As this is my fourth year studying at Dundee, my first year at university was very different to how it will be this year. However, some things transcend Covid-19. Let me share with you some of the mistakes I made, so you don’t have to.
1. Prioritise your social life over your course
We’ve all been there, you have a deadline tomorrow, but your friends want to meet up? It takes an incredible amount of self-control to say no and stay at home. Sometimes you can get away with it and manage to meet your friends and get the work done, but these times are few and far between, especially if there’s alcohol involved. FOMO, or the ‘fear of missing out’, is something we will always feel, but the truth is you are always going to miss out on something. You can guarantee that the time you are away or ill, something will happen that your friends will be talking about for months.
As much as socialising is important, (and as much as it makes me sound like your mother), your coursework is so much more important. If the worst comes to the worst and you have to resit, that’s a minimum of a month in the summer when everyone else will be relaxing and having fun while you’re working. And if you still don’t pass? You’ll end up resitting the entire year or even dropping out completely. How will that affect your friendships? Trust me, as someone who has had to resit several times, it’s no fun at all.
2. Drink too much
Although socialising looks very different this year, there are still opportunities to drink, whether it be with your flatmates or over a zoom call in your room. Alcohol use can be fine if done safely; it can help to grease the wheels of conversation and make people feel more comfortable in situations that would normally be anxiety-inducing. But there are always going to be obvious dangers. Even if you’re an experienced drinker, coming into a place with a party atmosphere can mean you overdo it.
One problem that I had, that I think is rarely spoken about, is a dependency on alcohol to socialise. I came to the university as a very shy person who had barely drunk at all, and all of a sudden, I had this magical liquid that allowed me to openly speak to people without any fear. It was a disaster waiting to happen. At one point, I was having a few drinks while I was getting ready to go out, then a lot more at someone’s flat for pre-drinks, then even more at the bar or club. And this was happening two or three times a week! Safe to say, my health deteriorated, and I didn’t get much work done in between all the partying. All I got was a reputation as an alcoholic and increased anxiety when I was sober, as I still didn’t know how to speak to people without having a drink. Take my advice – learn how to socialise without alcohol first.
3. Pull an all-nighter
This one seems almost inevitable, and to be honest, it probably is. It was only a few weeks into the first semester when I pulled my first all-nighter, and it didn’t exactly go to plan. I ended up falling asleep when I should have been waking up, and therefore missing the review I had stayed up all night working for. Naturally, this didn’t go down well with my tutors. Thankfully, once I explained what happened, they were very forgiving, and even said that they’d prefer unfinished work to people making themselves ill through lack of sleep.
Sleep is very important to our health, both mentally and physically, and having a regular sleeping pattern is vital. It is very easy to break your sleeping pattern, but it can be very difficult to get it back to normal again. If you are a regular sleeper, then one all-nighter might not have that much of an impact. However, at the moment, where for the most part we are staying at home to learn and work, it can be harder to stick to a schedule where you’re awake during the day and asleep at night. So try to get your work done during the day, and try to avoid all-nighters as much, and for as long, as possible.
4. Date unsuitable people
A lot of us are hopeless romantics at heart. So when we go to a new place, in the back of our minds we realise that this could be where we meet our perfect partner. However, sometimes this thought overpowers logic, and we end up overlooking reasons why someone isn’t right for us. Whether it be the fact that they smoke and you don’t, they just seem to want ‘one thing’, or that you’re in wildly different places in your lives, sometimes we just want to be with someone for the sake of it.
I have a lot of bad dating stories, but I’ll never forget the first guy I liked when I came to Dundee. We met on the third day in the Underground (remember when clubs were a thing? Good times). Even though he explicitly said that he didn’t want to date anyone, and specifically he didn’t want to date me, that didn’t put me off. Why? Because I’m a hopeless romantic who overlooked the massive, gigantic red flags just because I thought I’d found someone to be with. Lesson well and truly learnt.
5. Live in bad conditions
Making friends and getting good grades are important, but nothing compares to the importance of your health. Looking after the places you eat and sleep are essential. When you first come to university, there is a good chance that you’ll be put in a flat with complete strangers, and although people might be on their best behaviour at first, keeping the bathroom tidy and making sure they wash all their dishes, the flat can quickly get messy. No one moves in thinking they need a cleaning rota, but you might find yourself needing one further down the line.
Even if you don’t go as far as a rota, some ground rules for the flat could be very useful. If you (or a guest of yours, when it’s allowed) make a mess, then clean it up yourself if you don’t want to be hated by the people you live with. In my first year, a few members of the flat had a food fight in the kitchen, and never cleaned it up. After weeks of not being able to cook anything in there, those of us who hadn’t caused it had to clean up the congealed egg and tomato so that we all got our deposits back, as the people who had done it had already moved out. I haven’t spoken to any of them since, unsurprisingly.
As I say, there’s a good chance you’ll make these mistakes anyway, and if not these, many other mistakes of your own in your first year of university. As long as you learn from these mistakes, and look after yourself, you’ll have an amazing year.