5 Reasons why you don’t get the most out of your degree

Freshers pile in to uni with all sorts of feelings.  Hope and excitement, despair and unhappiness, wanting a fresh start, wanting to make a point, wanting to save the world.  For everyone it’ll be slightly different.

Most of us have at least a fair amount of enthusiasm and may even be full of joy at the opportunities available and looking forward to finding many other opportunities along the way.  But it doesn’t stay that way for three years.

terrified sandwich (photo by Sakurako Kitsa)

photo by Sakurako Kitsa

As the days become weeks and the weeks become months, the initial excitement (not surprisingly) drops as ‘uni life’ becomes ‘everyday life’. There’s nothing wrong about that, but it does mean that all students need to remind themselves why they’re at uni in the first place.  When the rituals of daily life rudely interrupt your focus on the future, it may be time to make sure you’re still getting the most out of your uni experience.

Getting into a comfort zone can make everything in life less powerful, be it studying or socialising.  So be aware of these 5 reasons why you might not be getting the most out of your time at university:

1. Commitment too diluted/Too many priorities

Over the course of three or four years, your priorities are bound to change.  That’s not surprising in itself, but sometimes the number of priorities increase, rather than merely change.  With too many commitments, it becomes difficult to prioritise with ease.  This is when some commitments you took up with all the good intention in the world slip out of your grasp and can’t be recovered without a major rethink.

While it’s the summer, it’s a good time to consider the most important two or three things that you want to commit to over and above everything else.  It shouldn’t take long.  What takes a bit longer is working out how prepared you are to drop other commitments or greatly limit them to only what’s necessary.

If you’re involved in too much and you’re not prepared to drop anything, your commitment is too diluted. You might as well be concentrating on nothing at all.  Sometimes to be brutal is to be kind.

2. Lacking organisation

Not organised?  Then you can’t take best advantage of your situation at all times.  Once uncertainty creeps in and you’re not sure what you’re meant to be doing, or you can’t find the relevant information because you didn’t keep it ordered, you begin a downward spiral.  The degree becomes more difficult and time consuming just because you took your eye off the ball for a second.

To start, reclaim each day with just a few minutes.  It doesn’t take long to retain focus and keep on top of what you want/need to deal with.  Plan, refocus, review…simple!

This plan can work with any discipline and doesn’t waste much of your valuable time either.

For bigger messes, when you need to arrange a major sort out, allow yourself a day or two to clear the junk (be ruthless), sort any random piles of stuff into a neater system, then stay on top of things by filing/sorting as you go on.  A trap that we all fall in (I know I have fallen in it) is clearing up just to let new things pile up again. It doesn’t take long to find a pile just as big as before.

Just because digital information doesn’t take up physical space doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be clearing that out too.  Bringing your electronic clutter down to size is just as satisfying.  Any aspect of your everyday life can, and should, be de-cluttered to achieve true organisation.

I find it easiest to make any big reorganisation job my sole focus for a day (or more), otherwise life gets in the way and that’s exactly what I’m trying to reorganise!

3. You stop caring

Initial excitement about university does naturally die down a bit.  It doesn’t matter how many positive experiences you encounter…if the buzz didn’t calm down, you’d probably explode!  But there should still be a good feeling inside.  If you go too far the other way and no longer value what you’re doing, your whole outlook will wither.

I’ve seen students question why they’re bothering.  Others have said they’re now completely bored of it all.  I think those attitudes should be turned around before it becomes too one-sided.

So what is important RIGHT NOW?  What used to be exciting?  How can you get that back?  Are you looking for a new challenge?  Has a particular person or problem taken your positivity away?

In short, are you still living life FOR YOU?  If not, get back in the driving seat and take control of the wheel!

Before thinking about dropping out of uni, bear in mind it’s an extreme option that should only be considered after carefully researching a better alternative.  Without an aim beyond dropping out, it’s easy to roll into another situation that feels just as negative and pointless.

If you want to check alternatives to university, a good place to start is NotGoingToUni.  Just don’t be too hasty!  While NotGoingToUni rightly says “There’s no shame in leaving university if you’re feeling that it is not for you”, a negative feeling can very quickly become positive (and vice versa).  Be sure – or as sure as you can – that your issue is with university as a concept as opposed to something else that you could sort out without such a drastic step like leaving.

4. You don’t want to think for yourself

Not everyone enjoys week after week of thoughtful study.  Perhaps you’d rather be told the answers and learn them off by heart.  A large part of studying in higher education, no matter what the subject, is based on personal research, reaching your own conclusions, and developing your own way of thinking and learning.

Okay, so the vast majority of undergrad learning is based on what’s come before (and there’s still loads you need to remember accurately…), but you need to choose what you believe, what’s most important to your learning, and how you prefer to work.  You also need to understand what speaks to you most.  By this, I mean that not all textbooks are equal, not all theories suit your beliefs, and not all methods of learning help you progress.

Have you been put off by a certain subject, lecturer, book, or way of thinking?  Any of these things can become a block, taking you away from what’s important and causing you to become despondent.

Bear this in mind:

  • You’re allowed to disagree with people and their opinions, even if they have written a book on your reading list, or if they are your lecturer.
  • Often, there are no solid answers.  Whether it’s an art or science subject, not everything is a clear cut yes/no is/isn’t always/never answer.
  • See this in a positive light.  You are now the one in control on a number of levels.  That means while you do have a responsibility, it’s one that should be enjoyable and all about the love of learning.  In a way, you are still learning particular answers.  But it should be even easier to remember them, because your aim is to enjoy the learning process.

5. Simply overwhelming

Worried about your grades?  Scared that you’ll fail?  Pressured to do better than you think you can achieve?  Too much happening at once?  Burning yourself out with too much work and not enough play?

The reality of a three year degree can hit anyone at any time.  There are many reasons for it and you may think you’re the only one suffering.

You’re not the only one.  Not by a long way.

It’s good to work backwards to find where the main concerns are coming from.  The problem isn’t ‘everything’, so working backwards from ‘everything’ will not only help you find what’s REALLY making you lose sleep, but also give you strength in finding the things that you ARE getting on with just fine.

Whether you write a list of the good and bad things, or mentally note the most troublesome aspects of your life right now, the magic is to acknowledge the specific issues that need addressing.  With the specifics, you’re able to conquer them directly.  Less scary and random that way.

The Upshot?

Of these issues, some are about finding a new challenge to explore, while others are about reducing the number of challenges you have imposed upon yourself.  And sometimes it’s just about returning to a manageable state of calm.

However you feel right now, try to find time once in a while to ask yourself if you’re still getting the most out of your uni experience. You’ll be glad you did.

Alice in Boots (photo by MrGiles)

photo by MrGiles


  1. Some great points here. I was a fairly organised (some might say anal…) undergraduate, and I got a lot from my BA, academically. I also had to make a few decisions about committments that I think paid off — I decided that developing my fiction-writing mattered more to me than shooting for a first!

    I’m actually finding it harder as a part-time postgraduate to juggle everything. I want to get the most out of my Creative Writing MA, and I’ve taken some direct steps towards that (such as forming a summer workshopping group to keep me and others motivated and learning during the holidays!) … but I have various other projects on, including the small need to pay rent!

    1. I’m glad you had the strength to choose what was most important to you, even if it meant moving away from the First. Those sacrifices are difficult when trying not to dilute your commitments, but certainly worthwhile in the long run. As you say, you think it paid off, which is great.

      I’ve heard that part-time students (undergrad and postgrad) often find juggling everything more difficult. That’s something I may delve into a bit more at a later date…

      Happy to hear your other projects are going well (and good job on your Staff Blogging Course, by the way). It certainly helps that they go toward rent and the like!

  2. Number 2 is soo critical. It is so easy to loose track of things, especially when you are trying to manage school work (multiple classes), multiple extracurriculars, your health, among many other things. Finding a system of organization that you LIKE is the key. If you dont like GTD, you wont use it. If you dont like a cheapy planner, you wont use it. Jump for the 20 dollar planner you really like, its worth it.

    Thanks for sharing Martin!

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