Dearest University Freshers,
I am now in the part way through my degree at the University of Edinburgh and the initial chaos and confusion of Freshers week and settling in to a new flat and timetable and routine I find myself sat at my laptop procrastinating a mountain of important work and reflecting on what I am doing in life, in particular my time at university.
I’ve come across a lot of articles recently discussing the value of a modern degree – but regardless of all this, it is very apparent that if you have decided that committing to a few years at university is the best option for you then you might as well make the most of it.
I am now at the point in my degree where I am supposed to vow never to repeat the mistakes of last year, start ‘planning my career’ and get my head down to get the best possible grades. However, me being me I started to think about what I actually learned from the last couple of years and not just assuming that those generic ideas fit me and I realised that there were five big things I wish I had really known about when I started out.
1. Me time – one of the best pieces of advice I was given last year was to always remember to leave time just to do nothing. It is incredibly easy to get caught up in all the things you have to or want to do with all the new freedom and opportunities that the university experience presents but it can be exhausting and pointless if you do not give yourself some time to just stop and breathe and enjoy it.
2. Compromise – antisocial vs too social – before I started at university I got a lot of conflicting opinions about the proportion of time spent time socialising – from those that regretted ‘wasting’ their university time, or at least a proportion of it, not going out and meeting people, to those who wished they’d actually sat down and done the work. A friend claimed that graduates with firsts don’t get employed because they show nothing other than an ability to do exams, but those with thirds spent most of their degree hungover or drunk, so ideally all should aim for 2:1s. Basically don’t swing to extremes and remember that you can say no to a night out to get some work done!
3. Collaborate – share the workload – there are always loads of fantastic opportunities at university, some life-changing even, but when getting involved the temptation for complete independence often seems to overrule common sense. I feel that having completed a year in industry before my degree really helped for me with this one as I had a year to work on projects independently and learn my limits – what I can do and what other people can do for, or with, me better than I could myself. However, particularly with my involvement with the theatre societies, it is obvious that with university projects it is often the first chance people have had to try projects independently of a teacher or supervised club, people try (and fail) to do it all themselves. Share the workload and the fun with your peers – it’s not a loss of independence.
4. Get to know the place, not just the university campus – at first, particularly if you are in university halls, the university campus and clubs and societies all feel very reassuring with their security and helpfulness but I found that towards the end it could get quite claustrophobic. There was nowhere that I felt was my own space in first year- everywhere from the places I lived, places I’d drink at, places I could work, were all shared and had been part of my involvement with other student activities, clubs and events. Then, I got spectacularly lost and ended up in completely the wrong side of the city. It was the best thing I could have done and I felt so much more comfortable and at home here once I had got to know the actual place itself.
5. Make it worthwhile – people will be recommending things for you to do in the way that is in their own self-interests not necessarily your own from parents to tutors. Take a moment to think for yourself and what is actually the best way of doing things for you. Is it actually worthwhile missing lectures to attend all the tutorials? Are you actually going to be better off living in a different accommodation or place than the standard option – maybe you need to cross the conventional safe student boundary into ‘the real world’ to achieve something but does that really matter if it worth it making your life a little bit happier? Is your course actually right for you or are you only doing it because someone else, your parents or teachers for example, told you that it was the ‘correct’ thing to do?
Remember that you are should be doing university because it is something that means something to you. It is can easily become nothing more than a routine to hurry through each day and if that is the case, stop. Think about what you are doing and why. Try your best and enjoy it.