Sunday, 11 September 2016

Tips for Starting University

I feel like I've done quite a few university-related posts lately but I like writing them so here's another one. Although I don't go back to uni until the end of September (and term doesn't start until 10th October, I might add) most of my friends have already started again and it's impossible to avoid the 'back-to-school' supplies in shops - all of which reminds me that this time last year I was nervously waiting out September and anticipating my first year of university. I watched a lot of videos on YouTube about people's experiences and they really helped to put things in perspective while also giving me a lot of advice that I held on to during those first few months. So here is my contribution to the growing number of advice posts/videos - I'd just like to point out that this is solely based on my own experience and only refers to UK universities.

Socialise. If you're a naturally shy person like I am it's tempting to retreat to the safety of your room during Freshers Week instead of throwing yourself into the social scene, but try and go to as social events as you can personally manage. That doesn't have to mean properly going out as there are often less clubbing-oriented activities planned for the week, but really, if you like that sort of thing go for it because now is the time!

2 Talk to as many people as possible. This goes hand in hand with the socialising: go to events in halls, sit with different people at dinner if you're catered, go around knocking on people's doors, basically don't hesitate to start a conversation with anybody and everybody. Unless they happen to have gone to the same uni as a lot of their friends from school everyone is in the same boat at the beginning when it comes to trying to make friends. Just remember that Freshers' Week is the one time where it's completely acceptable to randomly go up to someone and introduce yourself, after that things settle down and you might get some weird looks. Also, there will be people you talk to and hang out with in that first week who you'll probably never speak to again - but personally I met my best uni friends in the first few days so you never know where a first conversation might lead.

3 Take care of yourself. While it's an ideal time to socialise and get to know people, that kind of thing isn't everyone's forté and combined with a totally new setting (or even country) plus getting to grips with the academic side of university life it can seem overwhelming. I think it's important to be aware of how much you can handle in that first week (and indeed the weeks afterwards), and it will be different for everyone depending on how introverted or extroverted you are: for example, when some girls on my corridor invited me to go out to a club with them on the first night I knew that was the absolute last thing I wanted to do. If you're planning on going out and drinking a lot then that's also something to watch out for: give yourself a night or two off so you don't burn out before the hard work starts.

3 Join societies. And actually go to them. I made the mistake of joining a whole load of different societies at the start of the year and them promptly got overwhelmed by the commitments. I would suggest joining no more than five societies/sports/clubs and then whittling it down if necessary over the course of the year. In retrospect I regret not actually going to most of the meetings either because I was lazy or because I was convinced I had too much work, but I'm going to do my best to rectify that this coming year.

Make your room your own. This probably doesn't apply to everyone but I know that one of the biggest things that helped me settle in was being able to decorate my rather bland uni bedroom and make it feel like home. Just coming in after a day of lectures and looking at my wall of photos and my fairy lights and my bookshelf would make me feel instantly calm and secure, which was really important for me personally. It doesn't have to take much but it can make a difference!

5 Time management. I feel like this is one of those skills you can't teach, you just have to learn it by yourself because everyone manages their time differently. Basically have a system, stick to it and procrastinate as little as possible -  hard though that may sound. For instance, I would always write up my lecture notes straight afterwards when I got back to my room because I wouldn't be ready to do any real work immediately and I also had a better hope of deciphering my scrawl, while in the late evenings when my brain was no longer capable of doing anything difficult I would do some brief prep for the next day's lectures by reading through the powerpoint (and copying it into OneNote lol). That's just a small example of how you can look at your own habits and fit a working schedule around them, but of course there's a lot more to life than just university work and it's important to maintain a healthy balance between uni, your social life, sleep and any other commitments.

6 Go to lectures. At least until you can figure out which ones you can realistically get away with missing because there will always be a lecturer who literally reads off the powerpoint word for word which makes attending the lecture pretty pointless. I only missed about four lectures in my first year (and that was only when I was literally unable to get out of bed because of a horrendous chest infection) so perhaps I took that to the extreme but honestly, nine times out of ten you'll get so much more out of it by actually being there. Also, they tend to drop hints about exams if you listen carefully.

7 Do the reading. Obviously it differs between courses, but from a humanities perspective I would aim to read at least half the assigned reading. In my opinion reading is the biggest difference between school and university and the most difficult part to get to grips with in the beginning, but just do your absolute best to get through as much of it as possible - for instance I was supposed to read two articles per lecture but it was an achievement if I even managed one, so that was the target I set for myself. Sometimes I'd read two or three if it was something I was really interested in and sometimes I read none, it would just depend.

Take useful notes when reading. I cannot stress this enough. There's literally no point reading something if you don't retain any of it, so try to take concise and helpful notes that will help you recall it later on down the line. An ideal way to do this is to bullet point the key pieces of information as you go and then when you get to the end write a brief paragraph summarising what you've just read. Trust me, it'll help when you get to exam season and you're looking over either copious amounts of notes or none at all.

Start assignments early. Like, really early because you'll thank yourself for it later. I once read an article that suggested you spend eight weeks writing an essay and set out a detailed week-by-week progress plan, but that's completely unrealistic as I definitely didn't have that long for a single essay and sometimes had two or three on the go at once. When I say 'start' them early that doesn't have to mean the writing process, even getting some of the reading done before the panic kicks in can be a massive relief.

10 Get to know your city. Chances are you're going to uni in a city you've never lived in which means there's a lot to discover. When it came to thinking about houses for second year and considering which area we wanted to live in I was struck by how little I knew of Durham (which is tiny by the way) outside of the main streets and the routes I would take in and out of the centre, so it was really nice to see more of the city by car when my mum and I visited recently. There are bound to be tourist attractions and museums that will enable you to find out more about where you live, but there's something to be said for simply exploring.

And those are my tips for starting university! I hope at least some of them were helpful.


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