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My first day: student accounts of their first moments at university

By Joe Rennison

Friday 2 September 2011 Making Friends/Settling In

Everyone gets nervous before they start university. Everyone fears that they may not make any friends and that they will become a social recluse, outcast from their peers and for some reason rejected from the mainstream student body. Therefore, if you’re feeling even a little bit nervous, then you can rest assured that it is perfectly normal. To try and put your nerves to bed we have asked some students, past and present, to recount their initial experience of being left to fend for themselves.

Danny Whitelock. Undergraduate at UCL. Graduated in 2010:

In the hustle and bustle of shifting my things from the car to my new (rather small) room, I was hugely excited. But after debating the merits of repositioning the various bits of lacquered wood furniture, we settled into a shuffling kind of silence, and my Dad said he’d miss me, and my Mum cried a bit, and my sister seemed not to care much either way.

I revelled in my freedom as the door shut, before realising that I was actually rather alone. Manning up some courage, I took a bowl of M&Ms, cringe-worthily bought for just such a scenario, and descended into the common room in the basement. An Asian girl was sat on a slender boy’s lap screaming a song by the 90’s pop band ‘Aqua’. I had immediate concerns. I was eventually befriended by another fresher, clearly equally disturbed by this frightening portent of what might be in store over the next three years. The common room filled up slowly. Most of my conversations revolved around what A-levels I did. Occasionally I received a sour look when it was revealed I was privately educated. Nonetheless, there were certainly some in that room that have since become close friends. At ten o’clock, I returned to my room. I undressed in the cramped conditions and slept fitfully. It was all rather easy in the end. I’m not sure I even needed the M&Ms.

Emilie tapping. Undergraduate at King’s College. Graduated in 2009:

My first day in halls was like a school disco. Everyone's parents dropped them off at the door and everyone sort of gathered in small groups, no-one really talking to anyone. All I could think of was how much I wanted a cup of tea. My mum had left me a massive box of tea and biscuits so I walked in to the kitchen and started making one. The box was pretty massive so I guess people thought I was going to make some for everyone. I didn't really want to, but I ended up making around 25 cups of tea. I'm still friends with at least 3 of those people now.  So, whatever your worries, make sure you put the kettle on.

Felicity Gibbons. Undergraduate at LSE. Graduated in 2010:

It was especially nerve-racking being an LSE student in intercollegiate halls as we moved in two weeks after Kings and one week after UCL, giving these colleges a head-start in establishing themselves and forming groups of friends. However we had a chance to meet everyone at an organised meet and greet drinks in the common room where we mingled together and everyone was really warm and friendly. Most people kept their room doors open when we first arrived and it helped me to realise that everyone was in the same boat and just as eager to make friends as I was. I found that being confident was key and I needed to be proactive in leaving my room and gathering up the courage to introduce myself to others. Remember the three opening gambits that help break the ice: 'Where are you from? What uni are you at? What course are you doing?'  You will constantly be asking and answering these questions.

Stuart Hewitt. Undergraduate at Aberdeen. Going into his fourth year.

My first day at university was my first day in Aberdeen, despite growing up just two hours away I had never been to the Granite City and therefore never visited campus. I had been at University once before and stayed in halls of residence but this time I was staying in private accommodation with my partner and so didn’t have the camaraderie of halls to rely on to make friends. I turned 22 in freshers’ week so was a lot older than most first years. On top of this I was going into second year directly, subsequently entering a class of students who had already made bonds. However, by the end of my first day I had met and socialised with lots of students, many of whom I am still friends with. Through enquiring about the student paper and attending a direct entrant’s meet and greet I further added to my acquaintances over the next few days and I have never looked back.

Fliss Lang. Undergraduate at Edinburgh. Transferred to King’s College in 2009.

The parents had gone. The room was unpacked. Now what? I was in catered halls, so there was no initial kitchen meet-up, no fight for cupboard space - just me, 300 miles away from home. I was surrounded by strangers and had no idea where to start. Turns out, all I needed was an excuse, handed to me on a plate via a non-functioning internet connection (an entity common to every university), and before I knew it I was tapping on a neighbour’s door and asking for help. And so uni began. After that, the ice was broken. I spoke to everyone and anyone, went to every event I could and joined every club I could find. After freshers’ week, I spoke to about 5% of the people I had met, and attended only 2 of the 15 clubs (sporadically – although I still get emails from the other 13) but it was the start of some of my closest friendships and undoubtedly the best years of my life so far.

Caz Parra. Undergraduate at Queen Mary. Going into her third year.

Sometimes things simply don't go to plan. A communication error ruined my plans to enjoy freshers’ week and meant that I had to work four extra days until I could kiss my summer job goodbye. All I could think about is how my peers-to-be were partying, making friends and figuring out where everything was while I was stuck at work. I thought I would look stupid on my actual first day at uni (week2) and wouldn't have anyone to sit with. Of course I was wrong. Even though freshers’ week was over people were still looking forward to meeting new people and the sitting thing was never a problem. I never worried about the academic side of things, I knew I would love it, and I was pleasantly surprised as to how much the students’ union had on offer. I’m still very happy with my university choice.