In September two of my friends will be going off to university for the first time. They will be studying History and Archaeology & Anthropology respectively. To be honest I am a little bit jealous. Now I know that you will be thinking, "hang on your at university too, your doing your MA". Well, yes I am but its not the same as spending three years full time as an undergraduate. Its not the same as moving to a new town and living in Halls of Residence for the first year and its not the same as living away from home for the first time at the tender age of 18.
Despite the recent headline grabbing changes to fees and student loans, university is a good thing. Its exciting. Its a right of passage. Its an opportunity. Obviously there are the academic gains; studying a subject in depth and in various ways, sharing ideas with like minded people and hopefully achieving a qualification that will lead to paid employment. However there are also all the non-academic gains. Learning to stand on your own two feet, being responsible for your own actions, meeting diverse and different people, expanding and challenging your preconceptions, and learning how to budget and make ends meet while being continuously "skint".
There are obviously other experiences too; learning to hold your alcohol (or not!), testing your ability to be up until the early hours of the morning having fun and getting up on time for a 9am lecture, realising how useful having a friend who can drive and who has their car on campus is, and trying "new things"!! Its also an opportunity to make new friends and broaden your horizons. Despite some ups and downs I really loved being at university and wish I could go back and do it all again.
So for my friends embarking on the scholastic adventure that is university here are some tips based on my own experience:
1. A' Levels and College does not prepare you for University no matter what your teachers have told you. It would be like saying a 10 minute walk in the snow in December would prepare you for a 30 day trip to the Arctic. You are expected to lead your studying at university. You choose which criticism or feedback to listen to and ignore. You have to cope with the workload and you ARE expected to read all the reading before each lecture or seminar. Note taking is very different, and lecture learning is completely different to classroom learning. Be adaptable and quick to learn and you will be fine.
2. You will never find every single lecture interesting and fascinating. All subjects have dull, dry boring aspects that you just have to get through. Grit your teeth and remember it will pass and you will move on to more interesting stuff soon.
3. At uni you are an adult and will be treated as one. You decide whether you go to lectures or not. But remember this new freedom can bite you on your bum if you fall behind or screw up. Its your fault. No letters to you parents or your parents being called to the university. YOU have to face the music and more importantly face your tutors.
4. Don't leave essays, assignments and seminars to the last minute. They are expected to take you a certain amount of time to prepare and if you don't use this time its obvious and your tutor can tell.
5. Your tutors will not carry you. They have hundreds of students to teach. If you can't be bothered, they won't be bothered with you when you ask for help.
6. Homesickness passes. It might feel like the end of the world and you can't carry on, but trust me it will get better and you will be glad you stayed and stuck it out.
7. Most students are untidy and adverse to washing up and cleaning in general. This will irritate you, but complaining about it will not help and will not make you very popular. Look after your own stuff. That's the best you can hope for if your sharing digs with someone. When you move into private accommodation it will hopefully get better (sometimes!).
8. If you can choose who you live with, choose wisely. Having to find a new housemate is not always easy and even the most careful and rigorous choosing process can result in letting a weirdo move in with you! Once they are in they are impossible to get rid off. Make sure you find out as much about them as possible, BEFORE you offer them the room!
9. Having fun is allowed. Don't feel guilty for going out and having fun. Make the most of every opportunity (as long as you are safe and don't put yourself in any danger).
10. Enjoy every second, even the bad bits. You really will look back on your uni years with fondness and yearning after they have passed.
11. Do not believe all the hype about Fresher's Week, Fortnight or Month. This is designed for one type of student in mind and if you are not that particular type of student you will be disappointed. But if you like Foam Parties, luminous shot drinks, themed club nights and waking up with sick in your hair then you will have a ball! (Freshers Week at my uni was definitely not for me!).
12. Finally, you only get to do this once. Yes you can go back and do other degrees but you will only ever be an undergraduate for the first time once. Make the most of it.
There are probably more useful tips like eat plenty of vegetables and fruit, or don't do drugs or always have taxi fair home, but that is just common sense (I would hope!).
So to Cat and Rachel, good luck for September when you go off to university and enjoy every single second! You will have a fabulous time and will be glad you went. I look forward to hearing all about your adventures and your studies!