Freshers

You’ve Got a Place at Uni. Now What?

It’s that time of year again. The wait is over and A-Level results are in. Screams of both joy and despair ringing out across the land.

Most years, I offer up advice on what to do when things don’t go according to plan:

This year, I want to look at what happens when you get the results you need. Hurrah! You’re set to accept an offer and all that’s in between you and a university is a wait between now and September. Maybe even October.

If you’re lucky, the wait is over in a flash. But it can drag on too. Let’s get things going already, can’t we!?

Sitting

Take Control of Your Time

You may not be able to magically transport to uni any earlier, but there are loads of things you can do to prepare. And the more prepared you are, the more time you’ll have to enjoy yourself when you do get to uni.

Now, unless you’re REALLY impatient, you won’t want to throw yourself into study preparation straight away. The good news is that it only takes a small head start to take you a long way. A little bit now could mean a lot of time and bother saved in the long run. If you’re reading this and you love to plan ahead and be in control, I’ve got some tips for you.

Trust me, you won’t be in complete control. What comes next is new. You can’t take ultimate control of something you haven’t experienced before. Luckily, that’s part of the challenge and often ends up being key to learning new things and enjoying the process.

That’s more reason why it’s great to get as much out of the way as possible. Don’t wait until you hit campus if you can do it now. There will be plenty to do by the time you’ve moved in. You’ll be thankful you dealt with what you could when you had the spare time!

Prepare For University

Read what the university send you in the post and via email.
It’s tempting to gloss over half of the gumph you’re sent, but don’t. Awareness is crucial, even if you don’t end up needing a lot of the information. Everything you do need is better handled when you’re clued up.

Read my free ebooks.
TheUniversityBlog has two free ebooks that have helped Freshers over the last few years. Fresher Success sets you up before you start uni and has more than 90 tips from previous Freshers who have been through it all before. Live Life, Study Hard helps you prepare for academic work and explains things like why first year DOES count. Download them right now.

Check out reading lists, but don’t buy all the books or go too crazy.
Core reading (if any) and one or two basic textbooks is more than enough to get you started.
My most helpful reading before the academic year started consisted of two textbooks on the first reading list I was sent. Those textbooks were cheap compared to most of the books on the reading list and I ended up making great use of them before and after I started the year.

Look online for the basics.
For many degrees, you’ll get a good grasp from some online reading. Try to work out what interests you from first impressions of the wider topics you’ll be exploring.
And don’t panic if none of it makes much sense. You’re only taking a look. You’re not expected to know it all when you arrive. Learning is about discovering new things, not showing off that you already know it!

Find other people online who are going to your uni when you are.
Getting to know new people is becoming easier and easier online. Facebook, Twitter, The Student Room…You have loads of opportunity to contact fellow Freshers long before you meet up with them.

Get to know students who are already there, including your Students’ Union peeps.
Your SU reps are there for you and are usually very happy to hear from you. Say hi and get involved.  A great way to get the lowdown before anyone else!

Make everything a head start, rather than a burden.
If it feels like too much bother, don’t bother! You should be having an enjoyable experience, not a stressful one.

Think about what you want to take AND what you don’t need to take.
Leaving stuff behind and starting fresh can be difficult. If you could move your room as it is to your new room, that would be great.
Truth is, what works now probably won’t work when you get to uni. You’re about to discover a whole new you and you need space to let you in!
After essentials and ‘no matter what’ items, what about the rest? Do you really need to take a TV? Are you sure you can’t live without your entire collection of teddies? Is it wise to bring half a gym’s worth of equipment “just in case”?
Everyone thinks about what they should take, but you should spare a moment for things you don’t actually need.

Getting Ahead

These are just some of the things you can work on before you head off.

My best time saving effort was doing the basic reading. I found out about loads of things I’d never even considered before, which was a good combination of challenging and exciting. Once I’d finished reading what I wanted, I had an idea of what to expect. I didn’t think it would give me more than a slight nudge, but it genuinely helped throw me in the right direction while I could spend time on other things. You know, like having fun and getting stuck in to all the other aspects of uni life on offer.

It’s non-stop. Oh, the places you’ll go!

How do you make first year count enough to feel worthwhile?

After discussing whether a year at university seems worth paying £9,000 in tuition fees, I got thinking about Freshers. I’ve long said that the first year of university does count, but not in terms of needing the highest grades possible.

A recent Guardian piece quotes Nottingham student, Emily Tripp:

“It doesn’t make sense to have a ‘practice’ year in the year when you’re doing the least outside of your degree. Either make the first semester not count, or get lecturers to set practice essays that don’t count.”

With the prospect of some students ignoring the academic importance of the first year, second year can be a lot of catch-up. What could have been practice becomes time wasted.

halls of residence (photo by Peter J Dean)

Is this student kitchen empty because they’re busy at work in their rooms? (photo by Peter J Dean)

The question is, how do you make the first year count enough to feel worthwhile, yet remain focused on Fresher year and allowing a gradual development?

The ‘first year doesn’t count’ attitude has been around for years and doesn’t show signs of going away. Yet. It used to be a misunderstood concept. Now it’s resented. A mental link between fees and value does little more than annoy those who want to get on with the work. Worse, schoolchildren already fear the financial implications of university, according to a Sutton Trust report. For those who do end up attending, that first year may fuel their fears, rather than put them at ease academically.

Student experience is a changing term. Every experience is different and students’ requirements alter over the years.

The 2012 UNITE Student Experience Report interviewed over 1,200 applicants to university. The survey picks up on changing attitudes:

“University is no longer three years of partying and cruising through for a 2.2 degree. Now it costs so much, you can’t afford to waste the experience… People are now going to university with the view of the future; the ‘student experience’ is changing from socialising to setting yourself up for the future.”

Nothing too surprising there. You don’t want to waste the experience, so you want to work where it counts. There are many activities outside of the degree itself, but resentment may begin because they aren’t seen as part of the tuition fee. A student making their mark across a range of extra-curricular sessions could still feel their first year is a waste of time.

Freshers Fayre (photo by upsuportsmouth)

Taking part in many activities. But do students find value in paying for the first year at university? (photo by upsuportsmouth)

The Sodexo University Lifestyle Survey for 2012 found large numbers of students attending university in order to improve job opportunities and salary prospects. Plenty also wanted to improve knowledge in their area of interest, yet their main focus is apparently on the future.

With such an eye on life after university, the first year may feel like a case of running on the spot: you’re working, but you’re not going anywhere.

If a perceived link between fees and grades can’t be pulled apart, what can be done?

Universities could drop the first year entirely. But that’s an extreme first option and tough for institutions to implement without massive upheaval, not to mention the higher workload on academics who may have to shun research completely to deal with such a change. Two-year degrees are on offer at the University of Buckingham, so there is potential for some universities to make the move, especially those that focus only on teaching.

There’s also the option to make the first year count so that students must rely on getting good marks in order to achieve a better grade upon graduation. You wouldn’t want to aim at a bare minimum 40% pass then, would you?

But that skirts around the issue, rather than addressing it. So what else can be done?

  • Shortening need to merely pass to first term instead? – An entire year may feel excessive to many students. A single semester could be the answer. Give students room to jump off, but don’t drag it out for a third of the degree.
  • More face-to-face tutor time to explain reasons why first year does count? – Second year is a time for many to hurriedly get up to speed and develop a decent academic tone. Can better and longer quality time with tutors help first years to understand where the first year has real value? The better you work toward the first year of work, the greater potential you have when you reach the second year and the grades matter. If you average the first year with a 2:1, the coming years should be more comfortable for you than for those who average with a Third.
  • Combine the many threads of induction so it achieves a greater purpose? – When you arrive on campus, there is a lot to take in. Induction is a big deal, even if it doesn’t stop the sense of overwhelm.
    Institutions could tighten induction programmes even further by placing much importance on introductory academic development and extending that aspect of induction further into the year.
    This would still take less time than a whole year, yet–done well–would potentially help students more in the process.
    Induction is different dependent on institution, and there is already a focus on academic transition alongside everything else new. Nevertheless, continued work on a solid student introduction may be the difference between resenting the first year and taking responsibility regardless of the maximum grades under offer.
    Morosanu, Handley and O’Donovan have a great academic paper worth reading on transition and induction, “Seeking Support: Researching first-year students’ experiences of coping with academic life“.
  • Explore how ‘ready’ students are and assess needs more closely for a changing intake and higher number of students? – Admitting so many students means that universities are faced with people from many different backgrounds with a huge range of experiences. Some will be prepared for academic work from the outset, while others will need a lot of attention before they understand what is expected of them.
    The difficulty with a broad brush approach to first year is that it takes so long. One complete academic year. Not everybody requires such a lengthy run-up. But neither is it possible to shift goalposts for one set of people while leaving others behind.
    Further research should be undertaken to evaluate the current and changing needs of new students. Old methods may no longer be the right way forward, even if they stood the test of time for so long beforehand.

For me, the first year is about mindset. To rely on grades alone to judge whether or not first year is worthwhile is pointless. The fees situation gets in the way, frustratingly. Students need clarification on how to get the most value out of their experience in the early stages of their degree. However, institutions must also ensure that first year stays relevant to incoming years.

If the attitude of ‘first year doesn’t count’ remains in place for too long under this fees system, the disservice already visible for many years will prove more damaging each year it hangs around.

Worries that don’t go away…and how to make them go away

How different is it to be a student now compared to five years ago? Ten years? Twenty years?

The world continues to change. Your experiences are shaped by advances in technology. What you take for granted today may not have existed when you were born.

But how different are your worries compared to previous years?

Feeling anxious? (photo by jαγ △)

Feeling anxious? (photo by jαγ △)

A YouthInsight poll of more than 1,500 students has asked current students and this year’s uni applicants about their anxieties about campus life. Times Higher Education reports on the top five concerns as:

  1. Money (63%)
  2. Difficulties settling in (50%)
  3. Trouble making friends (48%)
  4. Getting on with flatmates (44%)
  5. Too much partying/drinking (22%)

There is nothing new in this list. And it’s understandable that you’d be worried about these things. For many, stepping on campus for the first time is also the first time away from the family home. The first time you’re fending for yourself in a major way.

If any of these matters are causing you anxiety, check out these links from the archives…

Money

Settling In

Making Friends

Getting Along

Partying/Alcohol

Many of your worries may be similar to others around you. The cliché goes that you’re all in the same boat when you start university. Cliché or not, that means you’re all trying to make sense of what’s new. And that’s not always easy.

Remember, you’re not getting it wrong. You’re exploring and discovering. The awesomeness can take time.

It’s worth the wait. 🙂

Stuff You Need To Know For University – Review

The people at Zidane Press have sent me a copy of their book, Stuff You Need To Know For University for review. I expected a book much like Lucy Tobin’s A Guide To Uni Life and other books preparing students for their study.

Stuff You Need To Know For University isn’t quite like that. It takes its own place.

Many books in this vein either prepare students for university life, or look at study skills. While the authors cover this at the start of the text, the main bulk takes a different approach. First things first, though, the book begins with a summary for everything required to enjoy university and excel in your essays. It’s almost worryingly brief.

But ‘brief’ isn’t the right word and doesn’t do it justice. Think more ‘to the point’. You’re expected to put the work in. What this book doesn’t offer is a magic pill. And I like that. The purpose of this book is to expand your horizons and get you thinking clearly about your degree AND beyond your degree.

Commandments

The first three pages contain the ’10 Commandments’ for how to do well at uni, starting with “Treat it like a job” and ending with “Enjoy yourself”. There is no mystery. The process isn’t complex. It assumes you will take responsibility for your learning. Some of the opinions within the commandments are a bit sarcastic, but that doesn’t mean the advice is a joke.

Beginnings

Next up, you’re given a short overview of health issues, Freshers’ Week, writing and grades. Just enough to take into account and not too much to make you bored or overwhelmed. You may want to explore in more detail at a later point, but when you’re given so much to take in as a Fresher, this type of overview is useful.

And if you’re looking for more detail on what happens when you first hit campus, take a read of my free ebooks on Fresher Success and Studying Hard.

The Stuff

Past the summary, the rest of Stuff You Need To Know… is part Bluffer’s Guide and part introduction to the wealth of information and scholarly output you’re due to encounter on your academic journeys. Not all of it is relevant to your course, but don’t let that stop you exploring. This book is an easy-going introduction to many ideas and it is up to you to take things further. You can pick and choose what interests you, as well as pick up the book from time to time when you need some inspiration.

The authors even suggest that “you can just take the ‘how to write essays’ bit and disperse of the rest”. Yet, in many ways, that would be missing the point and you wouldn’t be making the most of the book.

The authors cover the humanities, literature, drama, history, politics, economics, science, globalization, art, and music. And tucked away between the art and music chapters (I don’t know why it’s specifically placed there) is a selection of ‘Top Ten’ lists. From safety to theories, from food to films, the authors suggest what they think is best.

What’s refreshing about Stuff You Need To Know… is how it brings you the basics to allow you to step off from and take further in any way you fancy.

Some readers may consider its open-ended nature to be its flaw, but it’s a personal decision. If you’re interested in grabbing the fundamental points and grounding yourself, this book does that job just fine.

Decisions

The bottom line is this: buy the book if you want a useful place to dip your toes in and get the basics covered. Then explore!

If you’re more interested in a thousand different suggestions on preparing research, exam techniques, and the finer details of essay construction, look elsewhere.

I’ve never seen a uni book quite like this before. I enjoyed its quirky layout and concise nature. Stuff You Need To Know For University is a worthwhile and undemanding read.

And because the book won’t take you long to consume, you’ll have plenty time to follow those ten commandments set for you!

[Stuff You Need To Know For University by Richard Osborne, John and Mary Reid, is available now. Retail Price: £9.99]