Tara studies Industrial Design and Technology at Loughborough – we caught up with her about the advice and tips she has for students preparing for A-Level results and starting university. We also chatted to her mum Nicola and got her side of the story, too.
Describe your feelings in the run up to A Level results day
Tara: After having revision take over my life for so long, it was lovely to pick up some of the hobbies I had abandoned in the run-up to exams. I started using my sewing machine again and reading for pleasure – getting back to doing things I enjoyed really helped to distract me from worrying about results and uni places.
Tara’s mum: After all her hard work, I wanted Tara to relax as much as possible. She does get worked up about exams and grades so I encouraged her to have lie-ins and baths to calm her nerves as results day got closer.
I was reluctant to say things like, ‘You’ll be fine you’re so clever’ and, ‘You’ve definitely got your place don’t worry’ in case it wasn’t good news on results day. I didn’t want to put Tara under more pressure; if she hadn’t got her university place I wouldn’t have wanted her to feel like she had let me down.
What are your memories of A Level results day?
Tara: I stayed up really late the night before so I’d actually be able to sleep, and when I woke up I picked up my phone and was immediately greeted by messages from my friends who had already looked on UCAS. My hands were shaking as I typed in the ID number and password. When I saw that I got my place at Loughborough I couldn’t believe it, after so long thinking it wouldn’t happen made it surreal to me.
Tara’s mum: I felt so relieved for Tara; seeing all the hard work she’d done pay off was an amazing feeling. It was quite emotional to hear about her friends’ results too as I’d watched them all grow up together; I loved hearing what they all planned to do after results day.
What did you do to celebrate gaining a place at Loughborough University?
Tara: I went for lunch on results day with my family then I went out that night for a couple of celebratory cocktails. We went to IKEA too and spent hours choosing colour schemes and styles for my new kitchen and bedroom!
What 5 items are essential for each new student to pack for university?
- Conkers! My grandma told me that slitting them and putting one in each corner of your room keeps out spiders. Apparently they don’t like the smell of them (do conkers smell?!) but whatever, it totally works and I am eternally grateful to her.
- Door hooks – they’re great space savers!
- Baby wipes – good for sensitive skin, you can take off your makeup, clean surfaces and even get stains out of carpets with them, so versatile!
- Plastic storage boxes – if you’re anything like me, no matter how big the wardrobe is you will fill it and have clothes left over.
- Dry food – I stocked up with loads of pasta, instant noodles, cous cous etc. when I moved in and it was a great idea. Food like this is quick and easy for when you’re not in the mood to cook anything fancy. Instant noodles especially are very handy to have around; when I inevitably caught Freshers flu they were a lifesaver!
Tara’s mum: I packed Tara an extensive medical bag with everything from paracetamol to blister plasters. I felt happy that she’d be able to look after herself no matter the ailment, and this made me worry about her moving away from home a lot less. Also mattress, duvet and pillow protectors – boring but they do what it says on the tin. Bedding is expensive and this will make yours last a lot longer.
What “life lesson” do you wish you had learnt/taught your child ahead of beginning university?
Tara: I was not prepared for the washing machine! I know whites and darks don’t go in together, but is a light grey sock closer to white or dark? What can you wash with a white background and colourfully patterned bed sheets? How much detergent should I use? It was these kinds of question that my poor mum was bombarded with for practically my whole first semester, and it would’ve been a lot easier if I’d just learnt all this before.
Tara’s mum: I taught Tara how to cook basic meals; chilli con carne, stir fry and the like, but not how to plan meals. Going for your first shop alone must be quite daunting, and it would have been helpful to give her a basic list that she could follow and adapt whilst shopping.
What are your memories of the first day of Freshers week?
Tara: I was so nervous I felt sick for the whole 4 hour drive from home to Loughborough – until uni the longest I’d been away from home was 5 days and I hadn’t even really enjoyed that! All my friends from back home said that if anyone dropped out for homesickness it would’ve been me.
As soon as I got there I forgot all my worries, everyone was so friendly and we even got pizza as we queued for my door card. A Facebook group had been set up once our rooms had been allocated during summer so people could meet others in their flat but I hadn’t managed to find anyone in mine, so I was really excited to finally meet them.
My parents helped me unpack then we went for a food shop. Soon after the block’s fresher helpers wanted to get us all together to introduce ourselves so mum and dad left pretty quickly – this was the best way because there wasn’t time to get upset about them leaving.
After meeting everyone in the block we were taken for free chicken and chips with salad on campus, before the ‘Welcome to Loughborough’ talk. By the time it was over it was time to eat dinner and get ready for our first night out at the Union.
By the next day the whole block knew each other and we were already really close. We were kept so busy that there was no time to feel homesick – I thought I’d miss home so badly but I almost forgot to text my parents because I was having so much fun!
Tara’s mum: Both my husband and I came to drop Tara off; it was a very emotional but great day. We went to the supermarket and stocked up her cupboards, then unpacked her suitcases to make sure she’d be all settled in.
I loved her accommodation and how welcoming everyone was, I felt very happy to leave her there safe in the knowledge that she’d be secure and comfortable. I got to meet some of her flatmates, who were lovely, and even chatted to their parents. This put my mind at ease as I knew Tara would be living with nice people and because all the parents had the same concerns as me.
Of course it felt awful to leave her, but Tara was so excited and everyone was so positive that it overwhelmed any negative emotions. I realised what an amazing opportunity she had at Loughborough and it was hard to be sad knowing what she could achieve here.
What are your top tips for surviving and adjusting to Freshers week?
Tara: Try to spend as little time in your room as possible! Unless you’re sleeping I’d really recommend getting up, out and doing things; you’ll feel less homesick and will meet loads more people.
I set up a Whatsapp group chat with my family pretty early on; it was nice to chat to them without having to set aside half an hour or so to talk over the phone – Freshers Week is busy!
Cook meals with your new flatmates; it’s a great way to get to know each other better.
Above all just relax and have fun! You’ve done so well to get into university and Freshers is all about celebrating this achievement.
How did you adjust to life at with your child at university?
Tara’s mum: Going in her room was very hard at first so I kept the door shut, but working all day kept me busy and stopped me from feeling too lonely.
Tara keeping me up to date really helps; she’s always sending me photos of her and her friends on days and nights out, going out for dinner etc. and it makes me feel better when I see that she’s enjoying herself. We have set up a family Whatsapp group that we’re constantly talking on, and FaceTime is lovely too.
What is your best advice for Freshers week?
Tara: Get involved in all the activities you can, it really is the best way to meet people and settle in. I went on a lot of the nights out and they were all great – there was a pub crawl, a trip to a club in Nottingham and loads of student nights at clubs in town and you don’t have to drink to enjoy them. No one forces you to drink if you don’t want to, so if you’re sober you still feel included! There’s also plenty to do in the day too, so get involved! Take part in competitive hall vs hall events or go exploring with your flatmates; Loughborough is a massive campus so it’s worth getting to know it before you’ve got 10 minutes to get to a lecture hall and no idea where it is.
Don’t be afraid to throw yourself into everything – at first I felt a bit embarrassed to wear my fancy dress costumes but by the time Freshers was over I’d dressed as a goddess, a fairy, a cowboy, a bag of chips and a tomato! People won’t judge you and being dressed as a vegetable is actually a great conversation starter.
Really my best advice would be to not treat university like school, it’s a lot less cliquey and everyone’s more chilled out. Just be open and friendly and you’ll make friends in no time.