General Study Advice

6 Big Reasons For Second Year Woe & How To Wash The Woe Away


In my last post on getting motivated when you get back to uni, I said about the shock of the second year.

We need to talk about more than motivation… We need to talk about conquering your Second Year Woe.

Yes, Fresher life can push you in every direction until your head is spinning. That’s covered.

But it can be just as much of a whirlwind for second year students too. It’s not fair to expect you to take everything in your stride when you’ve still got so many new challenges of your own.

So let’s address a few of these things right now. Get it sussed before you get stressed.

Like my previous post, I’ve asked Bethany Wren, VP Academic Experience at University of Brighton Students’ Union for some help with this. You can reach Bethany on Facebook and on Twitter too.

So, here are 6 Second Year Woes and how you can deal with them:


1. The honeymoon period is over

When you start anything new, everything is shiny and exciting and woo. By the time you finish your first year, it’s easy to feel that the freshness has gone.

This is where you need to be proactive. There are loads of activities to explore, new situations to dive into, and many ways to rekindle your excitement.

Attitude makes a huge difference to how you feel. When you decide something is boring or you feel like your situation won’t be as exciting this year, you set yourself up for a foregone conclusion.

Continue where you left off. Write down what you want to achieve and experience in your second year. Commit to something you were meaning to do, but never got around to in the first year.

Try to get others involved if you can. The power in numbers will spur you on.

And with ALL THE THINGS going on, it’s easy to forget about YOU. One of Bethany’s personal student survival tips gets you to focus back where it counts. She says, “Look after yourself. Sounds simple now, but it truly [is] the most important thing to do”.

Simple–but crucial–things like food are worth thinking about, explains Bethany:

“Your diet will change how much you can study and how positive you’re feeling, so don’t forget your veggies!”

For more healthy foodie hints, check these TUB links in the archives:


2. There is more housing admin and travelling to do

If you’ve been living on campus (or near to it) in your first year, everything was practically on your doorstep.

What’s it like now you’ve moved further away? Got a longer walk or a bus journey to add to your plans? Sigh.

And what about those housing issues you’ll have that you didn’t encounter in your uni accommodation?

All this takes time.

So factor in something productive when you’re commuting, even if it’s only a few minutes extra walk. Listen to audio of a lecture as you walk, or stick on a relevant podcast. If you take a bus to campus, do some reading or writing so you’re not just looking at your phone doing nothing in particular.

And keep a communal diary for stuff to do with your home. When the bins go out, cleaning rotas, bill payment deadlines, and so on. A bit of joint legwork when you first move in will save you a lot of time over the rest of the year.


3. Work/Life balance is hard to organise

I don’t like the term work/life balance, because it’s not about finding equal amounts of the two things. What you really need is a personal stability that keeps you happy and productive in all aspects of life.

Arrangement is crucial. You can’t wing it any more. Sort out your time, your schedule, your social life, your research, your priorities, and so on. If you go with the flow and let other people dictate when you go out at the last minute, you’ll have less fun than if you had your social time mapped out.

You don’t have to be too strict, but you’re setting yourself up for a fall if you go with the flow all week. An impromptu get-together is fine every now and then. But every other night? Danger.

Then you’ve got extra-curricular activities. It sounds like a lot of extra bother, but it’s not as bad as you’d think and it’s worthwhile for all sorts of reasons. Here’s Bethany:

“Use second year to gain some really valuable work or volunteering experience! I myself did this and am now able to not only say it was one of my greatest memories of university but I can also use it practically for anecdotes in interviews.
“For those who are going into second year who had taken out a year for an internship and are potentially feeling like they have lost touch with peers they made friends with in the first year, I urge you to join a society or a sports team or look at the huge range of activities that park life put on. Amber our Activities and Participation SABB at Brighton will be around putting on loads of great events and activities so watch out for them. You are guaranteed to find something you’ll enjoy!”


4. You were hit by “First year doesn’t count-itis”

Yep, you’re not alone. This still happens to SO many students.

Your Fresher year is a great time to get to grips with university life and meeting new people.

But that year is also useful for getting to grips with degree study and meeting new concepts.

If you didn’t put in as much effort as you wish you’d done, prepare for catch-up time.

Okay, it’s painful.

And yes, it’s frustrating.

But don’t panic just yet!

All you need to sacrifice is an hour or two each week. Spend that time revisiting the content and textbook material from your first year. Read up on academic essays. Prepare in advance for the work ahead of you. See lecturers at the earliest opportunity if you’ve got any concerns so you can get them dealt with and out of the way.

Basically, get clued up now so you don’t continue playing catch-up all year.

You can make up for lost time, so long as you don’t choose to procrastinate and ignore it.

First year doesn’t count-itis may be inconvenient, but it’s no disaster when you grapple with the issues head on.


5. No more “cute, fluffy, first year subjects”

Even if you took the work in your Fresher year dead seriously, your next challenge won’t be more introductory modules. By now, your tutors have taken off your stabilisers, removed the safety rail, and disconnected the sat-nav.

But fear not, because your tutors are still on hand to help you where you need it. They’re not monsters, even the scarier ones.

Don’t feel shy or weak when you feel lost. Be honest about your situation and ask for advice.

Here’s more from Bethany:

“Remember what you have learnt from the first year. Look back over the feedback you got. Can you identify any trends coming up for example, ‘lack of structure’ or ‘undeveloped area’?
“I would suggest that you seek out your personal tutor in the first semester, to not only touch base with them but to also ask if they can advise you on these particular reoccurring themes in the feedback and how to develop or work on them in your assignments this year.”


6. Second year doesn’t get the dynamic focus as first and last years do

There’s so much focus on Freshers and final year students who are about to graduate, that the in-between years are sometimes left behind.

Speak to your students’ union and get the specific issues of second year students heard. That’s why Bethany and other Sabbatical Officers are there at your SU…To listen to you and help take action where it matters.

What do you feel is missing from your second year? How could you be supported better? Are tutors fully aware and supportive of your second-year circumstances?

Basically, don’t suffer in silence. The more voices that can put their point across, the more likely second year students will be seen with just as much importance and not as those in a forgotten year between first and final.

Own your second year with confidence. You’ll go from ‘Woe’ to ‘Grow’ in no time.

Many thanks to Bethany for the great advice. I’ll leave the final word of encouragement to her:

“From me and the SU, I wish all students the biggest and best of luck this year! Go for it!

5 Dreadful Pieces Of Student Advice (And Why You Need To Stop Following Them)


Not all advice is equal. Even the best intentions don’t make for the best suggestions.

What’s the worst piece of advice you’ve been given at university?

You may have heard some of the following before. Don’t get sucked in!

1. “1st Year Doesn’t Count.”

When all you need to do is pass, you may think there’s no difference between getting 40% and 70% or higher. Just do what you need to get through and spend most of your time enjoying everything else.

Bad move.

Putting in the effort helps you to progress. Without it, you won’t be so prepared for the next year, when your marks do count. There is no easy way to catch up either, as a lot of the process is about technique and practice and abstract links. You can’t bring yourself up to speed with a bit of cramming and rote learning.

Dismissing the importance of your first year is one of the most misguided and dangerous pieces of advice around.

2. “Sign Up For Everything.”

No matter how tempting it is to do ALL THE THINGS, it won’t help your CV (or your schedule) by signing up to every society, every cause, and every extra-curricular activity you can.

Commit to just a few things and throw all your enthusiastic weight and interest into them. Make it count. Aim to come out the other side with great stories to tell and a sense of achievement.

By challenging yourself to be awesome in a small number of areas, you’ll likely have better experiences and you’re sure to look better on paper. Nobody cares that you were in seventeen different clubs; they care that you did amazing things in one or two of them.

Pro tip: Among the things you already have an interest in conquering, find at least one society or group that you think will push you in a new direction. The worst that can happen is that you’ll discover you have absolutely no interest. In which case, find another new path and see what happens. Rinse and repeat until something clicks. With an open attitude, it shouldn’t take long to find something that delivers.

3. “Only Concentrate On The Study.” / “Push Toward A First.”

Some students don’t sign up for everything. In fact, they sign up for nothing. Their degree journey is all about the magical First Class Honours.

Whoa there! Firsts are on the up (more on that later…) and a top grade is no guarantee of success and fame and wealth and [insert amazing thing you want here].

Yes, getting the top mark is fantastic. I wouldn’t want you to aim lower for no reason. But neither should you ignore everything else around you in your pursuit of that grade. In short, do your sensible best, not your perfectionist best.

I’ve spoken to students (and parents) who worry that they’re heading toward a 2:1 because they have been concentrating on other activities to the detriment of their study. But in many cases I hear, students are not so much ignoring their study, but rather improving skills and employability achievements.

One person, developing his own business, was worried that his academic work would drop in quality, risking a 2:1 over a First. Putting aside the risks associated with starting any new business, the potential gains on paper are bigger than the difference between a First and a 2:1.

I recently spoke to a mother who was worried that her son had gone from an almost certain First to a much more likely 2:1. Apparently he was spending a lot of time building up a writing portfolio, which had been getting in the way of his study.

But with his sights set on journalism and having managed to be published in various places, including one or two big names, the difference between a top mark and a good mark isn’t so important. The new achievements should more than make up for it.

4. Anything Too Specific – “Never do this…” / “Always do that…”

The diversity of university ensures that there are loads of things you can do and loads you’ll never manage to do, even in the three or so years you’re there.

All those lists on the stuff you should NEVER do as a student, or the things you MUST do before you graduate, are just a way to get you clicking on a link.

It’s like when a mate tells you the best club in the area. You may agree with their opinion and you may not. But that’s all it is. An opinion.

Be cautious of anyone advising you of a dead cert. Their advice may prove right for you in the end, but you shouldn’t assume it will. Blindly following risks stepping into disaster.

Next time someone says you HAVE to do it, by all means go ahead, but only after you’ve considered it for yourself and you’re happy to do it on your own terms and for your own reasons.

5. “Don’t Panic…Degrees Are Getting Easier.”

The preliminary results of the latest Times Higher Education Best University Workplace Survey contain many comments from academics that say increasing numbers of students end up graduating with a First or 2:1.

These comments, no matter how true, fuel advice to chill-out and not put too much effort into your work.

The ‘Don’t Panic’ bit is fine, but the reason not to panic doesn’t sit right. I’ve even seen online conversations that say you’d have to be an idiot not to get a 2:1 or better. That’s insulting to everyone; those who don’t manage the grade as well as those who do.

You may be tempted to try getting away with the smallest amount of work possible. The tactic doesn’t save time in the long run and does more harm than good. If you’ve not found enjoyment in your studies to the extent that you’re trying to minimise your workload like this, what do you really want from this?

So yes, try not to panic. But no, don’t expect your degree to be easy. If you do, the reality will likely emerge at precisely the wrong time.

Explore ways to make your effort effortless and your challenges enjoyable. You’ll be better placed to find an enjoyable flow in your work. Your degree will feel easier, but by no means will it be easy. The relaxed flow will, instead, be testament to your attitude.


Guilt and the Simplicity of Scheduling

What do I feel most guilty about in my day-to-day tasks?

The saved items in my feed reader.

As I write, there are 8 saved items, ranging from 16 hours to 13 days old. When those links are hanging around, it means I haven’t done something with them.

I have usually read the items in question, but the saved area is a hold for links I want to use somewhere. That’s why 13 days is too long. It’s not quite two weeks, but I should have actioned it by now.

This isn’t the same as procrastination. It’s more a missed opportunity. I haven’t even considered working through the links, which means they’re pointless hanging around indefinitely.

There are two easy ways to deal with these links:

1. Delete them. The ruthless option;
2. Deal with them RIGHT NOW. The active option.

For me it’s roughly 80% dealing, 20% deleting. I tend not to delete unless the moment has well and truly passed.

All I need to do is sort everything out where they need to go. There’s never anything saved that will take up too much of my time.

I’ll clear through the 8 items that are still hanging and use a stopwatch to see how long it takes me to sort everything out.

Stopwatch (photo by purplemattfish)

I could have used one of these, but went for my phone’s stopwatch instead. (photo by purplemattfish) (CC BY-NC-ND)


[Time Passes…Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock…]

And relax.

6 minutes 37 seconds to deal with 7 of the 8 items. The only article I didn’t move was a piece I hadn’t read yet (the 16 hour old piece). Of the 7 items, I deleted one and actioned the others.

I can feel less guilty again. In six and a half minutes, I have taken care of a fortnight worth of stuff that was making me feel guilty.

From now on, all I need to do is schedule a fortnightly task. 20 minutes set to one side and I should have it clear in less time than that. Much better than getting an occasional pang of guilt and rushing through the list, annoyed with myself.

[Note: I wrote this a couple of weeks ago and performed the task again today, before publishing. It worked brilliantly again. 20 items down to 2 in 18 minutes. The oldest item was 8 days old. In the time I spent, I did around 80% dealing and 20% deleting again. From the two trial runs, I’ve spent roughly one minute per item.]

When you’re faced with ultimately forgettable or picky little tasks, try setting aside a bit of time every now and then. It needn’t be a huge commitment, but it should be enough to stop those moments where you suddenly remember something and feel guilty that you didn’t do it sooner.

Not only can I now breathe a sigh of relief, but also celebrate that I have an ongoing plan to deal with any backlog I may get each fortnight.

I even managed to get this post written in the process. Win.

What is making you feel guilty and how will you deal with it?

A Star No Starter: Why You Are Worth More Than Your Grades

When you leave school with 7 A* grades at A-level, it’s pretty impressive.

When you fail to get a place at the University of Oxford on those grades, people start talking. That’s what happened to Alastair Herron this year.

Oxford (photo by Max-Design)

Oxford (photo by Max-Design) – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Despite the talking, not enough is known about the full application made. If we did have more information, would the application have fallen at a single point, or at several?

There isn’t a big story here, because Herron received offers from American universities and he has happily accepted a place at Stanford.

Whether you’re still looking for a uni place or you’ve graduated with full honours, there are some key takeaways from this news:

Keep your options open

Herron had offers from other universities that he was intent on going to. Regardless of an offer from Oxford, he had his sights set elsewhere. Interviewed on BBC Radio Belfast, Herron said, “I would never stay at Oxford with offers from America so I am not in any way disappointed”.

Whatever you do, have a number of routes open to you and prioritise. That way, you won’t flounder when one route comes crashing down. Herron took the news with a shrug. He was surprised, but he considered it Oxford’s loss. He already had other options at hand.

Grades are not the whole picture

University (and life) is about much more than exam results. Whatever you end up with, life goes on. Many things you set your sights on can still be achieved, albeit a little later and with further work. There are alternative routes in to some fields too.

When you’re put to the test, you waste your own time if you don’t put in any real effort. And when you do spend the time, don’t feel disheartened if you end up with less than straight As. Herron’s story shows that grades aren’t the whole picture.

Your situation wouldn’t necessarily be different with 100% in everything. You can’t read the future and it’s not worth playing ‘What if…?’ when you haven’t a clue how things would have turned out. Focus on here and now, not on an alternative reality.

Success doesn’t rely on one particular thing

It’s easy to fixate on a small part of the picture and building it up more than it needs. Spend enough time and effort on something and it’s not surprising that you can do great things in that area.

However, you need to demonstrate many qualities as a person. Personal traits, interests outside academia, social activities, and all sorts of elements comprise your unique makeup.

By all means boast a thousand A* A-levels, but be prepared to offer more than one sole quality.

Unless, of course, that quality is the solution to a huge problem or the answer to a long-standing question that has baffled generations of people. When you hold the key to something special, that’s great. Just be warned, this is rare. And even when you do hold the key, you may not realise it. In other words, don’t go searching for it blindly.

No regrets

When something doesn’t work out, however big or small, try not to dwell on it too much. My A-level adventure could have been much better if I had been mentored better and given more solid information, advice and guidance in certain places.

I didn’t let that bother me. For all the facepalm moments that I know could have been far better for me in hindsight, I’ve had many wonderful experiences that have taken me to places I wanted to be anyway.

If I regretted my actions and, once again, played the ‘What if…?’ game in my mind, I could have spent forever thinking I had missed my one and only chance.

There are other chances. It’s okay to kick yourself, or throw your head to the air and wish you’d spotted things sooner, but move on as soon as you can. Instead of regretting what has passed, concentrate on what could be. Seek out new ways to get to where you would like to be and use your new insights to help get you there this time.

Whatever the future holds, you can’t see it until it’s happened. And then it’s the past. Attempt to secure the best future for you, but don’t hold on to it if it doesn’t work out. Look forward, look for alternatives, and look out world…You’re on a mission!

We will never know precisely why a university turns a straight-A student down. That’s why it’s not worth focusing on.

You are worth more than your grades. You are better than that.