The ‘Moving to University’ freshers’ checklist
(Last updated: 12 May 2021)
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Introducing the freshers' checklist. What you need to bring, what you should think about, and why you absolutely don't need a sandwich toaster...
For most first-year undergraduates, moving to university or college will be the first time they've lived away from home, and maybe even the first time they've spent more than a few days at a time away from the family home. You'll be nervous, naturally – but you should also be excited. Some of the most fun-filled years of your life lie ahead, and unpacking your stuff into your new pad can be a pleasurable experience rich with possibility. That is, if you haven't packed so many cases and boxes that you're going to be unpacking 'til Christmas and have to squeeze sideways around your junk just to get into bed.
If you have difficulty navigating your room sober, imagine what it'll be like after your first big night out. Read our guide to avoid pitfalls and pratfalls around your stuff.
Things to think about first
What you'll take with you to university depends on quite a lot of variables, such as:
- How you'll be getting there.
- Do you have your own wheels that you'll keep with you the whole time?
- Will you be piling your belongings into a vehicle owned by family and friends and having them drop you off?
- Or will you be dragging your stuff with you onto a coach, train, or (for international students), plane?
- What kind of accommodation you're living in.
- Will you be in halls, a shared house, or even (whisper it) a place of your very own?
- Are kitchen utensils provided?
Do you have an ensuite bathroom?
- How close are you to (a) the university/ college campus (for bookshop, stationery supplies, etc.) and (b) a supermarket?
- What kind of degree course you're enrolling in.
- Do you have to do outside/field work that requires specialist clothing?
- Do you require any specialist equipment that will be cheaper/ easier to obtain before you travel?
It might not be possible to know all this before you travel and see your digs for the first time, but if you do know the answers to some of the above, it will be easier to plan accordingly. Having an ensuite in your room is a rare treat, but you'll soon discover it's no fun without toilet paper. On the other hand, if you bring a full set of brand spanking new pots, pans, crockery and cutlery to a kitchen in a hall of residence that's already fully stocked to the brim, you might end up having to devote precious bedroom space to that box of kitchen items you never got to unpack.
Wherever you're moving from, wherever you're living, and whatever type of degree course you’re enrolled on, you're going to want to make absolutely sure you've got the following covered:
ID and other necessary documents
If you drive you're probably used to carrying ID around with you – and you've probably got a piece of ID you use to prove you're allowed to buy a drink. But you may not be prepared for the sheer number of times you'll be asked to provide your ID in Freshers' Week: for registration, for student loans, for setting up a student bank account (if you don't already have one). Some places/services even require multiple pieces of ID. Make sure your ID documents are handy and you've got at least one on you at all times. If you’re confident you won't leave it behind on a dance floor somewhere, you should plan on keeping your passport with you for the first week or two.
Your ID is not the only paperwork you'll need easy access to. Make sure information about your university is easily accessible: Google Maps will get you there, but you need to know things like where your department is, where you should go and who you should see in your first few days, what introductory events you need to attend, and so on.
You might have got a lot of this information via email; if so, make sure you print it out before you go and put it at the top of your suitcase or in a binder in your rucksack. It can be easy to rely on information stored on a phone, but we don't recommend this: electronic info is fine for many purposes and is a useful backup, but it's much less easy to flip back and forth between several documents, and to annotate and scribble on them, if you don't have physical copies. And you're going to be given lots more paperwork in your fist few days anyway, so you'll be thankful for that binder.
Make sure you've got all of the following easily to hand:
- ID documents
- Printouts of information about your university, your degree course, and where to go and what to do when you arrive
- Bank account information
- Student loans paperwork
- Medical details, including the name and address of your current doctor
This won't apply to everyone, but if you have any medical conditions – especially those that don't require constant medication or attention, such as allergies, for example – it can be easy to forget to put together a proper set of medical supplies and spares. But it will take you a couple of weeks to get a doctor in your new town or city – even if they're affiliated with the university – and in the meantime you need to make sure you're covered. The last place you want to end up in your first week is a walk-in centre for an urgent supply of medicines, or A&E because you forgot your EpiPen.
Make sure you have each of these:
- Medicines you routinely take or need in case of emergency
- Painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen, and possibly some cold and flu medication (you're bound to get "freshers' flu" sometime in the first few weeks, and if you do you really won't want to trek to the nearest Boots to take care of yourself)
- A first-aid kit including plasters and antiseptic cream
In and among packing for an exciting new life, it's easy to forget all the stuff you need every day and seldom think about consciously. Regardless of the bathroom situation in your new halls, you're going to want to make sure you've got the basics covered. Although it'll be easy enough to procure most of these items when you get there, we strongly recommend starting out with some supplies of the following unless you're travelling very lightly, for the simple reason that you probably won't notice they're missing until you need to use them!
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Shower gel
- Hand and face soap/cleanser
- Toilet paper (yes – even if your bathroom is shared! You'll thank us for this.)
- Sanitary products
- Makeup essentials
- Shaving supplies
However tempting it can be to travel light, it's worth remembering that doing washing with shared laundry facilities can often be a chore. Heck, doing washing is a chore full-stop. But you definitely do not want to stink when you're out meeting new and exciting people. So while you may not need to pack stacks of formalwear, you do need to make sure you stock up on the basics. This means:
- Underwear (at least two weeks' supply)
- Casualwear (ditto)
- A few sets of going-out clothes (or more if you can't be seen in the same thing twice)
- A warm jacket
- Workout clothes or sportswear
- Pyjamas and a dressing gown
- Slippers (make it a couple of pairs to be on the safe side; you probably won't want to walk around your halls barefoot)
Kitchen and food items
What you need here will depend on whether you're in a catered hall (in which case you need very little), a self-catering hall (in which case the kitchen is likely to be well-stocked with utensils and crockery etc. but you'll need to provide your own food), or a shared house (in which case you may need to provide kitchen equipment as well as food). Kitchen essentials and perishable food are among the easiest things to acquire from a supermarket, so don't try to cover everything. But you might well want to consider bringing these bare essentials if your kitchen isn't stocked:
- A wok – hands-down the most versatile kitchen item, it can serve as a frying pan, deep fryer and even steamer
- A (cheap) saucepan and frying pan
- A sharp knife
- A chopping board
- A wooden spoon, spatula and serving spoon
- A couple of mugs, plates, and bowls
- Can opener
- Corkscrew/bottle opener
- Non-perishable food items: herbs/spices including curry powder and chilli powder, cereal, pasta, rice, canned foods
- And for starters in the fridge... milk, bread, butter, cheese
A few years ago we'd have said things like "don't forget your stereo and all your favourite CDs." Things are a bit more compact and portable these days, so the one golden rule for electronics is bring your chargers! Seriously, don't gather up all your devices and leave their chargers in a drawer.
But your electronics are essential both to work and play, so here are a few rules:
- If possible make sure you've got a relatively fast laptop and it's in good repair. If it takes twenty minutes to start consider removing some software. You'll spend a lot of time working on it, and the experience shouldn't be excessively frustrating.
- Spend some time putting together playlists and making sure your favourite songs and albums are easily accessible. If you start feeling homesick, they'll be a great comfort.
- Bring along a Bluetooth speaker or dock for your phone. Music is a great basis for socialising, and you can't share tracks on a pair of headphones.
Buy it now or wait until I get there?
By the time you start your course, you'll likely have had lots of advanced warning about the materials you need. So what do you do about specialised course equipment (think geological hammers, drafting instruments and so on) and the textbooks you've been told you need for your first-year modules? There are pros and cons to picking these up early and taking them with you versus buying them when you get to uni. In deciding whether to take these items with you or buy them when you get there, you may want to consider the following questions:
- Do I have space in the car/my suitcase?
- Am I going to be overwhelmed with stuff and find unpacking a chore? (Remember, moving away from home should be exciting, not a clutter-filled grind)
- Can I afford to buy upfront, or should I wait and see what I can borrow or buy second-hand once I'm on campus?
- How much do I dislike queues? (If the answer is "lots", don't plan on buying textbooks from the campus bookshop during the first couple of weeks...)
- Am I confident these are the right things to buy? (There's no point getting a good deal on something if it turns out not to be suitable and you have to buy it again)
- Am I sure I'll definitely need these things? And if I don't end up using all these textbooks how much is that going to bother me?
What do I absolutely not need?
A sandwich toaster. Undergraduates have been making this mistake for decades; don't be one of them. Sandwich toasters are gross, impossible to clean, and the chances are there will already be at least four in your kitchen by the time you arrive. If you must, use somebody else's (though it will still be gross). Or know that you can make a perfectly good cheese toastie with a frying pan.