If there is one bit of advice I could give any 18 year old who is currently looking at #UniAdvice on Twitter, and joining Whatsapp/Facebook groups with future course mates, it is this: Do not spend your entire 3/4 years achieving a 2:1 while gaining weight, casualy attending a few society events, complaining about money, and drinking away what little money you do have on nights with bad music, sweaty people and vomit, followed by mornings of regret.
I am a BSc Sociology graduate from Surrey uni. My first year was spent in part time jobs and various society involvement. My second year was spent on an international exchange at the University of Maryland. And my third year was spent on a work placement as a research and intelligence officer at a local government association. In my final year, I was a course rep and I launched ‘The Move’ with a friend. I’m about to start masters at Birmingham uni in international law, ethics, & politics; so I thought I’d reflect and give you my lessons learnt from undergrad.
Here are my top 5 tips for how you should spend your time in uni:
- Placement year:
Probably one of the best things you can do for yourself over your time in university. The point of getting a degree is to then achieve a decent job and attempt to pay off your debt. However, most of the people who you are sitting with in lectures are going to come out with a degree too. So what is going to separate you from them? Maybe the fact that you already have a year’s worth of experience in your chosen industry.
Not only do you have an academic mind but you also have the discipline and skills to survive the 9-5 in a professional environment for an entire year. That is what is going to separate you from those who are just good at taking exams/doing coursework. You will be given the opportunity to secure solid networks which is, in my opinion, THE MOST valuable aid in gaining post graduate employment. Also, what I have found is that my career goals have become clearer to me now that I have had real experience which succeeded a few weeks. I know my likes and dislikes for a work environment, meaning that when graduation comes I won’t be applying for every job I see.
- Study abroad:
Again, one of the best things one can do for themselves, but one of the most difficult. I was determined to go abroad at some point during my time as a student to the point where I only applied to universities which offered a study abroad year. I have spoken about it in an earlier post so I won’t go back into all that. However, I will say that I was forced to grow up over that time. I won’t lie, as a child I was spoilt and mollycoddled a bit, but living by yourself in a different country/continent, where you can’t go home when you want, call your family at any time of the day (time difference), or depend on anyone but yourself to sort things out from getting transport to carry your groceries home to sorting out your medical insurance to figuring out what to do when you are stranded in NY for a night; it all really builds your resilience and turns you into an independent, resilient adult. By fire by force lol.
You also become open minded as you are made to see things from viewpoints which are completely different from the values and traditions you grew up with. Through this, you will have the opportunity to network and create friends you would never be able to gain any other way (hence why I am able to go back out to American for 3 weeks and turn up this August/September- lol). But on a more serious note, this will inevitably broaden your interests and you will end up discovering skills and talents you had no idea you possessed.
- Society/Sport involvement:
When you find yourself in the midst of your university’s ‘Fresher’s Fair’, I’d suggest you grab yourself a free bag, some sweets, a load of pens, and as many flyers as possible. Sign up to everything. Spread your net wide! And in your first semester, try out as many sports and societies as possible because you just never know what you may be good at.
I can say that the 18 year old me is a completely different person to myself at 21. I did not know I had an interest or talent for writing, public speaking, or event organization. But you will also discover a load of stuff you aren’t great at, and create good memories from them. I can recall going to a dodgeball session in my second semester of first year and being hit in the face by a dodgeball and falling straight back… I should have known that as a 5’3, petite female with little hand-eye coordination, I shouldn’t have gone up against a 6’1 guy who had been playing dodgeball for 2 years.
I can also recall another memory when I went rollerskating for the first time and fell backwards, onto my head, infront of about 7 people who all went “ohhhhh” simultaneously. (I did a lot of falling over in first year) But it all makes great memories!
Uni is all about finding and developing yourself into a well-rounded, interesting graduate.
- Learn a language:
Your university most probably offers a range of languages for you to learn/develop for free (usually on a Wednesday afternoon). You probably won’t become fluent, but it is your easiest and cheapest way to pick up a valuable skill to put on your linkedin profile and bring up in interviews to show why you are so different from all of the other candidates. Plus, it will give you another opportunity to meet people outside of your course and housemates.
Learning a language in uni also aids your time management skills as you are balancing uni work alongside the equivalent of an additional module in a relatively straightforward manner. When else in your life are you going to be offered free language classes which fit around your schedule? And where else are you going to be able to develop reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in languages such as Mandarin, Russian, Japanese etc. All of which will broaden your chances of working/studying abroad at some point.
(Plus, you will feel so much happiness when you happen to hear someone speaking in the language you studied on the train and you can eavesedrop on their conversation, lol)
- Leave your mark:
As you are gaining a degree, it is important to leave something too (other than £27k). Whether that be starting your own society, starting a business, becoming a student ambassador, being an instrumental part of a society or sports team, running for president or vice president of your student’s union, or even achieving an academic award in your graduating class. Make sure you have a solid goal for your time at university which is unique. Even if you don’t succeed, employers and future universities (for masters and doctorates) will admire the determination, the steps you took, and the lessons you learnt.
And most importantly, you will discover a passion of yours and find out more about who you are.
Have fun and make full use of your time! (It will fly by- trust me)
By Priscilla McGregor-Kerr @cillahope_ www.cillahope.wordpress.com