Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A useful guide to surviving university

There are certain things I wish I had known before I enrolled myself into three of the most depressing, tedious, exhausting, stimulating, advantageous and thought provoking years of my life. The highs and lows of my university experience can only be collectively analysed as one long list of lessons. I thus share the ones that would have been helpful to know in advance and in particular, the things they don’t tell you before you apply.

You will be broke || It is an inevitable fact that most students will face. If you are blessed enough to have very lovely parents who are able to support you financially, then you are extremely lucky (be sure to pick them a nice care home when they grow old). Many however, will experience for the first time, complete and utter financial freedom. With this freedom, comes a new depth of poverty that you didn’t know existed. Beans on toast will become breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nights out will only be possible on the first few weeks of term and central heating will become a myth that only exists in Narnia. Learn how to manage your money, without this skill you will starve, freeze and be going to lectures in your pyjamas because you can’t afford to do the laundry.

Fresher’s stone is not a myth || With this new found freedom comes the opportunity to do your own grocery shopping, meaning little vegetables, lots of junk food and Tesco value alcohol (don’t judge, we’ve all been there). Believe it or not, this unhealthy diet is a lot cheaper than buying fresh fruit and veg and preparing home cooked meals, it’s almost like supermarkets want you to be fat. Weight will be gained, tears will be cried and a gym membership will be purchased in a desperate attempt to regain your shape. Think ahead, buy a gym membership at the start of the year and don’t go mad on the cocktails (switch to vodka lime and soda instead).

Put yourself out there || University is not the place for comfort zones. Join a sport or a society. Don’t let fear stop you from walking into a pub on your own, you will make friends, just smile and introduce yourself. Try something new, pick up a language, or go and sit in on interesting lectures that aren’t on your course, it’s the best way to meet new people and talk to those outside of your own circle. It may also pave the way to finding new hobbies that interest you, or new skills that you didn’t know you possessed.

The library will be like a bad boyfriend || One day it will treat you well and aid you in writing a first class essay, and then the following day it entices you into watching Netflix for five hours, while eating take out and pulling faces at your friends on the table opposite. When it’s treating you badly, stay away; go and spend your time in coffee shops that take better care of you. Save your study time for somewhere special. 

Exhaustion has side effects || At first it is just a case of heavy eyes and lack of concentration, which will soon transform into minimal energy, head spinning and the shakes. You will go out clubbing until 4am, not to mention order food with your housemates before falling asleep in the kitchen, only to wake up for your 9am lecture with a churning stomach and a thumping headache. ‘It’s all part of the experience,’ is what you will tell yourself, and this is true, but what you don’t know is that by second term you will be in bed by 11pm in preparation for your 9am lecture the following morning, only to find out that the ‘party house’ next door aren’t on the same wavelength as you. This will inevitably lead to many sleepless nights, room pacing, wall banging and eventual collapse from exhaustion. Trips home are a great idea at this point, spend a weekend in your own bed and sleep off all the frustration.

Enjoy first year || All good things must come to an end, and sadly first year is no different. Make the most of not working towards your degree, first year doesn’t count for a reason, so go out and socialise. This being said, first year is also a great opportunity to refine your working methods. Learn the best way to take notes, how long it takes you to write an essay, and what parts of your course most interest you. 

Don’t miss lectures || There will be contact hours that make watching paint dry look as interesting as a BeyoncĂ© concert. Professors will waste your time, and when second year workload sets in; pointless lectures make you want to hurl your Mac across the lecture hall. Don’t skip them; instead make sure you are well equipped with work. It is far better to sit among your fellow, half-asleep, students and work on your essay, than to stay in bed and miss the deadline for class sign-ups. Yes, they spring important information on you in extremely pointless, but compulsory, classes. Don’t get caught out. Besides, there is nothing more annoying than receiving a passive aggressive email from your tutor, asking you to explain your absence, so just turn up.

Housemates will test your patience || As much as you may love your housemates, you may also love living in a particular way; which sadly is something that won’t happen for the entire three years at university. Everyone will have annoying habits, even yourself. The only advice I can give it that perseverance is key. On the plus side, sharing a house with friends can create some good memories as well as hilarious stories for the future grandkids. 

Breaks aren’t bad || Some days your mind just wont be on it and you’ll convince yourself that you need to sit and stare at the same page all day because you don’t deserve a break. Walk away from it, go to the gym, watch a film or walk around the lake down the road. Whatever it is that clears your head and lets you breathe, now is the time to do it. Breaks are needed, especially when stress levels are high. A stressed out student is an unproductive one.

You don’t need to make loads of friends || I have always been a firm believer that it is better to have a small group of close friends than a large group of not so close friends. University is no different and despite being on sports teams or part of societies, it is ok to have lots of acquaintances and a very small number of friends.

Pick a dissertation topic you are passionate about || If you forget everything else, then get this one right. You are picking a subject that you will be independently researching for an entire year. If you hate the topic to start with, writing 10,000 words will be harder than climbing Kilimanjaro. Speak to tutors at the end of your second year, ask questions and do your research. If you don’t get what you want, complain and pester them until they give you your topic just to get rid of you. If they are resilient, then remind them how much money you’re paying.

You will be ripped off || This is custom for any university student and you will learn to accept it. You will be heavily fined for late returns to the library, charged an extortionate amount of money on rent, not to mention the cost of getting back into that overpriced room if you lock yourself out. Printing will eat away at your bank account, particularly around essay deadlines, and if you're living away from home or even a distance from campus, make sure to account for transport costs. Public transport will soon only be accessible to the wealthy. Of course all this is dependent on location. My advice, attend a welsh university.

Solid plans are for suckers || You will have friends that have everything figured out, a house, a graduate job and even a pension scheme. It is however, perfectly ok to not have a plan. It will be scary, it may even cause momentary periods of panic and manic job searching, but you will learn to mostly embrace the unknown. University is a period of growth, where you learn to stand on your own two feet. This in itself has prepared you for entering the big wide world known as adulthood, and whatever is thrown at you, you will be prepared to make it work. You never know, a dream opportunity may land at your feet come graduation day (yes I still live in hope).


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