How to Smash Your First Year

Somehow, through adjusting to life on my own amidst an existential crisis and relationship drama, I managed to get a first in my first year at uni. So the SU asked me to write an article so you can hopefully do the same.

New friends, new you?

Surprisingly, you’ll actually need to talk to people… urgh I know right. But seriously, you’re never going to be in an easier environment to make friends. During the first few days everyone is in the same boat, lost and confused looking for some beacon of light to save them. Be that beacon.

University is a fresh start, providing you with a chance to flourish and seek-out people who share your interests. Whether they’re on your course, members of a society or just people you’ve met around campus, saying hello to someone won't kill you.

Say ‘YES’ to getting involved.

Before becoming the socialite I am today (*cough*), I was a bit of a mousy wallflower. So I decided to come to uni with the intention of saying “yes” to as many opportunities that came my way, before I had the chance to overthink them and become an anxious ball of worry. Make the most of the investment in your education and utilise everything uni life offers you. Realise the only person standing in your way is yourself. Although, realistically, you’ll probably only be able to commit to one or two societies, enjoy them!

Get organised.

To survive uni you don’t have to have everything pedantically organised and colour-coded like Sheldon Cooper, just get into some good habits like regularly reading your uni emails. I missed some cool events and opportunities because I got behind on reading them. Having a simple wall calendar to record deadlines and those plans for a cheeky Nando’s is a good idea, as well as a folder with all those important documents like your course acceptance letters makes finding key information much easier. 

It’s YOUR body, look after it.

Your mum’s not around anymore. I’ll just give you a moment to let that sink in.

That means the dentist, doctors appointments, prescriptions and a healthy diet are all your responsibility now. Get them sorted as soon as possible and you won’t have to worry about that weird thing growing on the bottom of your left foot. Plus, having a mini first aid kit with a supply of plasters, paracetamol and aspirin will help aid those lingering memories of the night before. I'm not saying you’re “gonna get laid” (lads, lads, lads etc) but being safe, clean and consensual are rules we should all follow. Condoms and chlamydia tests are available for free from SU Advice and you can access a free postal STI test kit with confidential results sent by text here.

Coursework doesn’t have to be hard-work.

You’ll quickly learn that Netflix is both your best friend AND your worst enemy. The solution? Make a start on coursework as soon as it’s set and take short Netflix breaks to satisfy your fix.

Pro-Tip: Get the books from the prescribed reading list early on AND actually use them. You don’t want to be caught up in a last-minute hunger games fighting for the book of all knowledge 2 days before your essay is due.

If you get a choice of essay topic then don’t make your life difficult, pick the easier topic and do it to a high standard. Also, if you can get your department’s referencing and writing styles down early on you’ll be a diamond in the rough for the markers. It’s also worth investing in having your own printer, an ethernet cable for when the WiFi gets iffy around deadlines and a good grammar checking program. To be honest I was just tired of seeing the Grammarly adverts on YouTube, but it's surprisingly helpful.

Exam time… dun, dun, dun.

Whichever square said, “last minute cramming doesn’t work” …well they were probably onto something, but hey, it didn’t stop me. I’m not saying energy drinks and late-night sessions while your friend sleeps off the booze on your bed are the best conditions to revise in, but I am in my second year now so…

Seriously though, summarising each of your lectures down to one slide of concise notes and then talking through them with your course buddies, as well as attempting practice questions together is the best way I found to revise. I also found attending most of my lectures helpful… I say “most” because I overslept a couple of times, so no, attending every lecture in first year is probably not essential. Is that bad advice? They’re not going to let me write that.

Spending AND saving that loan.

If you're offered a free store loyalty card, get it. Even if you don’t think you’ll shop there often they often have some handy benefits attached to them. Don’t forget to ask for student discounts with that invaluable NUS card because those free cheeseburgers from McDonalds are worth it. If you see a good deal then buy two, or alternatively for things like toiletries or anything with long expiration dates it’s often better to buy in bulk. If you need to get from A to B, how about walking or cycling instead of getting buses and taxis? Quit being lazy. For longer journeys investing in a railcard is a sound idea.

An easy way to earn a little extra cash is to make use of that time between lectures and participate in paid psychological studies. Most of them utilise those human qualities you already possess so unless you’re an alien you’ll be more than qualified.

Pro-Tip: Don’t pass up the fresher’s fair freebies. You can never have enough pens.

Finally, although you should be ruthless with your spending, and not buy crap (that fidget spinner is £3 I’m never getting back), money is a tool to be used and providing student finance hasn’t screwed you over you should have some fun with that “disposable” income.

Chores… Yes. More responsibility.

I’ll say it again, your mum’s not around anymore. Chores may be nothing more than the mundane tortures that plague the human race, but they still need doing. I suggest setting aside some chore time each week and just getting them all done at once. It really makes a huge difference if you ever want friends to come around or maybe that special someone, just saying.

Nights out OR nights in?

We all love a good night out, but honestly, staying in is sometimes better than going out. Pre-drinking or gatherings with a small group of friends is cheaper and more entertaining if you’re not too loud. Drinking games are awesome and a great way to get involved or rope in those quieter peeps. You’ll quickly learn that anything can be made into a drinking game if you try hard enough, but a standard deck of cards should suffice.

Pro-Tip: Get plastic coated cards from Poundland so they don’t get ruined by unavoidable alcohol spills.

Independent living doesn’t mean perfect living.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, trust me I made loads (memories of the burnt pizza that was more frisbee than edible springs to mind). Knowing that you’re surrounded by people who, like yourself, probably haven’t lived on their own before is reassuring. Be willing to learn from those around you and build on each other’s knowledge. Ask for help when you need it, particularly if you’re struggling. Don’t suffer in silence. Once you find your feet you’ll find living on your own is actually easier than you think.


You hear a lot of stories about stolen food and noisy housemates before you come to uni but I genuinely didn’t experience that… for the most part (*wince* too soon, RIP chocolate.). It’s all about putting in the effort to create a rapport with your housemates. Introduce yourself early on, say hello whenever you see them and try to show an interest in their lives. I also bribed offered my housemates brownies I made. If you do encounter a problem I would avoid being passive aggressive (and yes, I’m guilty of this too) and instead go through the proper channels. Talk to your housemates directly about it and if it persists the RA’s are there to help as, are the security team who are polite and genuine considering the amount of crap they put up with.

Cheap food doesn’t have to be bad food.

Ah YouTube, you are always there for me. Video tutorials are a great way to learn new recipes (and new skills for that matter) and cooking is all about giving it a go. There are always cheaper alternatives to your favourite foods (but beans will always mean Heinz for me) and a great way to save money is having set meal plans for each day. I know the same meals on the same days each week can get pretty boring but if you want to consistently spend the same amount every week then it may be right for you. I think I spent about £15-£20 each week on food, leaving more money for alcohol books for studying… obviously.

Pro-Tip: keep a food crate in your room containing snackie go-to foods that are easy to make and will keep you happy on those days where you either can’t be bothered or need a pick-me-up. 


In summary, follow my tips, or don’t it’s your freaking life. Everyone’s first years are different. Just have fun and create some awesome memories. For those nerds looking for extra credit I have one final tip… Call your family! (they worry).


This article was written by Owen Preston. 2nd Year BSc Psychology.