11 Ways to Make a Great First Impression at University | Oxford Royale Summer Schools
Your first few days and weeks at university are a nerve-wracking time, not least because you’re going to be meeting lots of new people at a time when first impressions count.
A bad first impression given during Freshers’ Week can be difficult to reverse, so this is a time when you need to put a lot of effort into ensuring that the initial impression people have of you is a great one. Making a good impression with fellow students and tutors takes a bit of effort, but it’ll pay off by establishing your good reputation early on. In this article, we’re going to show you how.
1. Talk to everyone – and smile!
By far the best thing you can do to create a great first impression with anyone you meet at university – whether students or staff – is to be friendly. Talk to as many people as you can, and do so with a smile. If you catch someone’s eye across a room, don’t do the British thing and look away shyly; smile at them, even if it doesn’t come naturally to you, and you’ll break the ice. In these crucial early weeks at university, everyone’s in the same boat and wanting to make friends. If you can make that easier for people by smiling and striking up conversations, they will naturally gravitate towards you because you’ll make them feel less nervous (it is true what they say: everyone is as nervous as you, no matter how confident they may seem). You don’t want to talk too much and dominate every conversation, of course; this is just as bad as not talking at all. What you can do to avoid this is to ask people about themselves. This means that, although you’ve taken the initiative and started the conversation, the other person gets to do a lot of the talking, and (more importantly) gets to talk about themselves, which most people like doing. Asking them open-ended questions about themselves to get them talking will also show that you’re interested in them, which will put them at ease and show you to be friendly.
2. Remember names
It’s easier said than done when you’re meeting lots of new people in a short space of time, but making a real effort to remember the names of all these new people will give a good impression of you. It shows that you’ve listened to them, and may even make them feel special at a time when most people will probably be forgetting their name. When someone introduces themselves to you, make a conscious effort to commit their name to memory, perhaps by linking something else distinguishable about them with their name (Mary is the one doing Archaeology and Anthropology; John is the one who said he liked Muse; Tom is the one with the tweed jacket; and so on). You can also help cement their name in your memory by repeating it aloud to them (“nice to meet you, Tom”), or commenting that it’s a nice name if it’s an unusual one.
3. Make early contact with your tutors and lecturers
You may be nervous about meeting them, but being proactive and introducing yourself to lecturers and tutors as early as possible gives you the chance to create a great impression from the outset and to develop a rapport with them that will serve you well throughout your time at university. Your tutors should get in touch with you soon after you arrive, so make sure you keep checking your new university email address so that you can respond to them quickly. It may help to get your new university email set up on your phone, so that you can reply while you’re on the move and out doing freshers’ activities during the day. This will also alert you to any last-minute gatherings in sufficient time to ensure your attendance.
When you do meet your lecturers and tutors for the first time, make sure that you’re smiley and confident, and offer your hand for a handshake before they do. Conversing with them, take an interest in them, asking them about their research, how long they’ve been at the university, and so on. It may be smalltalk, but it’ll put them at ease, demonstrate your social grace and help you start forming a bond with them, so that they remember you among a sea of other freshers. You can also start asking them about the course, what you’re going to be studying first, and so on; this shows that you’re raring to go and that you’ll be an enthusiastic student.
4. Tea and cake at the ready!
When you’re moving into halls of residence on your first day, keep your door propped open and have plenty of tea and cake in your room. Invite people to come and have a rest from unpacking by enjoying some cake with you; word will soon get round that you have cake, and you’ll quickly be the most popular person on your staircase! A word to the wise: lots of people are allergic to gluten these days, so if you have a gluten-free alternative on offer as well as regular cake, you’ll be able to cater for the possibility that someone might have this intolerance – and they’ll be very grateful that you’ve gone to the trouble.
5. Dress well
The way you dress says a lot about you, and if you’re dressed scruffily (in stereotypical student fashion), you’re hardly going to stand out or create the impression of someone who’s on the ball and organised, even if you are. Try dressing more smartly than you’re perhaps inclined to. We’re not talking eccentric necessarily; you don’t have to be eccentric to stand out when most people are wearing their university hoodies, so don’t feel the need to wear something outrageous that everyone will comment on. All you need to do to create a favourable impression of yourself is to look neat, smart and well-groomed. A nice perfume or aftershave will add the finishing touch and make you more memorable.
6. Be early for lectures and classes
Having established early contact with teaching staff as recommended earlier, you can continue to impress your lecturers by making sure you’re always waiting outside the lecture theatre ready for the start of a lecture, or outside their room ready for a tutorial or class. Not only will this give a good impression and show that you’re enthusiastic, but you might also meet other similarly keen students, who are likely to share your commitment to your studies. You’ll soon make friends with like-minded fellow students this way, and you can suggest meeting up for coffee afterwards.
7. Speak up in classes
Everyone’s nervous for the first few classes at university, and it’s a great opportunity for you to stand out and make a good impression. If you’re the one who has the courage to speak out with a question or an idea in answer to the tutor’s question, you won’t just get yourself noticed by the tutor. The chances are that your classmates will be grateful to you for kicking off the discussion and alleviating the awkward silence that often arises in such circumstances (especially when a lecturer asks an open question to the room in the hope that students will start contributing their thoughts – and nobody is brave enough to!). Be humble with it, though; nobody likes the arrogant character who gives their opinion loudly at every opportunity, or who interrupts other people. If you’ve already spoken a bit in class, give others the chance to answer the next question and only contribute if nobody else does after a few moments.
8. Remember that body language matters…
You may not think it’s important, but body language makes a difference when it comes to first impressions. Closed body language – folded arms, hunched shoulders, looking down – makes you seem unapproachable, and if you adopt such a pose then you’re making life harder for yourself. Hold your head up, stand up straight and keep your shoulders back. Make plenty of eye contact, as avoiding people’s gaze is unfriendly. Constantly fiddling with your pen or fidgeting will annoy those around you, so try to think consciously about what you’re doing and put a stop to it. Also, remember the old adage that “it’s not what you say, it’s the way you say it”. Even if you disapprove of something or someone, it’s probably best to keep your opinions to yourself in the first few weeks; if you’re overly opinionated, you risk making as many enemies as you do friends!
9….and so do manners
Having pleasant manners towards everyone you meet is a sure way to create a brilliant first impression of yourself. That doesn’t just mean saying “please” and “thank you”; it means holding doors open for people, asking them how their day is going, paying them a compliment, and generally making their day a little brighter. This advice applies to literally everyone you meet, not just the people you think you might become your friends: every other student, all the teaching staff (whether they’ll be teaching you directly or not), and every member of non-academic staff – even the person who cleans your room. A little kindness and respect goes a long way, and it’s especially important in a closed environment like a university, in which everyone is living and working in close proximity and it’s important for people to get along. Most importantly, don’t just a book by its cover. That is to say, don’t form an opinion about someone you’ve only just met based on how they look or the way they behave. Once you get to know them, you might find you hit it off.
10. Update your Facebook profile
Creating a great first impression of yourself at university extends to your online presence. Lots of people are going to be adding you on Facebook in your first few weeks at university, so make sure that what they see when you click “Confirm” gives a good impression of you. Try to choose a profile picture that isn’t an annoying “selfie”, and make sure it’s one of you on your own; you’ll make it harder for people to remember which one’s you if your profile picture shows you with a group of other people. Ensure that the “About” section is accurate and up-to-date; you don’t want someone trying to bond with you by saying “I saw on Facebook that you’re a big fan of Dungeons and Dragons, me too!” if this was an interest you had years ago that you’ve forgotten was on your profile. Refrain from updating your Facebook status every five minutes detailing how nerve-wracking you’re finding it all, or giving a running commentary of what you’ve been up to; this may annoy your new friends and make them hide you from their newsfeed. Do, however, remind people of your presence by liking or commenting on a few of your new friends’ photos, or posting an occasional status update prompting meeting up in real life, such as “Anyone fancy joining me for a walk up to the park?”
11. Random acts of kindness
Showing people that you care, even when you don’t know them that well, is a way for you to create a good impression as well as putting some good karma out there, which will come back to you at some point. A few little random acts of kindness while you’re in your first few weeks at university will mark you out as a lovely person whom people want to get to know better. For example, you could pop a chocolate bar with a little note from you into the pigeonhole (the university letterbox system, if your university has one) of someone who’s mentioned on Facebook that they’re missing home or struggling with an essay. From basic body language to going out of your way to be kind to people, creating a great first impression is largely about making the people you meet feel special. And whether that’s through showing them that you’re interested in them, making the effort to remember their name, or thinking about the way you present yourself to them, it’s worth going to the trouble from day one to get your university career off to a great start.