Before starting my degree three years ago, I was full of questions about what my university experience would bring. Is this really going to be the best three years of my life? How will I settle into this new environment? What if I can’t handle the workload? Looking back, I can say that everyone’s experience is different and something that you can only really understand once you’ve been through it yourself. However, having now finished my degree, there are some things that I wish I had been told before starting my university journey:
1. Those three years will fly by.
I’m sure this is a cliché you have already heard from friends and family, but I cannot stress how true it is! However, for me, it certainly didn’t feel like this for the first few weeks. I was incredibly homesick and really doubted whether going to uni was the right choice for me. But, in time, you will start to settle in and feel more comfortable in your new surroundings. From then, between all the coursework, exams, revision and getting on with university life, you’ll be left wondering where the time has gone! So just remember to enjoy it and embrace every opportunity; this experience is completely unique and something you are unlikely to do again. It’s also worth putting some thought into what you want to do after graduation as early as possible (a scary thought, I know). Workshops, internships, volunteer work and joining a club or society are all thing you can get involved throughout your time at university to help yourself in the long run. This is something I really wish I had done more of!
2. You’re not going to get along with everyone, and that’s okay.
You will meet so many people throughout your time at uni and, naturally, you’re not destined to be best friends with them all. Don’t get me wrong, some of the people I met during my first week are still my closest friends to this day. But, in most cases, you will have little choice in who you end up living with in first year, and halls can be a breeding ground for personality clashes. If there is someone you don’t get along with, be civil, and just remind yourself that this isn’t forever. Invest your time into the people and friendships that you want to, and don’t worry too much about trying to please everyone else. Why not get involved with a club or society, or take the time to get to know people on your course? You have control over the friendships that you make, so don’t feel forced into anything because of circumstance.
3. It’s so important to establish a good work-life balance.
This is a difficult thing to do, and something that I still haven’t managed to master even now. The workload at university can feel overwhelming, especially during first year when you’re still trying to adjust to the expectations of your course. Equally, you may find it tempting to fully immerse yourself in the student lifestyle and spend a few too many nights at the SU. If there’s anything I’ve learnt, balance is the key. Go out with your friends, have a cheeky lie in, regret that fourth tequila shot. But set aside your ‘working’ time and stick to it. At the same time, it’s important not to overwork. I’ve found it helpful to try and see uni as your full-time job. There is no expectation for you to work all day every day and will only end with you burning out. Take time out to recharge and relax, and remember to be kind to yourself.
4. Working hard will pay off.
Remember those people at school or college who always seemed to breeze through and get the good grades with very little work involved? Uni is a completely different ball game. It separates those who are willing to put in the hard work, and those who don’t. And while you will constantly hear the ring of "Well I only need 40% to pass" in first year, don’t make this your aim. Yes, it’s true. In most cases it’s only the second and third year that count towards your grade. But don’t underestimate the value of giving yourself a solid platform to work from during the rest of your time there. Working hard consistently will show your tutors and lecturers that you’re taking things seriously, and this will be reflected in your grades. If at any point you don’t feel like your hard work is showing, go and talk to your personal tutor. They will be able to point you in the direction of further guidance that can help you make improvements to your work (maybe something as small as your referencing, grammar, or writing style), that can make an impact on your overall results. Taking this proactive approach will also show your commitment and willingness to do well.
5. Never be afraid to ask for help if you need it.
There have been numerous occasions where I’ve needed both academic and personal support throughout my university experience. Whether this be seeking advice from the careers officer, asking for feedback on an essay that hasn’t gone so well with a lecturer, or support from the extenuating circumstances team after a family bereavement. Your university employs trained professionals to offer guidance on all aspects on university life including councillors, wellbeing officers, financial advisors and housing officers. However, it is up to you to reach out and seek this support. Asking for help can be unnerving for anyone. But there is absolutely no shame in it and it can often be the gateway to reaching a solution. Remember, helping you with your problems is what these people are trained to do. Make the most of what your university has to offer!
Most importantly, just enjoy it. There is no other time in your life where you can be surrounded by your friends, try so many new things, and eat your dinner out of a saucepan without getting judged.
Ellie has just finished her third year at Cardiff University, studying English Language. She also writes a blog ‘Forget the World’ about lifestyle and university experiences.
Note: 'Student Blog' pieces highlight the student perspective on issues relating to ProtectED measures. Consequently, this article reflects the views of the author and not ProtectED.