The A level results are in, the place at uni is in the bag and the exciting prospect of independence is beckoning. So too is the nerve jangling notion of making new friends – in a massive megalopolis miles away from home.
Fresher friend-making formulas such as showing up for your first day bearing boxes of biscuits, barrels of beer and a beaming grin are always a failsafe. But in addition to spending your summer stocking up on custard creams you could begin befriending before you actually step foot inside those hallowed halls.
Make the most of social media
The most obvious way is via social media. Although initially suspected of primarily promoting procrastination, social networking sites like Facebook are now recognised by even the most skeptical of universities as an invaluable resource for helping students adapt to university life.
Pretty much all UK universities now have a Facebook presence and most student unions routinely set up "Freshers at XX Uni…” groups. But in the unlikely event that you don’t find an established Facebook group there’s nothing to stop you setting up your own.
Rest assured - any worries you may have that friend-seeking wall posts will portray you as a dweeb will be immediately allayed by scores of responses from other undergraduates also afflicted with the pre-uni jitters.
Find out about societies and social groups
In addition to looking specifically for hands to hold during that first nerve-wracking week you will also be able to find Facebook groups for halls of residence, various societies and specific courses.
“A lot of our students find their long-term friends through our 150 sports, societies and media areas so getting them connected to others with similar interests is the best way forward,” explains Phil Lickley, media and entertainment manager for the University of Bradford Student’s Union.
“Social networking achieves this with new students posting comments and looking for people on a similar course or interested in similar hobbies. Then, when they arrive on campus, as well as their flatmates there are already other people to meet. It also encourages new students to socialise and explore the campus rather than hiding in their digs.”
Know when all the events are on
Even if your cyber mates turn out to be snoringly dull when you actually meet them at the union bar, joining the sites will still prove valuable to your lives as freshers.
“We do a lot of promotion via Facebook of all our events - from entertainment to general meetings, sport events to day trips,” says Lickley. “As well as providing a one-stop shop for students looking for things to do and people to meet, we also encourage students to give us feedback on everything we do.”
While many unis primarily use Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for social networking, others also employ additional tools such as Digg, Delicious, Flickr, Foursquare, Tumblr and Stumble. A quick grovel around the ‘future students’ or ‘campus life’ sections of your uni’s website may also throw up other coursemate meeting opportunities.
For example, Nottingham, Leicester, Lincoln and Cornell universities all have excellent student blogs that give you a real insight as to what it’s like to be there and invite you to comment.
Student chat forums
There are also chat forums with lots of friend-making potential such as www.thestudentroom.co.uk, www.studentto.com and www.studentsforum.co.uk - where you can compare nervousness levels and swap notes on what not to wear during your first week.
Find a university mentor
You can also befriend people who've already done the first year of your course. In addition to using social media many unis also run mentoring schemes, or as the current fad for all things American dictates - ‘parenting’ or ‘buddying’ - where freshers are paired up with second-year students doing the same course.
‘Buddies’ usually email the student they are paired with before they arrive, meet them during freshers’ week and then regularly for at least the first term. Signing up for this option is a definite plus – and you could beat your buddy to it by getting in touch first to ask questions.
If your mentor has been allocated a number of mentees, they’ll probably organise group mentoring meetings – which gives you another means of meeting other new friends.
Visit your university
Another tactic is to take another look around your university. Aside from avoiding the embarrassment of accidentally stumbling into a packed lecture hall during freshers’ week getting your bearings is a great way of boosting your confidence.
While many university websites have an ‘exploring the uni’ video facility – a more productive option would be to go there in person. If you phone ahead for permission you’ll be able to tour the campus and see your new digs. This might give you the edge when chatting on the Internet and means you’re also likely to meet other newbies doing exactly the same thing.
During the holidays, you’ll receive a freshers' pack in the post. Don’t lob it at the back of the cupboard. Read all the bumf thoroughly, as aside from containing forms that you'll need to send back, it’ll also have useful info about what to bring, what's happening when and opportunities to meet people. Which again will give you more conversation material.
Remember – you’re not alone
The key thing to remember is that you won’t be alone in wobbling along without the parental stabilisers – for pretty much every other fresher this will also be the first taste they’ve had of surviving on their own. And don’t be too disappointed if your initial conversations only extend as far A level results, weird looking lecturers and toilet horror stories from someone’s gap year – you’ll have plenty of time to decide who will become a friend for life.