Sunday, 9 June 2013

So You're Going To University? Part 1 - Starting Out

As the A level exam period looms, I thought it would be an appropriate time to address any concerns about moving on up to university. I've listed a few DOs and DON'Ts below, mostly things I wish I'd known before I came to uni.

For the sake of new readers, I'll fill you in - in September, I'll be starting my third (and final - eep!) year as an undergraduate at the University of Winchester, studying a BA in History. 

So now you're getting to the stage of signing your life away to your firm and insurance choice universities, it isn't the end of the road, you still have multiple checkpoints to change your mind. My experience will tell you that the system is built to withstand the indecisive.

Don't let anyone make up your mind for you - I know it's hard for an 18 year old to believe this, trust me, I've been there myself, but this is one piece of advice I wish I'd listened to. Don't just follow your best friend to their choice of uni, because you never know what might happen in the future, you might end up hating each other - hard to comprehend now but the reality is you really never know. Choose a university that suits you, your preferences, your career plans - don't pick a busy city if you don't like busy cities, it's obvious really. 

To demonstrate, here's my story:
When I was leaving college, I put my firm choice university down as one very close to home, somewhere I could commute to easily, and my insurance was one very far from home, halfway up Wales in fact. On results day, I didn't get the grades I was expecting, so my firm choice rejected me, and my insurance choice came calling, 'Heathcliff, it's me, Cathy, I've come home'! But at that point, I wasn't emotionally ready to move halfway across the country, away from my parents and the one person of the male gender that mattered to me at the time. So I took a gap year to think about the drastic move away from home and my established life down South. 
I spent half that valuable year looking for work, and the other half being paid barely anything in a job that wasn't getting me where I wanted to go in life. I reapplied to uni in that gap year, keeping my old insurance choice again as my insurance this time around, only changing my firm choice to a university right on my doorstep, convenient to keeping the friends I had. In that interim year, I lost all those friends and, primarily, the male I'd stayed down South for. So I was left with a firm choice uni in the same city as everyone I detested, bumping into him and them every time I walk down the high street. 
However, if I were to say I was angry about my failed decisions, I'd be suggesting that my life now is not something I want, but it is. I'm not denying the people I know now are far more worth my time than those I've lost. But it doesn't always work out that way, so I'm just telling you as a precaution.

Don't always believe the league tables - Don't allow yourself to be deterred by how high/low a university is on the scales, more often than not it doesn't make a blind bit of difference to the education you receive. My university is fairly low on the tables but I don't feel I've had a bad education by any means, I've not lacked in support, I've not been educated to a good standard. In fact, in hindsight, coming to my university was the best choice I could've made because I've developed a passion for East Asian history, which my university heartily encourages. 

Personalise your degree to your interests - If your chosen university encourages freedom of choice within your subject, grab at it! But at the same time, keep future employers in mind. For example, my History course gives first years the choice of an early period module and a modern period module so that prospective employers see your versatility within your specification and don't just blindly assume you're a medievalist and can do nothing else. Particularly as my career focuses on teaching, I need to demonstrate that I can teach both ends of the spectrum, so I've tried to maintain a balance between ancient history and modern history modules, leaving out the medieval because that's the one period I can't stand!

Financing - don't panic! Since I started blogging, I've been asked by fellow bloggers how it's possible to live off the money a student loan gives you. As I live with my parents, I can't comment because they pay the rent, bills and 80% of the food costs. I give them £100 per month and that's still not enough, but it's all I can afford. I pay for the groceries every so often and help as much as my allowance can. I get a dramatically decreased loan because I live at home, and they assume my parents can pay for everything, when let's face it, they can't.
My best advice for you is this - don't treat uni as a party. I'm the kind of student that people often refer to as the recluse, or the sensible, or the downright boring. I've never been to a night out at the SU, I don't drink, so the whole nightlife side to uni is beyond me. I'm afraid from my point of view, student loans are barely enough to cover your ass let alone enough to throw into the tills at a bar, and what do you have to show for it? Bruises on your knees from falling over in heels? Irreparable arguments with people you thought were your friends? A banging headache?
Forgive me, but I wouldn't pay £9000 a year in tuition fees alone to not take advantage of that tuition. If you want a constant party, go and get a job. Or alternatively, you could visit any university library on deadline day and watch people like me walking past having finished my work, then observe the partygoing types sweating over computers as they rush their work against the clock. 

Don't be scared of the workload. You've just left college, you know what hard work is like already. University, to me, is only slightly harder than college when it comes to the workload. Of course, the work increases each year, but your first year is quite tame considering. It might be quite a culture shock, finding you now have to reference books you've read (that was the biggest bugbear for me, my college had never taught me referencing), but your university will support you. The staff aren't there to let you drown under all your paperwork, their job is to help you. Don't take your lecturers for granted.

I'm sure you've been told this before but don't leave things until the last minute. A university deadline is much more stringent than college, you can't just hand it in the day after it's due because you forgot to print it off. Don't be put off by this, deadlines are there to help you work to a routine, which will help you massively in the future.
Make the most of your time at uni because 3/4/*insert course length* years fly by, as you'll already know by your schooldays and college years, so do what you can while you're there.

Get involved! In my first year, I signed on to become a student representative, going to meetings with the academic board and becoming the mouthpiece to voice student concerns, and I'm grateful I did, because I've met loads of new people, got to know the staff and informed them of student views that would otherwise be left unheard. I volunteer at open days and get to meet prospective students, finding out their expectations of a university, while also helping to communicate the course and its advantages to them. I write for a history blog established by students which may soon become an established society, and I'm also part of the uni's brand new YouTube Society, so societies are a great way to meet new people if you're worried about finding friends. Also, take up any opportunities you get to go on work placements or voluntary work, because it'll all add up later on in life.

So that's all the advice I could think of for now, if you have any more queries, about uni in general, the University of Winchester or studying History, drop a comment below and I'll write another post as a response!

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1 comment:

  1. 110% with you on working hard and joining societies. I made the mistake of putting uni work before going to any societies ever, and three years of uni with no real friends because I never went out and socialised properly to make any sucks balls.
    Balance is key.

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