10 Good Things About University That Can Also Be Bad (And What You Can Do About it) – TUB-Thump 008



The stuff you usually think of as good aspects of university can sometimes serve to trip you up.

In Episode 008 of TUB-Thump, I talk about 10 of the positive points that you need to be careful with. Because a lot of freedom needs to be used wisely.

This edition of the show is based on an old post from the blog that looked at the 10 points. If you want a quick reminder from time to time, you can also remind yourself at the original piece:

10 Reasons Why the Benefits of University Can Lead to Downfall

Independence is great; so long as you know you have to take the rough with the smooth. All that responsibility can easily go to your head if you’re not careful!

How do you deal with the new independence?

Here are the show notes for the 16-min episode:

  • 01:30 – Positive/Negative 01: You can choose when you want to do your work.
  • 02:30 – Positive/Negative 02: You can choose how much time you spend on a project/task.
  • 03:30 – Positive/Negative 03: You aren’t fixed to any particular study area.
  • 05:00 – Positive/Negative 04: You aren’t pushed in the same way as you were at school.
  • 06:30 – Positive/Negative 05: You can concentrate on all the things that interest you.
  • 07:40 – Positive/Negative 06: You have the freedom to have as much fun as you like.
  • 08:50 – Positive/Negative 07: You’ve got the scope to develop through all sorts of new activities.
  • 10:10 – Positive/Negative 08: You’re given the tools for independent thought and making your own mind up.
  • 11:20 – Positive/Negative 09: You have enormous scope to network and collaborate with others.
  • 13:20 – Positive/Negative 10: You are given independence from Day One. [Note: Some things are beyond your control and responsibility. I’m talking about the stuff we can make excuses over by latching blame onto others, even though you had the ultimate choice.]

Music for TUB-Thump is Life, by Tobu, which is released under a Creative Commons license. Check out more of Tobu’s great sounds on Soundcloud, YouTube, and his official site.

TUB-Thump is part of the Learning Always Network.

Keep being awesome!

Why Every Essay You Write Matters…Yes, Even In the First Year (Guest Post)


I’m excited to welcome Rachael from Joined Up Writing in today’s post. I’m no stranger to going on about how much the first year counts. It’s a myth to think that you can scrape by on a pass and save your effort for next year. There are many great reasons why the first year counts far more than it seems.

Rachael gives you three of those reasons why it’s time to take your first year coursework seriously. And be sure to check her site for two more reasons after that.

Over to Rachael!

Hello, it’s Rachael here from and I’m excited to be sharing my thoughts with you today on why every essay counts towards your degree!

Why Every Essay You Write Matters

One phrase I often hear students say is that “first-year essays don’t matter” or “first-year essays don’t count towards your final degree”.  It’s maybe something that you’ve heard people say too. Perhaps you’ve even said it yourself?

But if you choose to ignore your first-year essays it does make a difference to your results. I’ll explain three reasons why your essays count right from day one and three pro tips you can employ right away to help you nail them from the beginning!


#1 You learn to write

Every time you write an essay, you have the chance to improve. If you don’t take those early essays seriously, then you’ll miss opportunities to hone your research and writing skills.

Even if you’ve hit it out of the ballpark with your A-Level results, you’ll find there is a big jump upward in standard when you begin to write at University.

School and college are tightly focused on the outcome of passing assessments. Teachers provide multiple occasions to practice for your final assessment through tests, mock exams, and revision classes.

It’s different at University. Here the focus is on developing critical thinking skills so you learn to evaluate research independent of your tutor. Often you’ll simply be supplied with an outline of what is required to pass the module and how marks are allocated. You may get a rubric showing what the marker is looking for, or you may be given a previous year’s exam paper or essays as examples. Generally, though you’ll need to figure out what, when and how to pass the assessment by yourself.

Your lecturer or tutor wants you to be successful, but they’ll assume you can already craft an essay that reflects your intellect and ability.

Pro tip: Every time you write an essay, set yourself some objectives for learning the process of writing alongside your main outcome of answering the essay question. Your process objective could be to: improve essay structure, apply theory correctly, or cite better evidence. This allows you to use each of those essays that ‘don’t count’ to learn to write better.


#2 You write to learn

The actual process of writing, if done correctly, can also improve your ability to learn. Writing enables you to improve the clarity of your thought process AND the precision of how you express ideas.

When you begin to research an essay topic, initially you think about your subject matter using the words of the scholars you have read. Subconsciously, you’ll think along the same lines as them too. The process of writing forces you to push beyond what you’ve read and make decisions about what is important, relevant and best supports your argument.

It is only when you begin to write that you really pull apart the different ideas and evidence you’ve read, and start to piece it together in an order that answers your essay question. It’s this two-part process of separation and synthesis that helps you comprehend, critique and commit the material to memory.

Writing also improves your ability to express your thoughts in a concise, coherent manner.  Submitting an essay that your tutor can easily understand will bring in those higher marks from the start, and those first half-dozen essays are ideal to practice new vocabulary, definitions, and terms that are important in your field too.

Pro tip: Create your own mini-dictionary for each subject that you study. Every time you find a word in a book or article that you don’t understand, make a note of it in a spreadsheet or notebook. Take time later to look them up and write what they mean in your ‘dictionary’ using words that you can easily understand.


#3 You write to access opportunities

As student numbers continue to rise, employers look for different ways to differentiate candidates, not only for jobs after graduation but for internships and industrial placements too.

Understandably, these opportunities are hotly contested because there is a strong correlation between students who complete placements and those that are offered graduate positions after they conclude their studies.

What employability factors do employers look for in applicants? Creativity? Confidence? Competence? Yes, all of those are obvious qualities that employers look for. One attribute that’s often overlooked by students, but highly relevant to companies is consistency. Employers know past performance is one of the biggest predictors of future achievement.

Think about it. It makes sense.

An internship or industrial placement is secured partly based on results from your initial year. Fortunately, this gives you a head start over those people who proclaim that first-year results don’t count. You’ll approach your essays with the knowledge that consistently achieving good marks (and working towards great marks!) shows you take your academic work seriously. To an employer, this suggests you’ll take their internship or industrial placement seriously too.

Pro tip: Examine the modules you’re due to take this semester. What assessment methods are used? Essays? Reports? A presentation? Now look at the marks assigned to each element. Are some parts of the assessment worth more than another? Then split your time accordingly. If 70% of your mark is an individual essay and 30% is a group presentation, focus your attention on the essay – tempting though it is to hang out with your group over coffee!

There you have it: first-year essays count because they help you write better, learn better, and have better opportunities!

Which reason resonates with you? Be sure to comment on TheUniversityBlog below!

Now, here’s your homework. Hop across to to grab a download with two further reasons why you should take first-year essays seriously and two extra Pro Tips.

How To Move In and Make Friends as Freshers, From People Who Have Gone Through It


When I first got to university, I didn’t know what to expect from the people I’d be living with.

Sounds familiar, right?

No matter how much work you do online to get to know your new housemates, the reality of meeting them for the first time is a big hit for the senses.

Here’s the good news: Moving in with strangers isn’t as hard as you’d think.

The randomness may be scary, but it’s the same for everyone. At least you know you’re not on your own about being on your own.

How do you make new friends and get to grips with your new housemates?

I’ve asked a couple of students’ union officers who have been through these situations and know what it’s like. You’ll find some tips from me here too.

Unique Fun

If you’re not sure how to play it, you’ve come to the right place! Your experience will be unique. And with a bit of calm preparation and a positive attitude, most of that experience should be fun.

As you’ll see, there are two very different experiences here.

Beth Moody, VP Welfare and Community at Portsmouth Students’ Union (UPSU), lived in a house on her own when she first moved to university:

“I loved my house, and being quite a shy individual when I moved to University, I couldn’t think of anything worse than potentially arguing over chicken nuggets or dirty dishes. I bought a Freshers pack, but it meant that I had to turn up to these events not having met anyone.

“That night I met loads of different people, and I ended up being invited to loads of house parties for the remainder of Freshers. Although I didn’t talk to them again after Freshers; it gave me the confidence to approach different people.”

Just because Beth didn’t move in with others, she was still able to go out and make an impact. It doesn’t matter if you live on your own or in a flat with 50 people, it’s important to approach others. Nerves are normal and everyone is new.

The big issue I always see is when someone shuts everything off and doesn’t interact with others. Sometimes they want to engage, but are scared to (more on that in a moment). Sometimes they don’t think the social side of student life is important.

If anything, the social side can have even more impact than the academic. Why? Because you know roughly where the academic side of things is headed. The whole point of activities and relationships outside of the degree is that you’re exploring new things and new people.

I like how Beth avoided the arguments over kitchen duties and who nabbed the food, but didn’t let living alone get in the way of making new friends and having a great time right from the start.

Food…And Parents

Many freshers move in with others, however. And that’s what happened to Liam Bligh, President of Northampton Students’ Union:


Liam Bligh – President of Northampton SU 2016/17

“I lived in Margaret Bondfield halls in my first year, having only known the name of one of my flatmates through the Facebook group. After the 4 hour drive up from Devon and waiting for registration I was exhausted.

“Luckily for me, my parents went straight into the kitchen and introduced themselves to my future flatmates whilst giving out bits of the 3 cakes mum had insisted I brought to ‘help make friends’.

“After attempting to unpack some things and failing I went into the kitchen to then have my parents go around the room and introduce me to my flatmates one by one as if they had known them their entire lives…you can always count on your parents to make it weird.”

Okay, so I’ve long said that dishing out cake and doughnuts will make you popular. Then again, I assume you’ll be doing the dishing out and not your parents…

Anyway, back to Liam:

“Thankfully my parents eventually left and I was able to meet my flatmates properly, we spent the rest of the day chatting about stuff and eventually made our way to the SU for the welcome party, met so many people there, including one guy who I ended up living with for the 2 years after I moved out of halls!”

Liam was lucky to find such a close friend so quickly. Don’t be surprised if it takes you weeks, even months, before you find friends who you end up spending huge amounts of time with. That’s pretty standard.

Some people move out of halls and into a house with the same people they shared the place with. But many others group together with the friends they’ve made elsewhere.

For example, I was well into the first semester before I met the people I ended up living with in my second year. No stress, no rush.

Say Hi, With or Without Nerves

But what’s the secret to making friends?

Actually, it’s not that difficult. Here’s Beth again:

“During Freshers, everyone is in the same boat, no one really knows anyone; so if you are feeling nervous, they probably are too!”

Yep. When you’re all starting fresh, nobody is expecting anything in particular.

Remember that most people are worrying about how they’ll come across. They won’t be thinking about your faults and failings; they’ll mainly be thinking about their own issues.

While everyone is second-guessing themselves, why not take the plunge and say hello to people. No need to judge, and every need to be as welcoming as possible. If you don’t know what to talk about, ask questions and listen to others instead. People will feel relieved that you’re interested in them and you’ll feel relieved that people are so easy to talk to.

Liam has a similar view:

“I would just say it’s really important to try to meet as many people as possible in the first few weeks; you don’t have to get everyone’s numbers (I know loads of people that did this, kind of weird). I’d also say to use the Students Unions sports, societies and volunteering groups to find people with similar interests; I’ve lived with members of the cricket club in both of my 2nd and 3rd year after getting involved, so it definitely is a good way to meet people!”

One of the great things about clubs and societies is that you already have a common interest with the other members. Whether it’s cricket, quiddich, or computers, you’ve got one core subject even when you don’t know what else to talk about.

And once you get chatting, the other subjects come along soon enough.

Summing It Up

Here are the main points to remember for making new friends:

  • Everyone is new – Being on your own means you’re not on your own. Since the Fresher experience is new for practically all students, there are no big expectations of you.
  • It’s good to talk – In other words, don’t be shy. Social gatherings may not be your thing, but all you need is the word “hello” and you’re ready to strike up a conversation. On the other hand, if you’d do better in a crowd, go out to the events and say hi to people that way. Whichever way, get talking.
  • It’s better to be interested – Ask questions and find out what makes other people tick. That way, you don’t need to talk about yourself so much, and people will still enjoy your company because you let them talk about themselves. Us humans are so easy to please!
  • Be social – Don’t stay in your room. Venture out. And at the very least, have an open door so people can see you’re available. You never know, someone who pops their head around the door to say hi may end up being a great friend over the coming years.
  • Be generous – Offering food to others is great. From sweet treats to making main meals, you’ll be amazed at how thankful others are at your generosity. I’ve long said that a box of doughnuts is cheaper than a big round of drinks, yet it’s more memorable. Imagine if you bought a case of Krispy Kremes once in a while. I wouldn’t call it a bribe for friends (unless that’s literally all you do!), but it is a tasty ice-breaker that people will remember you for.
  • Find activities – University activities, SU clubs and societies, local groups, and all sorts of other parties and events are brilliant for making new friends.
  • Go online – Use your phone or laptop to keep an eye on events. Your SU probably has details on their website. Then there’s Facebook groups, regional sites, and other activities on offer through the university intranet and email lists.
  • Relax with the relationships – None of this should stress you out. It can be daunting, but it shouldn’t be scary. Nerves aren’t the same as having a panic attack. Take the plunge and expect a range of experiences. You won’t hit it off with everyone, but who does? Even the most charismatic and social of people aren’t universally popular.

And if you need any more tips than that, here’s some previous TUB posts with the lowdown:

Living Together Through the Years

Living With Others: Be the Genuine Article

20 Hints for Living With Others

And get ready for my new audio show coming soon. TUB-Thump will feature even more short, sharp tips on making the most of your time at university…including tips on living with others and having a happy student home.

10 Things To Know When You Start University – A Fresher Tip Sheet


Ah, the joys of starting university! Always room for surprise, even when you think you’ve got it all sussed out beforehand.

I can’t list everything that’ll happen. Nobody can do that.

But here’s a start.

Now you’re a fresher, here’s a list of 10 things to expect. Time to get relationships (with others and with yourself) in check.

In no particular order:

1. First friends aren’t always your best friends.

The pressure to impress is huge. When you find new people, you may form a lasting friendship.

But don’t be too cut up if it doesn’t work out. New people come into your life all the time at university and you’ll get to know all sorts of characters. Some will turn out to be friends for many years to come. Just not necessarily the people you meet in Fresher’s Week.


2. Everyone is coping except you? Don’t believe it!

No matter how out of place and clueless you feel, there are other students just as overwhelmed as you.

It’s easy to think you’re the only person with issues, because you only know your own mind. Starting out at university is not a walk in the park and there’s so much to get to grips with. But remember the first point…people want to look impressive. Not everyone is being totally honest about their difficulties.

If you think you’re the only person who’s not coping well, you’ll feel even worse about it. All those teething troubles are standard.

3. Homesick is standard.

You don’t think you’ll get over it, but you’re likely to have shaken off the sadness within a few weeks. For some, it takes until after Christmas to settle down. It is rare for the problem to be so bad that you have to leave.

For tips on combating those blues, check out my Help for the Hopelessly Homesick.

4. Give new activities a go, so long as you don’t go against your personal opinions/likes/beliefs.

If you don’t drink alcohol, a Fresher pub crawl won’t be your activity of choice. But what if you want to get involved and be a part of the fun with your new housemates?

No problem with joining in. Just don’t feel the need to defend yourself. Peer pressure goes away quicker when you don’t get involved in other people’s fake debates. And the start of a pub crawl (or halfway through it) is a bad time anyway. Bat conversation away and say you’ll explain another day. If someone is too persistent, it may be best to cut your losses and safely remove yourself from their presence.

Stay confident in your identity. As you settle in over the coming weeks, you’ll find situations to suit your lifestyle. The people you get to know here will at least accept who you are, and may even share your core values.

Oh, and if you just want to limit the booze, here are some tips to tame the spirits.


5. You are yourself.

You can’t work out how to make other people like you, because there’s no way for you to befriend yourself. Besides, you don’t need to fake it at university. There are an almost limitless number of choices, options, opinions, likes and dislikes to explore. As with the point above, find the people who will accept and love you for who you are.

6. Everyone pulled except you? Exaggeration only upsets you more.

Everyone did it except me…

So and so ALWAYS happens…

You don’t need to follow the crowd or succomb to peer pressure, as hard as it feels to go against the grain. And I can assure you that not EVERYONE pulls during fresher’s, even though it can seem a bit in your face at times.

7. What do you want to be known for? Be careful.

Do you want to make a big impact on campus from Day One? Getting exposure is great, but you don’t need to do it straight away. Playing the long game is safer than trying to be a hero before you’ve worked out the lay of the land.

Known to be known, no matter what…Is that enough?

8. “If I think the worst, then things can’t get any worse. They’ll only get better.” NOT TRUE!

With this attitude, you’ll only ever think the worst. No matter how good it gets, you’re fixed on the worst outcome, which blinds you to what’s happening.

Prepare for the worst, but don’t think it. Preparation is different to expectation.


9. You’ll work out most things sooner than you think.

The impossible struggle only feels impossible while you’re struggling. Beyond that, it gets better.

It practically always gets better. In all my dealings with freshers over the years, most start with issues that feel insurmountable and nearly every one recovers without fuss. Of the few who find it more difficult, most of them still manage to get over that hurdle.

And if you think your case is different, just remember Point 2. You’re much closer to the side of hope and recovery and success than you think.

10. SU activities are great, but don’t dismiss them if one doesn’t work out.

I made this mistake. I signed up for clubs at the Freshers Fayre, went to my first meeting for one of the clubs, found it disappointing, and decided clubs and societies weren’t much good.

I hardly bothered for a while after that. Yeah…well done me. Sigh.

I’m one of the first people to tell you to look beyond first impressions. Dig deeper, even if your opinion stays the same.

I didn’t follow my own advice here and suffered a little for it. Don’t be quick to dismiss!


There’s a lot to think about settling in as a fresher.

And as soon as you’ve calmed down with these lifestyle issues, then comes all the studying!

If you’re worried about the academic work for the year ahead, I’ve got a great freebie for you…

Get the upper hand and learn to appreciate what’s expected of you and how to prepare for it. Download my ebook ‘Live Life, Study Hard‘ right now.