Freshers expectations versus reality

When you’re promised the time of your life, how do you handle the reality of a freshers week that doesn’t quite go to plan?

Freshers expectations versus reality

After getting accepted into university, I finally allowed myself to join all the freshers’ groups I’d avoided until results day. I’d been uncharacteristically scared of tempting fate, as if daring to join in the hype for my dream university would somehow alter my results and ruin my chances of getting in. Once I knew I was in, I dove headfirst into figuring out what my new life would be like before I even arrived at university. In this day and age, that means joining all the accommodation groups, liking all the new meme pages for your university, and clicking ‘Interested’ on any event claiming to be the biggest and best freshers’ night out ever. There was an overwhelming number of groups, events and group chats promising you a week to remember, the time of your life, friends for an eternity... It’s easy to get drawn in by these appealing promises, but reality doesn’t always live up to your expectations.

My first experience of university not being all it was hyped to be came with my accommodation allocation. I’d already given five options, and one was randomly allocated to me when I got accepted. Naturally, I received my last choice. It boasted a shared bathroom and kitchen between nine girls, buildings rumoured to be from an old prison, paper-thin walls and a wild partying reputation. As someone who’d dreamed of an en-suite after coming from a family of five and always fighting for the bathroom, the reality was not what I’d hoped for. The one bonus of it being the cheapest halls was what I held on to, thinking about how I’d be able to afford a few extra drinks on nights out with my fun new flatmates. Of course, when I arrived I very quickly learned that most of my flatmates were not people I got on with at all. The dreams of becoming a ‘flat family’ were quashed on the first night when I ended up lost and alone on our very first night out together. Luckily, a few of the girls I liked saved me (Google Maps was not my friend that evening) and I realised how little the rest of them cared about me being in that situation.

I’d hoped for us all to get along and had been encouraged by friends who had gone to university a year before me and had told me their flat had all bonded and had cute nights in together. In an ideal world, you’d meet all your flatmates, and all become best friends and have the best freshers’ week with them. In reality? When you’re randomly thrown together with eight other people, chances are you aren’t going to find that all eight are friend material. And chances are, you aren’t going to be their cup of tea either. That’s okay. You don’t have to be friends with your flatmates. They’re a tiny percentage of the people you will meet, and people on your course and in societies are probably more similar to you anyway!

I’d expected Freshers Week to be exciting, action-packed and full of new people and new experiences! For some people, I’m sure it was. For me? After an upsetting incident on a night out with my flat and some guys from other floors of our accommodation, I’d walked home crying on the phone to my friend. I’d realised there was nothing to be gained from hanging around with people who made me feel stupid, boring and isolated. But I was feeling too anxious to try and talk properly to new people in my course inductions, or to even do things with the few flatmates I did like. Interestingly, I’d never really experienced anxiety like this before freshers’; it’s a testament to how intense and terrifying it can be, stirring up these unknown emotions. The intensity of freshers was unexpected, as were these feelings of anxiety and exhaustion. I wanted time to myself to get used to everything but then felt so lonely when I heard everyone else going out to have fun. There’s definitely an expectation that you will go out and drink every single night, especially if you don’t want to appear ‘boring’. Realistically, you will probably end up so run-down and exhausted that you’ll end up with the famed ‘Freshers’ Flu’ if you keep pushing yourself to your limits. There’s nothing wrong with having a night in – it doesn’t mean you’re boring or that you’re missing out on amazing experiences. Taking time to relax and look after yourself is crucial; for me, I was feeling so awful about having no friends yet, so I found video chatting my mum with a cup of tea therapeutic and grounding.

The reality of freshers’ week isn’t talked about enough. The universities and event promoters want you to buy their expensive event tickets or wristbands, and often encourage you to “just get out there”. That’s often easier said than done. I missed out on all the fun freshers’ daytime activities because I was feeling far too anxious to even attempt to go sign up to an activity alone. I’ve heard many of my friends tell me similar stories about their freshers’ experiences and how disorientated they were by the turbulent week. Starting university is probably the biggest change you’ve experienced in life so far; it’s bound to be overwhelming, exciting but also scary at times as you adjust to your new reality.

I’m not here to say that you will all 100% have an awful freshers’ week, or that you will hate your flatmates or want to go home. Really, the issue lies with false expectations. You’re bound to feel disheartened if you’ve arrived expecting an out of this world experience, and it is just normal. Prepare yourself for the likelihood that you won’t be instant best friends with everyone you meet - you’ll still definitely find a few people you click with! Don’t expect the freshers club nights to be amazing; it’s just a regular night out with some extra decorations and maybe a free t-shirt. Go out hoping for a good time, stay safe with people you feel like you can trust, and remember that you don’t have to be the top partier to get involved!

Listen to your instincts. If you meet some new people that you have weird feelings about, don’t stick around and get in trouble. Take a night off and have a good meal with a film, TV show or game you love. Keep talking to your friends from home; if they’ve gone to university too, chances are they’re also working on adjusting, and would appreciate the solidarity. Don’t think that your flatmates are the only friends you’ll ever have – you can find new sources of friendship by striking up a conversation at a module fair, in an induction seminar or at a society taster event. You might have a great Freshers, or a disappointing one. As long as you aren’t expecting The Best Week Of Your Life™…you’ll get by just fine.

Header Image Credit: Gades Photography at Unsplash


Charlotte Boulton

Charlotte Boulton Contributor

I am a Media, Communication and Cultural Studies student at Newcastle University, who loves all things creative and political. I am a jack of all trades, with roles including Marginalised Genders Officer at the Student's Union and Music Editor of the university's student newspaper The Courier. My passions include fighting for gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, representation, intersectional feminism and social justice - alongside a love of music, film and media!

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  • Joshua Gould

    On 26 September 2018, 12:34 Joshua Gould Contributor commented:

    I tend to find that people either have "the best week of their lives" or a series of disappointing days, culminating in a large hangover, and a fair amount of regret - on occasion these can be the same people.

    It's the being safe aspect that is the most important though - and I love how that is the key part of this article.

  • Charlotte Boulton

    On 26 September 2018, 20:21 Charlotte Boulton Contributor commented:

    I think I realised pretty quickly that putting myself at risk by trying to have a good time with people I didn't really know, in a city that was still unfamiliar, was just....not worth it. Definitely important to bare safety in mind, even if you think you know who you're living with/studying with/going out with - I'm glad that message got across!

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