It’s really weird being a recent graduate living in a city like Cardiff which is populated by so many students. I find myself looking out of coffee shop windows (enviously) as fresher’s rock up for their first term here, or final years moving into their new place in Cathays. There’s so much excitement in the first week of the university term, and it’s really tricky being on the other side looking in. You start to think about all the brilliant experiences, the friends you’ve made, and the many long nights you spent in the library writing an essay fuelled by caffeine. But you also start to think about the things you didn’t do, the societies you didn’t join, the year abroad you didn’t apply for, the languages you didn’t learn. So in this blog, I’m going to talk about my top tips for making the best of uni, so you spend more time thinking about what you did, rather than what you wish you had done.
1. Make the most of first year
There’s a reason why many degree schemes only expect a pass in your first year. The main reason is because they know many students are adjusting to working at a high academic level, and want to give students the opportunity to adjust. Universities also want to give you the time to make friends, have new experiences, join societies and ultimately, settle into the next three years in what will be for many students their new city and new surroundings. When I came to Cardiff back in 2013 (yes, I feel very old now), I spent so many nights of my first year in my flat, reading well above the required number of texts, and not going out because I wanted to ‘get ahead’ (looking back now I want to give myself a good shaking…). Although I enjoyed my studying, I found that by my third year I’d burnt out and didn’t really know how to relax when I needed to. So my advice would be to find some balance in your first year: you won’t know everything, you don’t need to be in studying every night, and you need to experiment in your first year with how you work and how you relax. If you find this balance in your first year, your second and third years won’t be as much of a shock.
So, join one of our fantastic societies. Try a new sport. Learn a new language. Go on some of the many trips arranged by the Student’s Union (I went to Berlin in my third year – best holiday of my life so far!). Explore your new city. The first year is there for you to enjoy – for you to learn how you work best and how you relax in-between. No doubt you’ll make some excellent friends along the way.
2. Take advantage of student services
If you’re forking out a large sum of money to attend University, it makes sense to get your money’s worth. In my first week at Cardiff, I attended several classes on time management, how to write an essay and how to reference, all offered free of charge by the University (you can even get a certificate to say you’ve been to all the classes!). There are careers and employability services there to help you write up your CV and find work experience, and the Global Opportunities Centre can help you go abroad to volunteer, study, or work. For those who are struggling, the University also offers both financial support through hardship funs and emotional support through free, on-campus counselling. The University is there to support you – so take advantage of all the services it has to offer!
3. Don’t rush on housing
In the first few months (and even weeks!) of first year, there already seems to be a massive pressure to decide who you’ll be living with in your second year and finding a place to live. I can’t stress how important it is that you take your time on housing. Firstly, you want to make sure you can enjoy living with the people you rent a house with – your best friend on nights out may be a nightmare for chores and bills! You may also change who you live with in your third year – I lived with four other people in my second year, but only two others in third year. Secondly, there is no rush to find your dream house. You’ll hear stories from different letting agencies saying that the ‘good’ houses are running out around October/November. This is not the case. Cardiff is a huge city with loads of student housing, and I have many friends who didn’t find their place to live until February/March. Take your time, try different agencies, do lots of viewings, and take plenty of notes/pictures. Finally, the Students Union has an Advice and Representation Centre, which can help look at contracts and help you with any questions on the legal side of renting your home.
4 Use your student discount offers
One of the biggest things I miss about being a student is my student discount. Many shops, cafes and restaurants offer students big discounts in return for their custom, and now even some of the bigger supermarkets have started to offer discount, too! Student discount can even be applied online, so you can save money when you’re spending your student loan on a new pair of shoes (we’ve all been there!). Also, look out for other student’s offers from things such as your broadband to your bank account.
5. Immerse yourself in your course
Amongst the partying, the making friends, the societies, the sports, the cups of coffee in cute coffee shops in Cardiff’s arcades, the main reason why you came to University was to study, and to study a subject you (hopefully) adore as much as I loved History. For me, this was the first time I was surrounded by people who shared the same passion for my subject, and I was being lectured by people who lived and breathed their subject areas. Because Cardiff’s teaching is research-led, lecturers are at the cutting edge of research in their area, often bringing their research to the classroom, so you’re always working with the newest and most relevant information. Funny fact: one of my lecturers is the first in the world to research the history of sausages, and its impact on international relations! Your library is another invaluable resource, where you continue your research and learning after your seminars and lectures. Be sure to familiarise yourself with your library, and ask the friendly librarians for help if you need it – they feel like your best friends by the end of your degree.
6.Discover the city
Wherever you decide to go, make sure you explore beyond the student area of your city. I have many friends who very rarely made it beyond Cathays (the main student village), and they seriously missed out on some incredible places. Like independent cinema and fancy food? Try Chapter Arts Centre in Canton. Fancy a walking tour of Welsh history? Go to St Fagan’s Museum of Welsh Life. Do you like coffee? Cardiff has a buzzing independent coffee scene, so try out Little Man Coffee, Uncommon Ground, Early Bird, Coffi Bank, Lufkin and Quantam. Be sure to read through Cardiff Life and other local magazine with the full listings of events in the city, like food pop ups such as Street Food Circus and Disco Bingo in Depot.
There are so many others things I could say here, but these are my top 5. Ultimately, my final piece of advice would be to enjoy yourself. University definitely was the best time of my life, but it zoomed past, so please make the most of it! Hopefully this blog has helped, and there are many other blogs on the Insiders website to give you an insight into University life. Let us know if it helped. Who knows – maybe you’ll be writing one of these one day..!