'Don't drink from a rubber chicken' - and other uni advice

From investing in heating to not living with punks, here’s some sage wisdom from those who learned their lessons the hard way

I wish I’d known… to apply for halls on time

Bournemouth had scant student accommodation, so those like me who applied late to halls were farmed out to local families. My first year was spent living with a monstrous couple and their sad-eyed children in a house that stank of vegetable oil. The family did karaoke at 3am, and furnished our living room with four dining chairs and a Melinda Messenger nude calendar. At one point, our landlord tried to move us in with his friend Gunner, who got his name because he had a gun and shot people. I wish I hadn’t been a latecomer. Stuart Heritage

I wish I’d known… to not be ‘rubber chicken guy’

I decided to make myself stand out at Dundee Freshers’ Week by taking a rubber chicken I had found on the floor and making it “my thing”. I bought blue WKDs, poured them down the bird’s throat, and drank from it all night. I was rubber chicken guy, and everybody loved rubber chicken guy. At 1am, during a DJ set by Justin from Hollyoaks, my throat stiffened and seized. I fell to my knees and began to dry heave. Eventually, I was taken to Ninewells hospital. Turns out I’m allergic to a chemical used to treat rubber toys, as most humans are when it’s placed in their mouths every five minutes for seven hours. Don’t be someone you’re not at university; don’t be rubber chicken guy. Joe Zadeh

I wish I’d known… that it’s OK to feel lost

The nose stud was quite grim. As was the leather jacket. But mostly I wish I’d known it was OK to feel lost. Literally lost. I did a degree in journalism and I was bad at it. No confidence, no map-reading skills. Once I spent a whole day walking around a seaside town crying, unable to find a local councillor I’d arranged to interview about the local graffiti problem. I thought my dreams were over. Thank god someone invented Google Maps. Harriet Gibsone

I wish I’d known… to buy an electric heater

Pretty much my only memory of being a student is feeling cold. So cold. The kind of cold I can still feel in my bones half a lifetime later. Just hearing the titles of some of the books I studied brings back muscle memories of leaning against the radiator in my room that blew its heat straight out of the draughty window. So I wish I’d known I was allowed to buy an electric heater. I also wish I’d known that I wasn’t less smart, less popular and less experienced than everyone else there, as I believed at the time. But that’s another story. Hadley Freeman

Pasta habit: more student horrors
Pasta habit: more student horrors Illustration: Bill McConkey

I wish I’d known… not to live with punks

I thought I was pretty gnarly until I lived in a second-year house that literally fell down because we were so awful. At one party, during a rowdy set from an acoustic ruffian whose signature song went “Buckfast/ It gets you fucked fast”, so many punks pummelled the low ceiling that it collapsed on us. Worse, maybe, there was always someone with skidmarks cooking vegan stew in the kitchen when I just wanted to make toast. Punks: they are smelly and they will make your student accommodation implode. Think wisely before moving in with one, or five. Kate Hutchinson

I wish I’d known... not to be ‘vibey’

Look, here’s a bit of hard-won wisdom for you: Rocking up on your first day in student halls wearing a belt buckle with a slide-out Zippo lighter in it and immediately pinning up a Fear and Loathing poster does not make you look as cool and dangerous as you think it does. You are not ‘vibey’. Put out the joss sticks, the whole floor can still smell the soapbar spliffs you smuggled up from Devon. In time your German roommate will learn that no, it isn’t all “totally legal” here since “they changed the law”. He won’t be glücklich. Oh, and apparently no one else has brought a desktop computer to uni with them since 1998. Kevin EG Perry

I wish I’d known… that you can’t survive on dried pasta and vodka


Packing me off to the first term of my degree, my parents bought me a meal card, which I was meant to show at the uni canteen in exchange for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But the canteen was a whole five minutes’ walk from my halls so, instead, I tried to survive on packets of dried cheese-and-broccoli pasta. It didn’t work. When your only vitamins are coming from the orange juice you’ve mixed with your vodka, and you’ve been drinking in the union for three weeks straight, your body does not like it one bit. “I’m dying,” I told my mum on the phone, who made my dad drive from Hampshire to Stoke-on-Trent at 4am to pick me up and bring me home. Three days of my mum’s cooking cured me: I was sent back (on the train) with strict instructions: no more Pasta N’Sauce. Issy Sampson

I wish I’d known… how disappointingly nice university can be

Despite having applied to a university largely populated by ducks, I arrived at uni anticipating drunken misadventures. Instead, I got a neighbour who put up a Friends poster in the communal kitchen at a jaunty angle and a chance to join the Belle And Sebastian Society if I could keep up with their consumption of Ribena. The niceness was catastrophically disillusioning. How I longed for someone to be sick in my sink. Bella Todd

I wish I’d known… to stop drinking after fresher’s week

I learned nothing of any use at university and got kicked out after five terms for being a drunk. I did learn how to smoke cannabis through a coke can (or through an apple if there were no coke cans available). I also learned how to shout ‘Fuck the Boers’ in Xhosa. I learned how to play the riff to My New House by The Fall loud on an electric guitar until my neighbour came round and threatened to kill me with a shovel. I learned how to lose all my possessions and my mental well being. I learned how to alienate nearly everyone I met. I learned how to lose my self respect and eventually I learned how to become homeless. I was the first person in my entire family to go to university and I squandered the experience for sherry and low grade LSD. It remains one of the few deep and lasting regrets I have in life. No matter how anxious you feel in new situations, alcohol is neither a medium nor long term solution. John Doran

I wish I’d known… that first year is actually important


I wish I’d known a few things: a hairdo that looks like BoJo suplexing a labrador will result in an entirely involuntary period of erotic abstinence; if you have to ask “is that egg too old?” then it definitely is and will make your entire tract fall off; a beer can pyramid will make your flat smell like a bucket of decomposing swim bladders. But mainly: you know all those annoying, pointless Study Skills tutorial things in first year? The ones you bin off so you can get that essential 11th hour of sleep? Go to them. Because if you don’t, three days before your graduation ceremony you’ll be told you failed Study Skills in 1st year and therefore haven’t actually graduated at all. And your mum and dad will hold it against you for the rest of time. Luke Holland

I wish I’d known... a lot of things!

I wish I’d known that it often wasn’t boundless existential emptiness, I just needed some cheese on toast; that carrying a friend on my back while running down a cobbled street was unwise; and the tutor was right not to give more time for that essay (but also that my alternative priorities were just fine). I wish I’d known that white wine doesn’t remove red and that - impulsive and blind - I had the capacity to hurt people, so to take a little more care. Amy Liptrot

I wish I’d known... to avoid the rugby team

In my first term at university, I went along to the rugby team’s welcome party – not because I wanted to play rugby, at all, but because there were free drinks. This led to a misunderstanding about my banter tolerance levels, and so I got thrown in a pond, in front of my entire year group, in my underwear, in September. In one sense this was a compliment, I guess? But I do feel it set back my attempts to cultivate an image of literary hedonism: I wanted to be offered new and exciting drugs (which is to say, any drugs at all) by attractive women, not pints of snakebite and black by a prop forward. Nice lads, in their own way, the rugby team, but if I could do it all again, I’d definitely keep them at a respectful distance. Also, buy some new pants. Archie Bland

I wish I’d known… nothing!

There’s loads I could list here: you should try revising for at least one exam before 6am the night before; ordering the novelty chocolate spread pizza never ends well; don’t spend two years pining over someone who just isn’t interested, m8. But actually there’s nothing I know now that I wish I’d known as a student. Because uni isn’t where you go to learn about statistical methods in psychology; it’s where you learn how to survive on rice and ketchup, and grow fungal colonies on your bathroom mat. It’s where you might find out what being utterly heartbroken feels like, and how many bottles of cheap red wine it takes to cure it. It will be scary and thrilling and emotional and quite possibly the best time of your life. Believe me: the last thing you need is someone older and wiser getting in the way of that. Tim Jonze


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