It’s August and a lot of you will be preparing to go to university, return for your second year or perhaps even your final year. Tonight, as I write this, #UniAdviceis trending once more – but it’s left me wondering, can you ever really advise on ‘how to university’? It’s impossible surely. University has been one of my biggest challenges but also the most rewarding experience of my life thus far.
Let me try and paint you a picture – it’s first year of university. I have just moved to my small village in rural Norwich to inner-city Birmingham and the UK government has just dropped a sweet £2,000 in my bank account. It’s a lot to adjust to, and how did I manage that I hear you ask? I didn’t. My grades were deplorable. My essay marks ranged from 42 (that was a bad day) and 58. I finished the year with 57 point something and to no one’s surprise, I was more than disappointed. I was ashamed and I wanted to drop out – I had always been intelligent, or at least I thought I was – but maybe I wasn’t. Suddenly, I was tiny fish in a massive pond of people who are far more capable and intelligent than I. But, where did I go wrong? I went out a lot / drank a lot and didn’t really see the point in doing well when first year didn’t count.
Come to the end of second year and what’s changed? A lot. I finished this year with just over 72, with the vast majority (7/8) of my essays being firsts. Yes, it’s been incredibly hard. Yes, I have developed a completely unhealthy reliance on coffee. Yes, I spent most weekends locked in the library. Yes, I quit my job in order to focus. And yes, I had to say no to going out so that I could be up early and studying the next day. But, at the end of both these years, I feel a hell of a better at the end of this year.
So, why am I writing this blog post? Perhaps to brag? Well, maybe a little bit. But mainly, I want to try and advise you university go-ers. Of course, I have no where near mastered the art of university but here is a little bit of advice from someone who has somehow managed to turn his academic life around completely:
- Yes, first year doesn’t count towards your degree but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t count towards you and your success. First year is a great time to work out how to write academically, to speak to your lectures about your style and prose, to get a good grounding of your subject and to read some books.
- Try and make good friends who care about your academic success and who also want to achieve. I found that surrounding myself with people who want the most out of life really helped. Instead of start pre-drinking at 8pm, perhaps organise a late night study date in the library with these new found studious friends.
- Make a list for everything. This sounds really stupid but it’ll help. Make a list for everything you want to read by the end of the day, every job you need completed and stick to it. You have to be strict with yourself otherwise you’ll never get anything done. Of course, you can let yourself slide 1 or 2 days when you’re literally dead, but apart from that, tick things off that list. Try and mix it up and put some super easy things on the list to motivate yourself and to kid yourself into thinking you’re making progress.
- Pester your lecturers with every question you have. It’s easy to forget that you’re paying them £9,000 and they need to provide you a service. Email them at 2am, email them a list of 9783498 questions, send them essay drafts, ask them for extra reading, go and see them with an empty essay plan crying and ask them for help – they may be stressed with everything else they’re doing, but you’re also very stressed.
- Use every resource your university has for academic writing. Most universities (well mine definitely does anyway) will have an Academic Writing Service or something along those lines. They are there to help you on writing academically and how to tick those boxes that your lecturers have when they’re marking your essays. Speak to them, show them your drafts and / or old essays and let them help you. Remember, no one’s first language is academic English and we all have to learn somewhere.
- Eat healthy. You might think this is a bit of a stupid one, and perhaps it is. But try and stay healthy (aside from the 9 espressos a day you’ll need to keep awake). I found eating relatively healthy kept me feeling happy when work was really dragging me down. Bring loads of snacks to university but try and make them healthy. Perhaps an apple, maybe a couple of carrots. Buy a smoothie every so often. Maybe bring a salad as your lunch. Anything.
- Realise that studying hard and achieving is cool. Yes Daniel, you may be able to neck a pint in 8 seconds, but I managed to get a 78 in an essay and that is equally as cool. Get rid of this god-awful mentality that you are somehow too cool for school, buck your ideas up and realise that academic success can also maybe be cool sometimes.
I hope this helps.
See ya x