Hello, there! My name’s Samara and I’ve just completed my first term at university where I’m studying Theatre: Writing, Directing and Performance. As an autistic student, I had to overcome some specific challenges this term which I hope writing about here will act as a sort of ‘autistic guide’ to starting university for prospective students.
Preparing for University
Rather than diving head first into Freshers’ Week, I just want to briefly mention the Step Ahead Programme which ran before I moved into university. “Step Ahead is an optional, free-of-charge induction programme to support new undergraduate students from under-represented groups transition to university life”.
Now, onto the main event: Freshers Week…
I moved into on-campus accommodation at 9am on September 24th. Moving in as early as possible meant that I beat both the traffic and the influx of other students; I had the time to unpack and get my bearings before introducing myself to my flatmates and attending the welcome talk. To arrive early you will need to book the earliest arrival slot available on the link emailed to you in the weeks before term starts. I recommend doing this so that you can take your time getting settled in.
In fact, if you take anything away from this post, I hope it is the message to take your time. Whilst it is important to take your time throughout your first term at university, it is especially important during Freshers Week.
Although Freshers’ Week is typically jam-packed with social events, that does not mean that you are required to go to them all. Try not to worry too much about making friends; generally, making friends comes later on.
One thing I do recommend though is taking the opportunity during Freshers Week to try something new.
The Freshers’ Fair is a good place to start but can be overwhelming. Look out for the quiet time slot where the number of people allowed into the fair is limited for people who might struggle in crowded spaces.
University really begins after Freshers’ Week. The first thing I did was send my medical evidence over to disability services so that I could get a Student Support Plan (SSP). This is a document that outlines the reasonable adjustments in place for you.
Next, I booked a meeting with my supervisor. Every term you will have at least one supervision. In the first term, this is a chat about how you are transitioning to university life. Your supervisor is your first point of contact and I recommend that you email them if you are struggling.
And struggle, I did…
5th Week Blues
There is a common term that floats around during the middle of each term: ‘the 5th-week blues’. It refers to the point when students typically don’t feel their best. Now, for me, this was a particularly challenging part of my first term at university.
There’s a reason why I emphasised taking your time and that’s because I didn’t. I wanted to do everything all at once. By Week 5 I wanted to have made tons of friends, started multiple new hobbies, excelled at my academics and made some money. However, when it became apparent that I couldn’t do all of these things at once I began to shut down.
To overcome this challenge I did two main things:
Firstly, I met up with my supervisor who offered her understanding and advice. Secondly, I started socialising again. Withdrawing from my flatmates worsened my anxiety and so I recommend you try to continue socialising… even if that means wearing a coat over your head and taking a nap in the middle of a group outing as I did. Simply being around people can really help.
The End of Term
A lot goes on at the end of term. There are important deadlines and Christmas events to balance. Again, take your time.
In fact, it was in the last week of term that I got my SSP. My appointment with disability services was thorough and supportive and I was able to get access to the reasonable adjustments I needed ahead of my most pressing deadlines. If for some reason you don’t have an SSP in place before the final week of term, make sure to get in contact with your supervisor.
As a final point, remember that you will not have to face any challenges alone.
In my final week, my flatmates and I cooked a Christmas dinner and attended the Goodricke College Winter Formal. There were always people there when I needed them, and I can confidently say that I thoroughly enjoyed my first term at university.