lifeskills

Three Years To Tick A Box – Small Goals and Why Your Degree is the Minimum Requirement

small goals

Three years to get your degree. That’s a big win.

You could wish that it was only two years. Or a week and half. Anything less than three years would be an advantage, wouldn’t it?

Not necessarily. Because you’re not at university *just* to get that piece of paper and the highest possible grade.

There’s even more value available in being distinctive.

My last couple of posts on TheUniversityBlog have looked at thinking beyond your grades and getting the most value from your student experience. Let’s wrap things up here by celebrating all the little plans while you’re working toward that big moment of graduation.

You may feel like there’s loads of time left.

Trust me, it’ll be over quicker than you’d like it to be.

Lots of Small Goals TUB

Lots of small goals

Your journey is full of lots of smaller wins. They may even add up to much more than the one big win of graduating.

Here’s the way Fast Company describes it:

“How do you prevent the intimidating big picture from dragging you down? Simply by finding ways to push yourself higher to more creative, more innovative levels that make you feel proud and give you the strength to make it through the tough days.” [SOURCE]

There’s so much happening right now. But with so much thought of the future and that one big goal of graduating being the driver, it’s easy to neglect where you are at this moment.

Your relationship with higher education can quickly swerve off-course.

That’s not your fault. There’s a lot to think about.

And because you’re thinking about so many things, you may forget to define your smaller goals.

A focus on getting a degree is understandable when the degree is another box ticked. Another step up the ladder. But it’s not enough.

Three years spent on a single box ticking goal isn’t a good use of time. I’m sure you completely understand that.

But that doesn’t mean the goal doesn’t get in the way.

Even when you make it a goal among many goals, it’s paired with that big future goal of getting a job after you graduate.

Degree as Minimum Requirement TUB

Degree as minimum requirement

Ticking the box is always at the back of your mind. And unless you see all your non-degree related skills and experiences as relevant in the long-term, you may still put the emphasis on ticking that box before anything else.

As you enjoy the club you joined, casually volunteer, and fill up your free time with fun, it could all mean something big. Notice that. Don’t leave everything to chance; make a bigger plan to fit in smaller goals, while you’re pursuing your big box-ticking goal.

No need to trust luck to get you further. You can spend a little more time and effort making a better bet for your future?

The degree isn’t the ultimate goal.

The degree is just the start. It’s the baseline. It’s the minimum requirement.

Beyond work experience and other well-worn paths, there are other things you can do. Things that don’t always take up too much of your time either. Schedule wisely and a few minutes each day may be all you need to create an empire of awesome.

Planning With or Without a Plan TUB

Planning, with or without a plan…

You may not even know what your future career plans are. Even uncertainty can come in useful:

  • You can explore new skills and experiences that aren’t limited to a single area of work;
  • You can find a new dynamic to help you see things differently and, perhaps, more clearly;
  • You can get some first-hand experience of different fields, allowing you to decide whether or not you want it to have a place in your future working life.

So while it may take you three or more years to get that stamp of approval from the university, that should give you time to build a bigger picture of yourself at the same time. The more you can do that, the easier it will be to sell yourself when you finally do graduate.

More than just a degree, you’ll have a lot more to show at the end of those three years.

Note it down as you go along. Big and small, document your achievements and experiences. They could come in handy later. And it’s better to have it set out as you go along, rather than wracking your brains later and getting a blank.

Over these years, what will you achieve and proudly show off as part of the story of you?

Why You Need To Think Beyond Your Grades to Make the Biggest Impact

Think Beyond Your Grades3

What worries you most at university…Your grade situation or your money situation?

9 in every 10 students are frequently concerned about grades, according to a survey by Jisc earlier this year. Nearly 8 in every 10 students worried about money.

They’re both big concerns, but grades are a worry for practically everyone.

Are grades a worry BECAUSE of fees and money matters? Have issues got worse as tuition fees have gone up?

It’s not like grades have ever been a shrug-fest, but think how much pressure you’re under today with £9k fees as part of the deal.

It’s why there’s such a push and pull around the “students as consumers” angle, even though it shouldn’t be part of your day-to-day academic work.

You can be overwhelmed about all sorts of things without realising. Not that long ago, you risked wasting a lot of your time if you didn’t perform as well as you’d like in your degree. Now the risk is wasted time and money.

And while you may only pay off the debt when your earnings are high enough, the money remains as a constant reminder. Some students want the best grades so they can justify that student loan balance.

Balance ‘productivity’ with ‘good enough’

I don’t believe it’s worth forcing a First Class Honours. I can’t see the value in working solely to get the best grade possible. Make it a serious factor, yes, but don’t turn it into your whole reason for being.

A top grade isn’t the surefire route to future success.

No matter how much you’d like to grab that First (or at least an Upper Second), make sure you pay attention to the rest of your experience at university too.

In other words, look beyond the A grade. It doesn’t matter if you get a B. A Second Class Honours isn’t going to destroy your chances of a bright future.

A sole focus on the academic work alone, however…That could be a mistake.

Frugaling has listed 10 reasons why you shouldn’t obsess over the highest marks. Basically, work hard, but make sure you’ve got time and energy for other commitments too.

There comes a time when you investment bigger and bigger amounts of time to smaller and smaller gains. The magic is to find a sweet spot that combines ‘productivity’ with ‘good enough’.

There are some study fundamentals:

  • Turn up and do the work;
  • Seek help when you get stuck;
  • Make it a priority.

That last point about priorities gets a bit more complex.

You’d think the study priority is about doing really well in acing tests and excelling in coursework.

It’s not. Your priority is finding your version of good enough.

priorities

Priorities, Not Urgency

I’m not saying your grades don’t matter. I’m not telling you to take your work less seriously.

I’m pointing out that you have more than one priority. Studying is just one of those priorities.

And when you know several priorities need to be dealt with quickly, your issue is with urgency.

Urgency is different to prioritising, as I’ll explain in a moment.

Other priorities can include:

  • Work experience;
  • Achievements;
  • Extra-curricular activities;
  • Building a portfolio of work;
  • Investing in your future as a graduate long before you graduate.

These are priorities. Think of others that you’ve got. You need to juggle these.

Scheduling, deep work, practice, routines…There are ways to keep priorities in check so they don’t get in the way of each other, so they don’t overlap, and so they equal more than the sum of their parts.

If you only look at academic work while you’re a student, your other priorities will creep up on you. Deep into your final year (or worse, after you graduate), the other items I’ve listed above will become surprise priorities.

Avoid surprises as much as you possibly can. The more surprise priorities you have, the more urgent work you’ll have to do. At some point, it’ll become too much.

That’s why you need to pre-empt your priorities. Work out what your future needs are at the moment. Work toward those needs in small chunks while it’s not urgent.

Having nothing in place means you have too many urgent priorities. Stuff appears needing immediate action. Another recipe for overload.

Don’t get to that point. Take the time while there still is time. Make your priorities as relaxed as possible.

Imagine two people doing their coursework. One person spends small chunks of time over two weeks to get their coursework done. The other person does nothing until they pull an all-nighter just before the deadline.

Both people had coursework as a priority, but one of them let that priority become urgent.

In both cases, they could still pull off a top grade. In both cases, they may keep succeeding and land themselves a great job and fast-track an impressive portfolio.

But the all-nighter urgent priority case is leaving too much to chance.

Priorities in check

Putting it off, or always on?

If you’re prone to procrastination, Lifehacker suggests that it’s because you get an “impulsive tendency to do what feels easier, rather than the thing you know you should be doing”.

When you feel that problem, it’s worth checking out Wait But Why’s two-part series on beating procrastination:

[Yes, read both parts! I’ll wait…]

Once you’ve got past the procrastination, the next issue is getting those priorities in check.

On a casual level, you may think about your situation every now and then. You may be moved to take action over something random. Maybe not.

It’s time to face your priorities head on. Juggle them as you go so you don’t leave anything until the last minute. Or worse, until it’s far too late.

A number of relaxed priorities will help make a positive difference. A bunch of urgent priorities is far less forgiving.

When time is on your side, you really can relax to do more. That’s why it pays to face your priorities. When academic work is just one of the situations you’re dealing with, you continue to work hard, but not at the expense of everything else.

Keep all your priorities in check. Focus on both your present and future priorities. The importance of grades will become less rigid. And you may find that less pressure leads to a happier run on those grades anyway. Win-win.

And that’s why the all-nighter is a much riskier option than small, consistent doses of work, spread out over the allotted time.

Instead of the all-nighter, what if you want to spend every waking moment on your study? My suggestion is to step back for a moment and take a wider focus on your other priorities. Why are you studying without any other activity? What are your future plans? Are you plans likely to work out if you ignore everything except study?

If you’re prone to either procrastination or perfectionism, it’s time to bring your other priorities into the mix. Don’t let those priorities sit at the side and become urgent.

Instead, relax through all that you do. It can make a huge impact on your life, your grades, and your health.

Whatever your situation, you need to think beyond your grades.

Next time, I’ll tell you why your degree isn’t worth any less now than it used to be. And I’ll help show what you can do to be distinctive.

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

second_year_woe_TUB

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:

over

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:

house

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.

balance

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!”

closed_eyes

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.

soft_cuddly

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.”

dynamic_focus

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!

Remotivate yourself after the summer break. New year, new you?

Remotivate Yourself After the Summer Break. New Year, New You?

Don’t you just love/hate the gap between one academic year and another? 🙂

In some ways the summer break feels too short. In other ways it seems far too long.

You relaxed. You got some cash from a summer job. You saw your mates back home.

But your work and your focus gets a bit rusty. You feel unpractised.

As soon as you return to university, you’re expected to get back to work and pick up where you left off.

It’s time to remotivate yourself.

But a new academic year also brings with it new challenges for your learning. Challenges that could stump you even further.

In my second year, I remember people’s unease and worry with the sudden uptake in expectations. Especially as many thought (and still do think) that first year doesn’t count. [Hint: It really does count…]

The new academic year not only meant we had to re-evaluate what we’d already learned, but also meant we had to push toward a higher level.

Not surprising, but a challenge on top of a challenge is…well, a challenge!

How do you recover from a summer away AND build on top of that too?

Here are 5 tips to get you started:

little and often

1. Little and often

It’s so easy to slip into an “I’ll do it later” mindset. Yes, there’s plenty of time, but that time rushes by fast.

Next thing you know, you’ve only got a day before that essay is due in. Or you’re just a few hours before a seminar where you are expected to engage in discussion.

Panic!

There’s a better way. Start when you get it, but only a small amount.

Little and often means that you spend a few minutes each day working on the subject at hand and not overwhelming yourself with too much content.

You may only need 10 minutes a day, you may need half an hour. However long you need, it’s much better spaced out in chunks.

By committing to just a short amount of time, you may be spurred on to continue doing more once you feel a flow. Or you can give up after a bad session, safe in the knowledge that you actually have the next day. And the next. And the next! You weren’t in the mood today, but you’re not forced to carry on regardless.

So the longer you have, the more chance you’ll have for inspiration to hit. If that’s not a reason to start early and not leave everything for the last minute, I don’t know what is.

This is the same method I suggest for working on essays too. The more time you give yourself to do the coursework, the more likely you are to hand in a piece of work that is worthy of you.

prepare in advance

2. Prepare in advance

Preparation shields you from surprises.

You usually get a timetable and reading lists and information on what to expect throughout the module or semester. When you look at this in advance, you can highlight common themes and the types of work that you’re expected to do.

With this information at hand, you’re not actively learning, but you’ve now got an idea of what you’ll need. Then you can focus on any areas you’re uncertain about.

Planning the coming weeks will also help you to find ways of making unenjoyable tasks more friendly and palatable. You may still draw a blank, but at least you’ve got more time to force yourself into a more inspired place. Good luck!

schedule your free time

3. Schedule your free time

Use your timetables and to-do lists for EVERYTHING. Even free time and fun activities.

It sounds strange to schedule free time, but it helps you to focus on the pleasure of leisure.

Without this, you won’t make the most of your free time. It tends to just get lost.

I spoke to Bethany Wren, VP Academic Experience at University of Brighton Students’ Union. Bethany suggests that you should “rota in some ‘you’ time every day, even if it is an hour in the bath with a vanilla candle, this will keep you sane“.

By scheduling ALL your time, including when you just want to do absolutely nothing or when you’re happy to do something on a whim, that free time can be used with more purpose. Even if that purpose is just to relax.

And sometimes the purpose is to gain some comfort in knowing that you’re not alone. Bethany says:

“Remember your friends once a month. My friends and I had a meal out in Brighton – it reminded us that there was oxygen outside of the library but also that we were all feeling the same kind of stresses, and that was comforting.”

Your summer may have been quiet, lazy and carefree. So keep some of those summer memories and schedule those relaxing times when you’ve genuinely got nothing on. The next day may be back to work, but that can truly wait until tomorrow.

All you need now is a hammock.

find something new to do

4. Find something new to do

In my final year, I had a lot more on my plate. There as the small matter of a dissertation, I was living back on the student village with first years, and I was now a senior student.

But I still wanted to find new things to do.

For instance, I wanted to read a selection of Sunday newspapers to check out subjects that I’d never paid much attention to, and to get a taste of the different perspectives that come from a single story.

I would wake up early on Sunday morning. That way, practically every other student in the student village was sleeping, or had gone home for the weekend. I’d walk to the shop, buy a selection of papers, and wash my clothes in the invariably empty laundry.

As the washing machine spun around, I would sit back and read. A peaceful way to find out what’s going on in the world and expand my horizons without interrupting my other plans.

No need for sacrifices.

Okay, getting up early on a Sunday isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But by using the points above, it shouldn’t be hard to find what suits you. There’s always more time than you think.

And if you really are THAT strapped for time, maybe you DO need to make a sacrifice or two. That can be tough, but one you’ll thank yourself for in the long run.

I’m thankful for developing that new habit in my final year of engaging with new content. It’s helped me to build up good curation systems over the years.

ask for help

5. Ask for help

One of Bethany Wren’s top survival tips for getting back on track at university is to always ask for help when you need it:

“Nobody is expecting you to do this by yourself and there are a lot of people out there who are ready to give you a helping hand, all you have to do is ASK. We [at Brighton] have our Support service, SUSS at the SU who you can contact via email any time. Equally, if there is a member of staff such as your personal tutor who you can talk to, do!”

Renewed motivation can only manifest when you get the right type of assistance. Without it, you only feel overwhelmed.

A.S.K. – Asking Secures Knowledge

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Armed with these five tips, you should be well on your way to feeling remotivated.

And if you’re on a real hardcore productivity trip, I heartily recommend Graham Allcott’s books, “How to be a Productivity Ninja” and “How to be a Knowledge Ninja.

No matter what your summer break was like, there’s more than enough scope to remotivate yourself and feel ready for anything as you hit campus once again.

What’s your main focus for this year?