It’s been six years since my graduation and I can vividly recall my first day at the University of Essex, just like yesterday. My dad and I had travelled from Lagos, Nigeria to the UK about a week before.

After a few days spent in London, we headed to where would become my new home for the next three years – Colchester campus, a picturesque environment with an alluring ambience! Still, I remember my mixed emotions, like a pendulum, oscillated between very anxious and super excited.

For me – and perhaps true for many folks around the world – the university experience was one of the best experiences of my life. While ‘experience’ – learning along the way, if you will – as often said, is the best teacher, adequate preparations always help when embarking on a new journey. Part of my own groundwork at the time was to reach out, via Facebook and emails, to the then current students for guidance on coming to the university. And they quite graciously shared lots of information and advice, which significantly helped me settle in, especially in the nervous first weeks.

Now fast-forward half a decade post-graduation to now, it behoves me to transfer the same favour to new students at Essex who may be wondering ‘how do I cope?’ and need some hand holding in the new environment. Here are my helpful tips!

Isimeme Ughele

1. Read the information booklets: Upon arrival at my room on campus, I found several brochures, pamphlets, campus route guides, and the fresher’s week activities calendar placed conspicuously by the university staff. Those were the ‘first-aid’ for freshers from around the world, many of whom were in the country for the first time. Information booklets contain guidelines, rules, what’s where, the vast educational and recreational facilities in place, and remain your first ‘tour guide’ you can’t do without when you arrive at Essex.

2. Attend Welcome Week and activities: Contrary to popular belief, Welcome Week is not all about the parties. It is a delightful on boarding programme aimed to make newcomers more comfortable, confident, and excited about getting started on campus. It is your chance to get familiar with your surroundings: what your route to lectures would be; the locations of the library, food court, shops, sports centre; how far your friend’s flat is from yours; and so on. Welcome Week is usually packed with events including talks, workshops, arts, cultural and sports. You will also receive assurances of support and guidance from the Students Union, lecturers, and indeed everyone. Welcome Week is one not to miss.

3. Join a society: This is one thing, looking back, that I wish I had done better. The importance of joining a society cannot be over-emphasised. Trust me, the University of Essex boasts amazing societies tailored to varying interests – music, theatre, football, tennis, fitness, even Harry Potter. Take advantage of the opportunities and build your network. Enlisting in a society provides a good prospect of establishing, in many instances, lifelong friendships with people of diverse cultures, like minds and interests. Years from now, you’ll be thankful you did.

4. Ask for help: I found the Colchester campus very safe with many friendly faces, always willing to help. It pays to ask questions when in doubt, and to seek help when struggling with any aspect – be it academic, social or personal. Take advantage of the lecturers’ office hours, should you require further clarification on any part of your curriculum. For most courses the timetable is designed such that, in addition to the lectures, there are weekly tutorials and support classes to reinforce your learning. During my time I frequented the Careers Centre in square 2 to ask questions. A desk phone with important/emergency numbers was also available in the rooms. Since I was there, Essex may have improved these facilities making it easier yet for you. No use waiting until the last minute if you are stressed with anything – ask for help. Information is power! As the saying goes: “A problem shared is a problem halved”.

5. First year counts: For some courses, first-year results may be insignificant in the final degree gradings. Many students tend to get completely carried away by that notion, regrettably. But university is quite unlike high school education; you are now ‘on your own’ – no one to pressure you to go to classes or hand in assignments. While first year grades may not count in theory, from my experience, how you start off could most probably have a telling impact on your study pattern throughout your university education. Caution is the word.

6. Begin as you intend to go on and finish: I relate the last point to the saying about forming habits early. By starting with a culture of attending lectures regularly and participating actively, submitting assignments on time, and preparing adequately for exams, you build a positive attitude that sticks through to the final year. Alas, during my time, I observed some students trying to get started with studies only in their penultimate year; but by the final session when it mattered most, they were only just acclimatising. Waiting for the eleventh hour to ‘get serious’ cannot be more unhelpful to the goal of graduating with good grades or making it through at all. The situation is under your control; turn it around positively. Stay focused. And ultimately do yourself – and your parents – proud.

7. Have fun: One of my older friends, who had graduated from university and was working, did jokingly advise me in my final year to “stay in uni!” I realised the full meaning of her advice only later when I’d commenced working and operating as a ‘full adult’. Indeed, after leaving university, you may not have the luxury of as much freedom, independence and relative control over your time ever again. It is therefore important to truly live in the moment, have fun, enjoy your time, socialise – especially with people outside of your nationality as the University of Essex is a multi-cultural, cosmopolitan community. And let me also transfer the same admonition to you: Stay in ‘uni’; complete your race, in flying colours – with all humility, like me.

With planning and personal resolve, I navigated my own freshman and entire time at Essex quite well; a nostalgic experience to cherish forever. And with these tips, enhanced organisation and Essex facilities on ground, and your own willpower, I believe that you too would find your time exciting and rewarding. Un accueil chaleureux (French for) ‘a warm welcome’ to the one and only University of Essex!

PS: My dad made my bed when we arrived to my room on that first day, it was an adorable moment I still cherish today. Here we are on my Graduation day.

Isimeme with her father on her graduation day


For all the information you need for Welcome Week, take a look at our guide for your first week at Essex.