Getting inside the mind of a Fresher

Inside a Fresher's mind

By Heather McCutcheon,

This week’s interview is with Verity Rowan, a soon-to-be Fresher at the University of Kent studying History. We discuss her about her search for the perfect university and her journey to getting the grades she wanted, and touch on student finance, accommodation and the excitement of Fresher’s Week. Hopefully some mutual feelings will be shared among other first years!

How did you make your final course and university choice? What steps did you take?
I knew I wanted to study History ever since I sat my GCSE’s; it definitely clicked with me as a subject and has always kept me interested and excited about learning more. After speaking with my family, friends and teachers I was pointed in the right direction and began researching different unis that offered that course. After looking at the grade requirements online, which can be very intimidating and almost off-putting at first, I chose a handful of unis that offered the most interesting History courses and went to their respective open days.

By asking lots of questions to different members of staff and picking up as many leaflets as I could really helped me in my decision and cleared up any queries I had. My friend has gone through a different process to me, having not visited any open days at all and just stuck to the information and virtual tours online which works well for him – I think it’s important to find a way to search for a uni that suits you best, whether you pick up your information online or physically. I finally narrowed my final choice to the University of Kent; with its medieval city and interesting course it seemed perfect for me!

How did you feel after you got into your chosen university? What did you do after you collected your results?
I was completely shocked and so happy – I’d been worried for so long having lots of sleepless nights so I couldn’t wait to tell everyone I knew that I got in! I found out through my UCAS account that I got into Kent before I collected my results, which I think I checked about a hundred times. Then I went into school to pick up my grades feeling a lot calmer – I had my headphones in and didn’t speak to anyone until I had seen my results. I was so pleased with my work and felt so relieved that it all paid off in the end. After this my Mum and I went to get a McDonalds breakfast to celebrate where my Mum told the cashier my good news. After a sleepless night before, I got home and completely crashed from all the adrenalin of the day and ended up sleeping for about four hours. I think it’s important for parents to leave their child to rest after results day because it really can wear you out. You do need some time by yourself to process all the new information and excitement.

How did you prepare for results day? Did you have a back-up plan?
I had a “Just In Case List” printed out that I’d worked on in case I had to go through clearing. I had all my UCAS account details copied and pasted in it so I would have quick access to them when I would be on the phone. I knew that if I didn’t get into Kent then I would take a Gap Year so I only looked at alternative courses at that uni. In the list I had a set of contact details of staff that I had met on open days and a description of what they looked like – I matched them to a celebrity-look-a-like to help me remember! I had written down all the reasons why I wanted to study History and I even had a template conversation that I would have in Clearing with the hotline numbers printed out. I also had to be aware of the second choice contract, which is something I don’t think is highlighted enough, because I only wanted to go to Kent I had to make sure I was able to cancel any links with my second choice uni to take a Gap Year.

What, if any, role have social media pages of universities played in your uni search?
I’ve found that Facebook and Twitter Pages are really helpful to get the information needed quickly and straight to your phone. Facebook has also helped me find my neighbours and people on my course in advance so I’m able to make friends before I even get there. I’ve been in contact with a few other first years who will be living in my building and will be studying History. It definitely reassures you that you’re not going to be the only one on the course…despite it being the most popular! You can discuss on Facebook and the Student Room how much money you need for Fresher’s Week and when you need to buy your books, which is really handy and makes the whole process seem less daunting. I’m a bit of a uni stats junkie too so I’m always checking reviews to see what others think!

How did you find choosing your accommodation? Were there enough choices and was it easy?
I think it was well set out online with the costs of each type of room so you could see clearly what you could afford which is really important. I got my first choice so I wasn’t stuck with a room I couldn’t pay for, thankfully. If I hadn’t visited some of the rooms on the open days I wouldn’t really have known what each type of accommodation was like just from the photos and tours online as some might be more advertised than others. I think it’s so important to apply early for your accommodation to give you the best chance of getting what you want, whether it’s en-suite facilities or a room in a house. I think if you are offered a room you don’t want the university will be sure to help you out if you call in early to discuss a room swap. It’s best to be organised a while before you move out of home.

How did you find information about and apply for any student finance?
Again, I made sure I applied early so I had enough time to alter any mistakes and for it all to go through the system correctly. It was my first ever big banking experience and it was pretty scary for a seventeen year old at the time; you do feel intimidated by the large costs of the loans you’re taking out. I actually had to call them up at one point and I found that they were quick, efficient and friendly which was a relief! I think with applying for finance it’s good to let your parents know when you will be doing it so you can set aside an evening to get it all done in one sitting to avoid the risk of forgetting passwords and important information.

What is your opinion on the distance between university and home? Is it important to be close?
I think from a student perspective it doesn’t really matter too much, as long as you are and feel safe where you move. I don’t think moving to a university further away is an “escape” from home necessarily, but more of an adventure – I was going to apply to universities in Scotland at first and friends that have moved far away seem fine. I think as long as you’re not at home, you’re still far away. I do tend to get homesick so I think if you keep busy with work and making friends your uni town can soon become your second home.

Have you shopped for uni? What do you have prepared for next month?
The day after results day I went to Sainsbury’s with my mum and I couldn’t help picking up stationary! I got pens, paper, staples, folders, Sharpies and highlighters! I have ordered my Provisional Driver’s License to use as ID at uni, set up my student account with my bank and I’ve chosen my modules for my first year which is very exciting. I have my accommodation set up and I have joined all the Facebook groups for Kent Uni. I still need to get a laptop, some cutlery and my books nearer the time. A week before I leave I have a shopping trip planned with my sister to get clothes for Fresher’s Week, which is very important!

What are your plans for Fresher’s Week? How are you going to spend it?
There are events planned for each day that are divided into colleges which gives you a chance to bond with your neighbours in the day time, which should be fun. At night there are events held in the main club on campus with themed parties like School Disco, Foam Party, International Night and the MTV Ball at the end of the week. My university offers a “Fresher’s Pass” which gives you a discount on each event and freebies which is useful to save a bit of money.

What are your thoughts and feelings a month to go? What are you looking forward to most at university?
Of course I’m very nervous, but I’m mostly excited! After speaking to some other first years online I’m feeling brave and ready for the adventure. I’m being thrown into the deep end moving out for the first time so I think having to deal with the independence will be good for me. After the three month break I’m really looking forward to getting back to learning and starting my modules. Fresher’s week is hopefully going to be really good too so I’m excited about that. Mostly I’m looking forward to meeting new people, living outside of London, and feeding myself!

Finally, do you have any advice for students in their final year of A Levels?
Definitely. Firstly, there is no shortcut to passing – you really do need to take your time and be thorough. When everyone is at that party…you have to stay at home and work. It will definitely pay off in the long run if you keep focused on what you want. It’s important to find out how you work best too; for me, sticking revision and motivation on my bedroom wall worked well to keep me constantly reminded and on task.

It might be nice to have a picture of your desired uni campus as your phone background to keep reminding you. I would advise you to listen to your teachers for their teaching and not for their opinions - they can sometimes dishearten you so it’s important to keep focused on your goal and end up proving them wrong! It’s important to use your study leave wisely and avoid any distractions; force yourself to go into school and work by yourself without your iPod. Suddenly mundane jobs like tidying your room and watching everything on BBC iPlayer seems more interesting than doing your work so you need to avoid that. Finally, re-sit anything you need to and work hard the second time around. I re-sat a module and turned my D into an A. It can be done! Work with tenacity and you will be rewarded in the end. Good luck.