help you get the most from your university experience after the coronavirus lockdown.
If there's one word which has seen a lot of use in the past few months, it's 'unprecedented'. An unprecedented over-usage of the word 'unprecedented', perhaps. The coronavirus pandemic has fundamentally changed our daily lives and this blog is certainly unprecedented, in every sense of the word.
The first term of university is traditionally a time of discovery and excitement. For many, it will be the first experience of living away from home without parents to remind you to make a proper dinner. However, we are living in strange times, where wearing face masks and getting nervous whenever someone moves close is the new normal.
That said, universities are still welcoming new students in 2020 and social-distancing rules don't have to completely destroy the much-vaunted 'university experience'. I can't promise to have all the answers in this (obviously) speculative piece, but I thought it might be helpful to share some thoughts and advice about how to make the most of this year's fresher's season.
Follow Social-Distancing Guidelines
It might seem pretty obvious, but knowing your institution's rules and regulations surrounding coronavirus is essential. At the time of writing, the government COVID-19 guidelines are:
Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly
Wear a face covering or mask in enclosed spaces
Stay at least one metre away from people not in your household
If you feel unwell, stay at home for 10 days and get tested as soon as possible
Of course, this is the bare minimum! Many universities, conscious of the fact that students will be arriving from all over the world, have much tighter regulations in place. At Warwick University, for example, social-distancing guidelines currently recommend maintaining at least two metres between others, with lectures being taken online and timetables arranged to minimise contact between students and staff. Likewise, while in accommodation, students are being instructed to socialise within their 'kitchen groups' (i.e. the people who live in their flat) to limit the spread of the virus. You can still meet other people outside, so long as you socially-distance.
It's not all doom and gloom though! Which brings me to...
Get Involved With Societies!
When I drafted my initial fresher's guide just under a year ago (before coronavirus struck), I emphasised just how important it is to join university societies. They really are the social heart of campus life. Even with social-distancing, there will be plenty of ways to get involved with societies and I wholeheartedly recommend that you take them with both hands.
In those first few weeks of term, you’re going to be meeting a lot of new people. Seriously. Whether that’s new course mates, your flat or just random folk you happen to bump into around campus, you’ll be sick of telling of people your name and what part of the world you come from. In my case, that came with the added stress of deciding whether to say I hailed from hip south-east London or just the plain old borough of Bromley; either people didn't have a clue where I lived or I'd have a 'true' Londoner lecture me about the necessity of being within a 10-metre distance of a tube station to be in 'real' London. Go figure.
On a serious note though, it can be difficult to build up a friendship group from this disparate pool of people and while you might just stumble into your new best mates by chance with a lively flat, it doesn’t always work out like that. So, the best way to meet like-minded people with the same interests as you is to join a society!
While activities might end up being hosted online or in small numbers, they will be a great opportunity to expand your pool of uni mates outside your flat or course. If you’re unsure about what to join, my advice is to always give a society a go before you write it off. Most are run by ordinary students like you who love what they do and are always looking for new members to help their group grow.
Don’t Forget To Work
I know this sounds rather dull, yet keeping on top of your academic studies and assignments is of the upmost importance. Don’t be lulled into thinking that just because you’re a fresher doesn’t mean you don’t have to put some work in. Studying for a degree is difficult and falling behind in your work can cause no end to stress and anxiety. While you don’t need to be behind your desk 24/7, putting aside enough time for your studies while you’re busy having fun with societies will keep your tutors happy.
Getting to know the structure of your course and any key deadlines is a must during your first week. Especially as learning moves online, you'll need to have a firm grip on when coursework and assignments are due to prevent any nasty deadline surprises. Certain modules will only require you to know a certain percentage of the course (for example, my politics exams asked around 12 questions and you needed to answer 4) so you don’t need to attend every lecture, especially if it’s on a topic which you aren’t interested in. On the other hand, some will require you to know everything so missing one or two lectures or seminars could be a disaster. Additionally, consider creating a weekly timetable to keep track of your lectures and seminars. The last thing you want is to get caught out and be attending a Zoom class in your pyjamas!
Getting the work/life balance right at university is essential: spend too much time working and you might just go insane, spend too much time lying in bed watching Netflix and you risk dropping out! If you're anything like me and sometimes find it hard to make every day a productive one, I find that getting into a routine can really help bring some structure to your day-to-day life which can help you get what you need done on time.
Look After Yourself
Questions about COVID-19 notwithstanding, living away from home is tough. There’s washing up to do, meals to cook and no one is going to remind you bring your jacket when it’s chilly. It’s no wonder that many student flats are littered with ramen noodle packets and dirty dishes! I don’t say this lightly, keeping yourself healthy by cooking proper meals and getting enough sleep is vital at university. It’s so easy to let the basics fall by the wayside and to suddenly end up exhausted and feeling pretty terrible if you don’t watch it. Of course, this is all the more critical now coronavirus is on the scene, so staying in good health is certainly in your interest.
Some students have the luxury of being in catered halls but most of us need to fend for ourselves. There are hundreds of great student cookbooks available all with the intention of helping you produce nutritious, easy to cook and affordable meals. While the odd oven pizza or takeaway makes for a nice convenient treat, it’s certainly not easy on your body or your wallet. Even a small matter of taking some vitamin supplements and eating some fruit and vegetables can make a big difference, and maintaining a good diet can go a long way to making you feel good and thriving at university.
If your physical health is important, then your mental health is even more so. Universities are doing more than ever to look after their students and many have bespoke counselling services or helplines for when times get tough. It's also worth remembering that your tutors and lecturers are always on hard to help you deal with any course related difficulties - they're on your side and want you to succeed!
My last piece of advice is don't do anything you really don't want to do. While I wholeheartedly encourage people to try things outside their comfort zone and to have new experiences at university, no one can force you to do anything you really don't want to do, especially if you're worried about exposing yourself to coronavirus. We need to keep each other safe during this difficult time, so don't feel obliged to go on that inevitable rogue night-out if you're concerned about health and safety - you're allowed to be cautious!
Blog Post Crafted by Oscar
Oscar studies Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) at the University of Warwick.
When he's not studying PPE or tutoring GCSE Maths and Science, Oscar plays the saxophone and is the Musical Director for the University of Warwick Big Band.
In 2017, he set up his own jazz function band, Mirage Quartet, and has been a keen collaborator and ambassador for Bromley Youth Music Trust.