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What to Expect on your First Day of University

By Thomas Ahonen

Updated March 9, 2021 Updated March 9, 2021

Sometimes the process of choosing a university and going abroad can be like childbirth. Choosing a university long, messy process that involves pain, financial strain and cravings for strange food with the hopes that once it’s all done, you’ll be happier than ever. I think one of the things you should be prepared for the most is what you need do when you land.

As the resident American writer, I can tell you that US universities are pretty good at new student orientation. For students about to embark on a degree, you can usually expect to receive a heavy packet (or maybe times have changed and it’s emailed now… you know, because I’m still calling things on iTunes “CDs”) that outlines every step you’ll literally take the first day of university.

Expecting that, I landed in London for the first day of university to do my MA and since I didn’t get anything sent to me pre-departure, I was expecting a new student orientation welcoming committee with banners and nametags to be sitting in the lobby of my student housing that were going to tell me all the things I needed to do and in what order.

I was welcomed by a receptionist that gave me a room key and that’s about it.

Ok, so surely there was going to be an email…

Probably in my university email account….

How the hell did I access my university login?

These questions, and many others that I assumed would never have to be asked… were now urgent and annoying. I think my expectations had gotten the better of me, so go through a little checklist before your first day of university and make sure you have the necessary rooms, times and info. Here’s my checklist of what will make or break your first couple of days.

  1. Is there a new student orientation? If you haven’t gotten any information, email the student services office and see if there’s a new student orientation/welcome day. You should probably expect to be taken around the campus, get your picture taken for ID cards, explained how to sign up for classes if you haven’t already, etc. Make sure you know where to go first, what building/times/days etc. As long as you know where to show up first (in my case, I needed an ID before they would do anything else, so I had to go through that hassle, instead of going to the other offices to get my IT issues sorted out) you can generally do the rest with the rest of the wandering students.
  2. Do you need to get anything from your school before opening up any accounts? Some places like the UK require you to have a banking letter stating that you are a student before you try to open a bank account. You’ll need to have this made up by your university before you pop into a branch, so find out what your school needs to give you to get you setting up your life in your new city. Your student services office should be able to help you with this as well.
  3. Have you got access to university email/internet? Where do you need to go to make sure you can get university updates? Do you need to register your laptop to use on your university network (and if so, do you need to have paid or setup a student account?). There’s nothing more frustrating than opening your computer to google something on your first day of university and realizing that you can’t connect!
  4. How will your student loans get handled? Some places that give you an overage will give you an overage check, some places require you to cash your checks and pay your tuition, it varies on the institution. Check with your finance department to find out how you will be getting overage if you plan on using that for living expenses and how long it will take to deposit! If you need to set up a foreign account, the process can take up to three months if they have to mail the checks off and get things cleared. Make sure you have enough funds in your account to live off of until your checks are estimated to clear…. otherwise you’ll be living off the charity of your parents and friends!
  5. Do you need to have your fees paid by the first day of university and is anything blocked until that happens? Is your university going to block your course registration until the payments go through? Should you chat with student services and work something out if your loans are processing? They’re reasonable people, and you’re not the first international student, so if they are made aware that there are pending loans, they can free up your restrictions. You just need to know and then give them a head’s up!

Let me know if there’s anything major I’ve missed for your first day of university. I’ve also been suggested to include that you should find out if you can drink outdoors legally (hint, you can in London, except for Westminster, so if you’re planning to crack one open and meet your building neighbors and chat outside, do so in other boroughs!)

This article was originally published in May 2012 . It was last updated in March 2021

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