Whether you only chose to go to university to give yourself some time before going out into the working world, or whether you’re going there in order to achieve the career you want, you’re paying a lot of money so you might as well make the most of it. Before starting uni I had many reservations; there were no directions and no handbooks about how to go through uni life. As I began my Masters I found myself reflecting on the previous three years of my undergraduate degree. I realised how many lessons I have learnt, not just educational but personal lessons as well, and I’ve decided to share some of them.
- If you’re given a map of the university on the first day, keep it! This was a lifesaver for me. Timetables change all the time so you can’t expect to use just the same 2 buildings for 3/4 years, and let’s be honest, the actual signposted “directions” aren’t always great.
- It is not the end of the world if you miss a lecture. Ideally, you should attend every lecture and seminar, and if you manage that I commend you. More often than not, you will find a day where you just don’t have the energy, or you’ve got an assignment that you really need to dedicate some more time to, so you skip a lecture and/or seminar. If you’re going to do that, check ahead at the assessments and look on your lecture/seminar week-by-week schedules so you know you wont be missing a seminar that teaches you the ins and outs of the next assignment that happens to be 50% of your grade.
- Pick your electives carefully. When picking your elective modules, don’t pick based on the hopes that you’ll be kept with the friends you made in first year; firstly there is no guarantee you’ll be kept in their class and secondly you’ll probably hate what you’ve picked because you never actually wanted to do it which means NO MOTIVATION.
- Don’t be afraid to attend a lecture on your own. Another one about friends; you may have friends who are completely happy to miss 99% of the year (and they’ll annoyingly still get high marks) but don’t skip as well if you feel like you need to go or just because you don’t want to go through an hour lecture sitting on your own – isn’t university meant to be about meeting new people?
- Allow time for your assignments. Some people are just good enough (or lucky enough) to get a 1st in an essay that they wrote just hours before handing in. I would personally never advise you do that but instead definitely spend time on it. Leave a day for brainstorming, planning and secondary research, a few days to type up your essay and then always leave it a day before re-reading it. This allows you to check for mistakes and bad wording with a clear head (it’s very rare you’re first draft is flawless and spelling-mistake free).
- Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone, whether that’s socially or whether that’s in your work. Sometimes you’ll find you enjoy something that you thought would be the last thing you would enjoy or you’ll be good at something you thought you’d be terrible at. My example; I decided to add on even more pressure in my final year and study French as well as my original degree. After my first seminar I thought ‘What have I done?’ but by the end of the year it was one of my favourite subjects and prompted me to travel solo to France.
- It’s okay to get frustrated. You’ll doubt yourself, question why you’re doing this, but ultimately this is when you’ll find out the most about yourself. I found I’d been given a challenging dissertation adviser and actually cried after the first meeting. He had good intentions but kept talking over me and disregarding my ideas for my dissertation and I felt altogether steamrolled, ignored and overwhelmed. This was a defining moment for me as it prompted me to find my voice. I learnt to be forceful and vocal and confident, somethings that I had personally struggled with.
- Your peers can be your greatest help! If there is something you don’t understand try a fellow student first. The likelihood is one of your classmates knows the answer and you never have to bother the teacher.
- There is no stupid question, nor a stupid answer. When the class is being asked a question and inevitably no one wants to be the one to answer, give it a go. Making a mistake can be just as valuable as getting it right, and the teacher will appreciate someone speaking up. The same goes for asking a question, if there is something you don’t understand but feel ‘stupid’ for asking, then speak privately, but it’s also very probable that you’re not the only one thinking that question, or even that it is a question people hadn’t even thought about.
- Your mental health matters. This is an important one. Nothing is worth risking your health. If you are struggling, talk to someone, send an email, speak on the phone, have a face to face, whatever works best for you. Workout what the best path going forward would be, utilise services and staff at the university, get extensions on work if that is what you need. Accept that if you’re mental health or physical health is suffering then you have to re-evaluate your priorities and be a little selfish. Your mental health matters.
I suppose the only thing left to say is, have fun. Being a university student can be stressful and exciting and frustrating and hilarious. The friendships, the rivalries, the drunken stories, the mixture of personalities and cultures, it can be an amazing experience. Embrace it, enjoy it!
Feel free to comment some tips you learnt while at university!