Starting at university, moving to a new place, meeting new people – it’s a daunting transition for anyone, but can seem even more of a struggle when you’re also managing a hidden condition like Dyspraxia. To have worked hard to get into university is an incredible achievement, so well done!
Before I started my course at university, I was very apprehensive – especially about how I would socialise and make friends, how many times I would get lost, and how I would manage practical things like cooking. I really could have done with some reassurance that I could do it, and some advice for managing the first few weeks.
It’s OK not to participate in everything in Freshers’ week or in the first term
Don’t feel you have to take part in absolutely everything that’s happening in Freshers’ week, or that you have to read every advertising flyer thrown at you. There will be so much packed into the week – so many different kinds of events on offer, ranging from society fairs to introductions in your academic department.
During my Freshers’ week, I felt rather overwhelmed on numerous occasions. It’s OK to feel tired and emotional and full of information, this is completely normal. Often I would need to go back to my room and have an hour’s break from people and events, just to recharge.
I would say that it’s very important to pace yourself; whilst you want to make a good first impression, you also want to survive the first term without burning out! You have the whole three/four years of the course to try things, so don’t feel you have to fit it all into a week.
Staying organised (as much as possible!)
After each lecture, try to get into the habit of filing your notes in a sensible place in your folder – I colour-code my folders (a different coloured folder for each term) and use dividers (a different section for each module).
If you record lectures using a voice-recorder, try to get into the habit of connecting the recorder to your computer and saving files, so you don’t risk losing something important! Create folders (and folders within folders within folders if this helps you) on your computer, and create desktop shortcuts so that you can easily locate work you need to access regularly.
I found using post-it notes really useful, especially in a range of colours to differentiate between social events, academic commitments, volunteering etc.
Carrying around a small notebook in your pocket to jot down times and details of events can be a life-saver.
Make the most of your noticeboard – stick up a calendar and your post-it notes so you have a visual reminder of what is happening, and when.
If you’re as indecisive as I am, getting ready for events in Freshers’ week can be rather stressful. I would keep changing my mind about what I was going to wear, and consequently end up arriving somewhere late or rushing. Pack your bag and lay clothes out the evening before, so you have less to think about and decide in the morning.
I don’t have a reliable sense of time, so time can go by quickly without my knowing. One thing that does help me, though, is considering time as a visual concept – I have to physically draw out my timeframe for the week on my calendar, and before booking appointments, I work backwards in time. This way I can make sure I have more than enough time to get ready, and to walk to the location of the lecture without panicking. If you can, plan in an hour’s extra time to compensate for any possible lateness.
If cooking is something you are really worried about, you can buy ready meals very cheaply from supermarkets. Don’t attempt anything too complicated or time-consuming – this could be stressful if something goes wrong and you don’t have much time. Try to move around the kitchen slowly – coordinating food preparation can be a challenge, but I find that the most accidents happen when I’m rushing.
I find that the thought of cooking can easily overwhelm me if I don’t write down what I’m planning to cook for the week. In my notebook I plan which meal I’m going to have each day – you could write a few notes to remind yourself what you need to take out of the fridge/freezer, what extra ingredients you might need to buy, and how long it could take you to prepare the meal.
I also recommend preparing a packed lunch the evening before uni, so you can make sure everything is in your bag for the next morning.
Try to be assertive
It’s important not to let yourself feel pressured into doing things you don’t feel comfortable doing, particularly in Freshers’ week. Don’t feel pressured to go to the Freshers’ ball or clubs if you don’t want to – if it is something you would like to try, you could wait until you have found like-minded people, friends that you trust, so you feel more comfortable and safer going out with them. If drinking or going out isn’t your scene at all, don’t give up on the social side of university. Your Students’ Union might also be running more chilled events such as film nights, so check that out.
Definitely make the most of society fairs, but don’t sign up to everything (can be an information overload!) Have a think about your interests and what would suit you as a person. If you’re into the outdoors, for example, it’s likely there will be a hill-walking society that will run trips at weekends – this could be a good opportunity to get away from campus.
Ask about the volunteering projects available at your university – not only will this look impressive on your CV, but can be very rewarding. I took part in a weekly volunteering project last year, and felt very good about myself as I was helping someone.
If you isolate yourself and don’t make an effort to connect with fellow students, it could be a problem later in the year. I promise there will be a student community to suit your interests, and who knows, you might even meet your best friends there. 🙂
Don’t be afraid to seek support when you need it
There’s so much happening in the first week, but it’s definitely worth working out where the disability support services are located on campus – (see if you can walk there on Google maps street view if you’re worried about finding it, or you can even email/phone them). You should make an appointment with a disability advisor in your first term, so that you can get to know what support is available to you. They should already have received your records from school, and be able to advise on DSA (Disability Support Allowance) as well as accessing help in exams (this could be use of a computer for typing exams, or extra time.)
If you have any problems during the week, it’s good to know you have someone you can go to – this could be a mentor or a student welfare representative. Please don’t be afraid to talk to someone, as it isn’t a sign of weakness. Freshers’ week can feel a very lonely time, but if you are struggling, know that it will soon be over.
Try not to feel disheartened if you don’t seem to fit in straight away. In my Freshers’ week I was very self-conscious of not drinking excessively, and I admit that I spent a lot of the week by myself. Weeks later, though, I found my group of friends. Your peers may all seem ultra-confident and to be having a great time, but remember that this might not be the case. Not everyone will be finding it easy to adjust to university life.
Good luck, and most importantly, have fun!