Advice from a University graduate
The transition from a teenager to an undergraduate doesn't come without it’s own unique challenges. Here’s a few friendly words from an Economics graduate.
The beginning of Autumn. Shorter days, longer nights, and cooler temperatures. Time for many to make a return to school with a fresh set of stationery — only to use it to graffiti their pencil case and/or desks. Many see it as just another month in the calender. Yet for an increasing number of young people, it’s time to begin the leap from school to University.
Pressures of UCAS and the accompanying offers and rejections, subject modules, coursework deadlines and final examination dates that were etched into your worn out memory begin to fade. The allure of an independent life, alcohol and partying (which never have to be exclusive) and a fresh start now begin to consume your thoughts as you begin your way to a new life.
I won’t lie about this — it will most certainly be one of more nerve-wracking things you may have experienced so far in your relatively short lifespan. You may feel completely out of your depth once Mum finishes sobbing and Dad gives you a firm handshake as they leave you behind in halls, or even perhaps your first student house. Worries of flatmates, freshers’ week, timetables, lectures, coursemates, societies, bills and money increasingly play on your mind and you may begin to feel overwhelmed.
Here’s the thing — it’s completely normal. Everyone feels it. It’s human nature to feel anxious. If no one admits to being nervous, they’re lying. And may be a robot.
Let’s rewind back to 2011. After completing my A-levels at secondary school I found myself accepted into my second choice University, one which I had chosen simply for a backup choice. Foolishly and arrogantly I had assumed I would achieve my first choice University which at the time evidently did not seem as such an outlandish thought.
After logging onto the app on results day using my smartphone, bleary-eyed at 6am, I received the aforementioned confirmation. To say I was gutted was an understatement — no bottle of alcohol in the world could have consoled me that night. In fact my relationship with alcohol came to an abrupt, messy end after the liquid inside of me parted ways with my body after the house party I’d attended later that night (apologies to those on that particular street that night).
Finding myself with two weeks until term started, I hadn't secured accommodation or even remotely enquired about my timetable or student orientation. In fact, I’d barely taken notice of anything at the University open day. I began to worry. I never quite had a breakdown about everything as I was fairly open-minded about the new experience, but for some I fear it may take hold and entirely consume them. Here follows some advice mainly aimed at those first-years, or ‘freshers’ as society dictates they be labelled.
#1 Don’t panic/despair/worry/fret
(Delete where appropriate)
It’s easy to see how one may experience difficulties in the first few days/weeks/months away from home, people, or friends you've spent a portion of your life with. Mates you promise to keep in touch with throughout the year seem to materialise as mere pixels on your Facebook feed or pop up on Twitter, using ridiculous club-endorsed hashtags to advertise their whereabouts on a given night out. Yet three years later I’m now closer to these people I've spent a lot of time away from. Keep in mind that you will see these people at least once every holiday period — it’s actually fairly common to go home for a weekend every now and again. Relatives/friends/acquaintances aren't going anywhere.
#2 Get out of your comfort zone
(This is so cliché I regret even typing that)
No, but really. One of my main regrets from my time gaining my degree was maintaining an air of shyness I’d acquired from my younger teenage years. I’d have loved the ability to take part more in seminars, lectures, and discussions, in particular when I had a burning desire to make a point or ask a question. You mustn't forget that people are only there because they have a legitimate interest in the subject - you’re only going to make their day more interesting and thought provoking. Don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions — you may even stir your own lecturer’s brain juices.
#3 Say “Yes” more
(Except to that skanky middle-aged woman in that dodgy bar)
This focusses upon the experience part of University and kind of builds upon my second point. Until you hit up Freshers’ Fair, you really have no idea of the vast size of societies and interests that are spread around the campus. Take some time to get involved in as many societies, sports and extra-curricular stuff as you can during your first year as find some that you love. For me, I found one society that I enjoyed with a great degree of enthusiasm, and stuck with it for the entire three years. You’ll make new friends, acquire new skills, learn more about yourself and have an unfathomable amount of fun in the process.
#4 Don’t skip on the work
(Mum… Dad… is that you?)
My first year’s results didn’t contribute at all to my degree and was the case for virtually everyone I knew. Still, isn't it nice to see how well you could do at degree level if you applied yourself? By all means don’t burn yourself out, but at least challenge yourself. For second and third year, you’ll need to knuckle down. I'm feeling like a little bit of a killjoy here so I'm going to breeze over to my next point.
#5 You will learn to love it
(It’s the prevalent feeling)
Alright, so my first year wasn't the best. Yet I drew a lot of positive experiences from it and overall I’m glad I stuck with it all. Things improved a lot as I grew more confident in myself and developed as a person, and things just fell into place. By my final year, I was a fully-fledged undergraduate who felt completely at ease with the lifestyle, the city, and the course. You will change constantly during your time as an undergraduate, and always for the better. These days I find myself building upon everything I've experienced, encountered and learnt during my time here. University teaches you a lot more than just your subject. Personally I cherished it all, and it’s now my belief that you should never stop learning.