A highlight of the student calendar, freshers' week provides an opportunity to ease into student life but thanks to COVID-19 it'll look a little different in 2020
Traditionally, freshers' week, often referred to as welcome week is an incredibly busy time, filled with social events, fairs and the completion of important administrative tasks. Its purpose is to give you the chance to make new friends and settle into your new surroundings before lectures begin.
However, due to the current pandemic and institutions efforts to prevent the spread of the virus, which include social distancing rules and increased safety measures it's fair to say that this year you'll experience freshers' week, but not as you know it.
For example, the majority of universities plan to run their courses with a mix of face-to-face and online teaching. This means that large lectures and seminars are likely to be held virtually. Similarly any large events, including social activities will also be conducted online.
To avoid too many students arriving at once institution's such as the universities of Bath and Exeter are asking students to book their arrival time, with the University of Exeter stating that only one other person can assist you when moving in to your new accommodation.
'We're determined that new students won't lose out on a great welcome experience because of the challenges posed by the pandemic, although we have inevitably had to make some changes to the way in which this is delivered,' says Ruki Heritage, director of student experience at the University of Bedfordshire. 'This includes moving a number of events and activities which were previously delivered on campus online.'
Universities are constantly updating their processes and guidelines as the COVID-19 situation progresses, so it's a good idea to keep an eye on your institution's website to ensure you have the latest information.
You'll usually have a few meetings scheduled during freshers' week, such as welcome talks with your department, an introduction to your students' union and induction sessions with the library, careers office and your accommodation provider. Pre-COVID these would all have taken place face-to-face but it's now likely that some, if not all will take place online.
The most important date in your welcome week diary will be registration. You'll need to complete registration by a certain date and be aware that failure to do so may result in a fine. For example, students who fail to register by the designated deadline at The University of Manchester can be charged £200.
'In recent years most September-start students have completed online registration and this will now be delivered solely online, with full support available to students through live chat, and where checks are required in person this will be offered on an appointment basis,' explains Ruki. 'A blended academic induction programme will be delivered, involving online and on-campus components, giving students the opportunity to meet their tutors and find out about the services and facilities available.'
Your institution's website should contain a step-by-step guide on how to register, whether you're an undergraduate or postgraduate.
It's not just student registration that's important. Registering with your local GP is a must, especially in current circumstances. Hopefully you won't need a GP for anything more serious than 'freshers' flu' - the sickness and tiredness most students experience as a result of a lack of sleep and a change of diet and routine - but it's better to be safe than sorry.
In addition to this, make use of your welcome week to complete other practical tasks while you're free of the responsibility of lectures. If you're on campus find out where the library and students' union are, suss out where your teaching spaces will be and locate local food shops and launderettes, if your accommodation doesn't provide washing facilities. If you'll be spending the first semester studying from home make sure your internet connection is sufficient, check that you have access to all the required resources and ensure you have all the necessary equipment to complete your work.
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of freshers' fairs might be freebies but that's not all these events have to offer. Your university's freshers' fair offers you the chance to discover new interests and sign up for new experiences. Pre-pandemic these events were traditionally held indoors and gave you the opportunity to speak with the students' union, members of clubs and societies and local employers face-to-face.
This year indoor events with hundreds of stalls are out and outdoor events and virtual fairs are in. The University of Stirling plans to hold a 'Freebie Day' and a 'Clubs and Societies Day' outside the students' union, a union officer Q&A will be conducted on Microsoft Teams and a 'Day of Deals' will happen on social media.
Look on your university and students' union website for information on how your freshers fair is being conducted.
Keep in mind that by signing up to a society during freshers' week you're not committing to becoming a member - you'll just receive more information about what their activities involve.
This year's fairs might have a different format but don't let that put you off attending and signing up. There's no denying the importance of extra-curricular activities and when it comes to your job hunt they can prove incredibly useful. Future employers will be impressed by your enthusiasm and ability towards trying new things and your involvement in clubs and societies can provide practical examples for you to use during an interview.
Ask any student what the best part of freshers' week is and most will tell you it's the nightlife. With the reopening of pubs and bars some universities are optimistic that new students won't need to miss out on this element of freshers' week, however, institutions still stress the need for students to follow social distancing rules.
That said, freshers' week in 2020 is still likely to be a tame affair compared with previous years. All mass gatherings are banned and nightclubs still remain closed.
Instead this year students' unions have got creative and planned a mix of in-person and virtual events to try and make up for the lack of traditional fun. In-person events may include night markets, food festivals and open-air cinema's but expect a cap on numbers. Planned virtual activities include DJ sets, quiz nights, movie marathons and yoga classes. At the University of Leeds freshers can take part in virtual escape rooms.
While social events are planned on every day or night of the week you don't have to attend them all. Freshers' week can be a little overwhelming, especially as you're trying to get to grips with all the additional safety rules.
In previous years, because of its boozy culture freshers' week could also feel a little excluding for the introverted or teetotal. This year the more diverse (and less alcohol-focused) events on offer mean that everyone can take part.
If you're not a drinker and you're worried about when things go back to normal many universities have their own sober societies. Activities include karaoke, go-karting and film nights, and bring together students of a similar lifestyle who may find the stereotypically alcohol-fuelled student culture alienating.
Help and support
While some students sail through freshers' week, others will find adjusting to university life more difficult. If you fall into the latter category it's important to know that you won't be the only one feeling anxious or experiencing homesickness.
Times are especially uncertain and confusing right now and if welcome week isn't working for you, don't suffer in silence. All universities will have dedicated and friendly welcome teams so talk to them if you're feeling a little lost. These teams are on hand to listen without judgement, suggest events that might work for you and signpost you to the right people if you're in need of further support.
Ruki details the help on hand at Bedfordshire 'staff from student engagement, disabilities, mental health support and counselling will be on campus during welcome weekend and freshers week to provide information, advice and guidance to students. This is alongside a full delivery of services online through email, telephone and Skype appointments.'
Freshers' week can be a stressful time if you're struggling to make friends or fit in but remember that this one week doesn't have to define the rest of your university experience. Once teaching starts things usually get easier as you'll meet course mates and fall into a routine.
Find out what to do if you're feeling homesick.
Find out more
- Learn more about how universities are changing in the wake of COVID-19.
- Discover how to look after your mental health at university.
- Explore 5 ways to manage student stress.