Starting University Amidst a Pandemic By Alice Brooks

Starting university may well be one of the most memorable times of your life. Typically, students begin planning for their new chapter one or two years before they take the leap. For many, the process is a long and grueling journey, but one that is exciting too. Visiting campuses all across the country, confirming your top five, writing personal statements, going to interviews, revising for months, and sitting the exams, all before you’ve even confirmed your place at the university you’ll spend the next three years of your life at – it’s a lot to take in.

However, what most students will tell you is the worst bit about the entire process, is the ten weeks of summer leading up to result’s day - there isn’t a night that goes by that isn’t riddled with nightmares and worry. As the sun rises on that special August morning, students across the country will find out whether the last two years were worth the blood, sweat and tears.

For students wanting to begin university this coming September, the journey couldn’t be further from the norm. Where the majority of past students would’ve revised for their summer exams, this year’s cohort had their future snatched out of their hands when Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced in March of this year that no GCSE or A Level exam would be taking place this summer.

So, where does that leave the 192,557 Year-13 students who should have been sitting their exams this summer?

This year’s A level cohort, along with the rest of the country, have spent the past three or four months locked inside. However, unlike many off us, they’ve had the added pressure of knowing they can do nothing else to change their A Level outcome. Now, they must simply wait. They will wait for their subject teachers to collate their past results, mock papers and classwork in order to predict what these students would have received if they’d have taken the exams.

But for many students, mock results do not give an accurate representation of how they will do months down the line, after hours of revision. There is no guarantee that these students will succeed if they do well in their mocks, so you can imagine the panic and uncertainty that these students will be feeling.

With all this free time, of course these students will be deliberating the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic upon their near futures and whether beginning higher education career in September is the right move to make. With many universities deciding to carry out lectures online for the next academic year and delaying events such as Freshers’ Fayres or Freshers’ week, it seems a lot of students are worried they’ll miss out on the typical clichés of university life.

According to one Guardian article, 20% of students have said they are willing to delay their university start date, resulting in thousands fewer students attending university this academic year.

As a university student myself, it is understandable that these concerns are circulating. There is a common thought amongst university students that the £9250 per year is split between paying for education and paying for ‘a good time’, especially in first year. However, most undergraduate degrees range from 3 to 4 years in length, meaning students who start in September will still have plenty of time ahead of them to make the most of the university lifestyle.

As things already seem to be improving and we can likely expect for university events to resume at some point in the next academic year, is the traditional freshers experience really something worth postponing first year for? Take it from someone who has experienced it – half of my first year went online, meaning 6 months of being a fresher was lost - I would still personally choose half a year of what university should be like over deferring any day.

So, for the 80% of you fresh out of Year 13 who have decided to continue with your plans of going to university this autumn, here are a few tips to get you through the first few months of being a lockdown fresher:

  1. Before arriving at university, get to know the people you’ll be studying with. As freshers’ events are seeming less and less likely, it will be crucial that your cohort finds different ways to meet new people. Often, universities will create a Facebook group or a WhatsApp group chat for incoming students - get on these chats! Speak to people who will be on the same course as you and set up a plan to meet when you arrive at university; this is a perfect way to make sure you already know someone when you get there.
  2. Do the same again but with your flatmates. Whilst the chances of a night out are looking slim, by September, we may be able to meet larger groups of people. This is a great chance to meet the people you’ll be living with or in proximity to - perhaps organise a house party or flat take away, even a joint trip to Tesco can provide a surprising amount of bonding time.
  3. Societies are expected to be carried out differently too. Committees might be limited to using social media to recruit and Zoom to hold events. Surrey’s student union has resources for students to check out all the societies that the uni has to offer. Before you arrive have a look at the societies you may want to be a part of – follow their social media pages and contact the committee for further information.

If you follow this advice, there is no doubt you will succeed as a lockdown fresher - and remember- university isn’t just about the social life; it is about becoming independent, studying something you love, and maybe living in a different area of the country for the first time. Don’t let this virus ruin your university experience. Good luck to everyone awaiting results and we hope to see you here at Surrey come September.


Created with an image by Victoria Heath - "untitled image"