24 Mistakes first years make and how to avoid them

10 Aug 2020
By Unite Students, Staff writer at The Common Room

If you can’t make guilt-free mistakes at uni, when can you? You have to try loads of new things as a student, and you can’t have trial without error.

Be yourself, have fun, take care, be nice to people, and do your best.

Here’s 24 of the most commonly-made first year mistakes, how you can avoid them, and - most importantly - why you shouldn’t worry if you make them all anyway.

1) Buying every book on the list

The average student spends £32 a month on books. That’s a lot of money, so make sure you only buy the essentials.

Most modules have one core text. Find a cheap second hand copy if you can, and look out for second and third years selling theirs. Use the library for everything else.

2) Spending your loan within days

When the first loan instalment hits your account, the temptation to spend can be very real. Your balance has probably never had that many numbers in it.

But September’s payment is supposed to last the whole term. So figure out how much you’ve got for that period, break it down to a weekly amount, and start prioritising.

3) Leaving food to go off

This is a mistake, but it does demonstrate two good things: you’ve done a food shop recently; and you’ve bought some fresh, nutritious food. Now to fix the wastage.

Freeze bread you’re not going to use. Make a meal with your veg and freeze that too. Switch to UHT milk and keep a carton in the cupboard for when you know you’ll use it.

4) Bringing too much stuff

Enough clothes. Bedding. Kitchen stuff. Some things are essential, but the number of things that are is actually quite small. 

Don’t take every item of clothing you own, or bring your old school work, or cart hundreds of books and DVDs to university. You’ll need much less than you think.

Be yourself, have fun, take care, be nice to people, and do your best.
Some things are essential, but the number of things that are is actually quite small.

5) Ordering too many takeaways

Hard on your body, even harder on your bank balance. Having food delivered regularly will leave you short on cash and even shorter on energy.

Make a big batch of something nutritious at the start of the week and split it into portions. Then all you have to do each night is heat it up and cook some carbs/veg to go with it.

Read more: Batch cooking: Take the stress out of your kitchen

6) Forgetting to call home

Nobody expects you to call home every day, and that might not be the best way to find your feet at uni. But the people who love you will want to know you’re alright.

If there are friends and family at home who miss you, put a recurring reminder in your phone for a weekly call - even better if it’s a video call.

7) Joining all the societies

The classic rookie mistake. Freshers’ fairs are a lot of fun, and it can be quite the ego boost when society reps are desperate for your details.

Don’t over commit. Try a few taster sessions by all means. Then join one or two, max. Otherwise, you’ll be deleting spam emails from societies all year long.

8) Leaving work till the last minute

Cooking and budgeting are the two top skills to learn in your first semester. A close third is time management, the only way to get everything done.

Start with to-do lists and a diary. Consider Trello or Todoist for the former, and your phone’s calendar app for the latter. Write it all down, get it all done.

Read more: 6 Smart productivity apps for students

9) Not cleaning up

Easily the biggest gripe about living with other people. Sharing a house means sharing habits, and not everybody’s that well-educated about cleanliness.

Four things you can do: wash up as soon as you finish eating, take the bin out if it’s full or starting to smell, make a weekly flat cleaning rota, and RESPECT THE ROTA.

Read more: Cleaning: Pro tips from our housekeeping team

10) Smoking in the flat

Another common flatmate complaint, and it’s so avoidable. Almost every type of student accommodation is non-smoking - including all Unite Students buildings.

If you’re a smoker, make the short trip outside to the smoking area. Every time. It’s a breach of your tenancy agreement - and just very unfair on your flatmates - to do otherwise.

11) Partying every night

Too much alcohol and fast food will leave you feeling pretty wrecked pretty quickly. But not enough sleep will do it faster.

It’s vital that you get your 8.5 hours of sleep most nights. Once you're settled in and have a group of friends around you, learn to feel comfortable saying no to invites. Pick and choose when you go out, and get your rest.

12) Trying to be somebody else

Some first years use their new-found anonymity to change who they are. A new backstory, different clothes, a new name. Which is fine, if that’s what you want to do.

But know this: you don’t need to be embarrassed of where you’re from, who you are, how you speak, who you fancy, or anything else. Be yourself - you’re good enough.

13) Not going to lectures

Being a student is a bit like being a circus juggler. Lots of clubs - study, social, work, flatmates, family - and lots of work to keep them all in the air.

The study club is fundamental to your act. Don’t make the mistake of missing lectures and seminars regularly. If your lectures are streamed online, you have even less of an excuse. Establish good habits now for successful second and third years. 

14) Stealing your flatmates’ food

Imagine thinking you had a packet of chocolate Hobnobs in the cupboard, only to find somebody had nicked and eaten them. That’s grade A devastation.

Don’t do it. You never know when your flatmate is planning to eat/drink that thing you want. Drag yourself to the shops and avoid the bad feelings.

15) Making two friends then ignoring everyone else

This one’s totally understandable. There are few things in life more exciting than finding the Joey to your Chandler, the Patrick to your Spongebob.

Stay open to making new friends. Until you know people a bit better, you won’t know if you’ve found a keeper or not. Cast your net wide for a better chance of a good catch.

Read more: Making friends: How I found my 5 types of uni mate

16) Bottling it all up

Adjusting to university life can be tough at times. Just remember there are people around who you can talk to. New friends and flatmates may be feeling the same way. Talk to friends and family back home too, if you can.

Nightline is available from 8pm to 8am (it’s a free and confidential listening service). Your university has a free counselling service if you need it. And if you’re having trouble coping, see your GP as soon as possible.

17) Going home every weekend

It’s perfectly natural to miss home and, as we’ve already seen, calling home regularly is a great idea. But it’s also wise to give yourself a chance to settle in.

Try to get involved in events and activities in the first few months. They’ll make you feel more connected to the place and people, and that’s key to feeling at home there.

18) Ignoring the second and third years

If you’re living in student halls, most of neighbours will be other first years. But there’ll be a few Van Wilder types who’ve seen it done it all already.

Don’t neglect these people. For one thing, they might have textbooks you can buy. For another, they’re a great way to find out what you can expect from the year ahead.

19) Judging other people’s choices

Gossip helps nobody. He said, she said, he did, she did. All gossip does is create and reinforce division. Avoid it and help others avoid it too.

Got a gossipy housemate? Change the subject. Encourage them to think about how they’re similar to others, rather than focusing on what they see as differences.

20) Not getting into a routine

There’s a strong chance your first year doesn’t count, mathematically, towards your final degree mark. Don’t make the mistake of thinking it doesn’t count at all. 

Get into a proper routine early. Decide when’s the time for fun, for exercise, for study, for cooking, for the weekly food shop. Keeping your stress levels down is all about routine. 

21) Neglecting the local library

University libraries are great, but they can be busy. If you need a quiet study space where there are non-student people, join your local library.

You’ll have all the books and free WiFi you need, and you’ll be doing something more of us should be doing - using our public libraries so we don’t lose them.

22) Thinking freshers’ is your only chance to make friends

There seems to be this assumption that freshers' is the only chance you have to make friends at uni. That in those first couple of weeks you'll make connections with people that will last years, even decades.

But things don't always work out like that. If you don't end up making great friends in the first few weeks, don't panic. You'll have chances throughout the year to connect with people, whether it's on your course, in clubs or societies or even on a volunteering day.

23) Expecting to get firsts from the start

From five hours of lessons a day and teachers who told you what to do, to self-study and just 16 hours of ‘contact time’ a week. Academically, it can take a while to adjust at uni.

Don’t worry if you’re not getting grades of 70+ in your first year, even if you’ve always been a straight-A student. Try to focus on starting assignments early and having regular study times.

24) Giving yourself a hard time about any of this

The biggest mistake you can make is being tough on yourself for doing any of these things. We all make mistakes all the time.

So be yourself, have fun, take care, be nice to people, and do your best.

That’s all anybody can ask.

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Staff writer at The Common Room