Whilst I was at uni and since I’ve finished a few people asked about tips and advice – so I thought let me do a blog post and answer questions people have. Those of you who follow me on twitter, you’ll know that I graduated with a honours degree in Human Biology and Journalism; it was a 3-year course with majority of my modules being Biology based with some Journalism ones here and there. I lived at home and commuted to Uni every day, which worked out ok because my campus was an hour away (it was only the 9am lectures that killed me! BUT HEY HO I survived).
So, here’s a few questions that were sent to me (a few of you sent the same sort of questions).
1. How did you make friends at Uni?
- Be yourself
- Start off by getting to know people in your course
- Join societies
Most of my friends were from my course, I didn’t live on campus so it was harder as people who did, got to spend more time with each other and would see each other often, whereas I mainly met people in lectures.
So… it was really about making the effort to approach people in my lectures and making casual conversation, whether it was about a course-related topic or a random question…that was usually how I would break the ice. At the beginning of uni, I did feel like a loner… it was all so huge and there were so many people… like how was I going to find friends in this pool of people?! BUT I DID and they were mostly from my course !
At my uni, they had these ‘break the ice’ sessions which were actually quite great. It meant that I HAD to speak to people – it helped quite a bit in familiarising myself with those in my course. It can be funny at first but you realise that everyone’s actually in the same position as you.
Having a group of friends or even one friend who is focused and driven to work hard can help big time when your own motivation is floating about somewhere… so pick friends wisely, those who you know will help you do well, who may be there to have fun but also understand what they’re actually at university for.
2. In terms of stationery, what did you need?
I have always been a stationery lover. I love pretty pens and cute note pads so, I jumped at the chance to bag myself some new things…
- Folders for your subjects – with page/section dividers to separate modules. I kept folders for the two subjects: biology and journalism and used page dividers to separate modules. For those who are studying one subject, you’ll have a few modules, so have a big folder in which you have sections for each module.
- Rough Note Pad for lectures: Taking a note pad to lectures is of course a good idea and printing out lecture notes/slides is something I would say is helpful too!
- Highlighters: Colourful pens & highlighters can make dull topics look exciting! YAY! Throughout lectures if anything stands out- just flag it with those pretty neon pens. This stuff helps you remember it better when it comes to putting all your notes together (it helped me and it made notes look better to stare at)
- Neat note pads for individual modules: After lectures I would neatly write all those notes/slides up into a separate notepad at home that I could look at for revision (each module had it’s own notepad).
- Sticky notes: Sticky notes are great for revision, to write down things you want to remember particularly. Just say you’ve already written your notes and you remember something else to add in but there’s no space in your beautiful notes. Grab a sticky note, write it on that and bang…stick it on top and there it will stay! YAY
- Planner to organise! Whether it’s a little random notebook OR a Pukka Project Pad (that you can get from any stationery store)…get one and use that to organise yourself (more in the organising bit below).
- Recording device really really comes in handy. Whether its on your laptop or your phone…record lectures when you can to refer to later (especially during exams). This helps a lot, because sometimes you do miss things and being able to go back to it, is great.
- One plastic wallet/envelope folder to keep your lecture notes and papers for that day at uni together, instead of crumpled up in your bag.
At the beginning of uni I would print out lecture slides, write notes on them and highlight stuff.. which was great but then I resorted to taking my laptop, loading up the lecture slides, adding any notes in… which I printed out later and wrote up neatly in the module note book at home
3. How did you organise yourself and plan your time?
So organisation! Studying two subjects with so many modules, I had to make sure I was on top of all my assignments, class tests, lab reports, articles, exams… so how did I do that?
- Planner/Diary whatever you want to call it. . . something to jot down your upcoming assignments and important notes. Don’t write down notes for your assignments on random pieces of paper for you to lose later. Get a planner (like those pukka project ones with sections) and give each module a section in which you can write down all the important notices, deadlines and assignments details for you to go back to! At the beginning of the terms I used to write down each assignment for each module and their deadlines so I had an idea of what was coming up.
- Don’t do things last minute!!!!!! I know everyone says this but really…don’t…it doesn’t help. As long as you do your work the best you can…you will do well! If you don’t bother and do your assignment the night before, knowing you need more time, it wont help you pass. Use a timetable to plan your assignments and priorities. At the end of the day you’re in control of your grades (my mantra when I had bunches of assignments to hand in)
- Timetable [< click here for timetable] : yes yes I know ‘timetables don’t work’ … and trust me before this, they never did for me either… but the amount of people I have sent this timetable to is crazy. Yes it’s so simple, anyone can make it but it’s helped them plan their time. A simple thing but it’s helpful.
(I have attached it to this blog post for anyone to download – I know it can be effort to go ahead and make one)
How would I use this timetable?
I would jot in the dates for that month and print it out.
Using a pen, if I knew the dates for my assignments, I would jot them all down into it as well and highlight them as deadlines. I used to put the deadline for assignments a day OR 2 before the actual date on my timetable so I would work towards that…leaving there a day for anything to go wrong and proofread.. this was great for me because when I would finish my assignment 2 days early, I had time to chill and check it…without the stress of missing the deadline!
This timetable came in handy during exams.
I gave myself goals for everyday (I’d pencil them in cause things could change).
Everyday I said to myself I had to have specific things (topics, assignment sections) finished. How I did it that day was up to me, but by the end of the day I had to have those things I listed in my timetable done! It was up to me how many breaks I took, what time I started or finished.. Sometimes if I had a lot of things to do I would give myself approximate timings to start and finish certain topics.
I wouldn’t be tooooo strict with time but gave myself leeway making sure that I met my daily goals and I gave myself ‘chill days’ where I had nothing to do!
Give yourself time to chill out, eat, watch TV shows, go out for a jog, call a friend up.. just take a break. Of course it’s more tight during revision…. the rest of the year it’s a little relaxed but then you still need to stay on top of your work and notes.
4. Should I buy books?
It depends on your lecturer and subject.
- If they say most of the lecture notes are taken from one book, then it’s worth getting it because it’ll help if you’re stuck on something.
- If you see a book that constantly comes up in the ‘recommended reading’ without failure… then that’s worth a look as well.
- I always went on Amazon and bought the ‘used’ books. Don’t bother paying so much for a new one, as long as it’s the right edition and title, bag it!
If you think a book will help you understand a subject better, then get it. I bought some books that helped a lot throughout the 3 years but then I have this one book… which I bought in first year and haven’t touched since.
5. How did I make notes on my work?
- I always made notes in lectures, whether it was on the printed slides or the laptop. Sometimes lecturers just read through slides but they may add bits and pieces which you can scribble in.
- I also recorded lectures.
- Once the day at uni was done, I would go home have dinner, watch an episode…or 2…or 3 of the Walking Dead and then get down to writing up all those notes from that day (better to do that whilst it’s fresh in your head).
Say for one module (Human Physiology) I had notes for one lecture on the kidneys… I would write everything out from the slides and my own notes, neatly into a module notebook – using highlighters and colourful pens. I would highlight keywords, underline important points (using sticky notes as well).
There were points where I didn’t understand something and I would use YOUTUBE VIDOES! AMAZING THINGS! I would go through them, make rough notes and add them to my neat notes.
6. How did you revise?
Organising during exams:
- Start revising a while before exams, even a few months before… (no seriously – do it)
- Use your planner/diary and write all the topics for each module to revise (I used to put it in the order of difficulty.. I put those things I had no idea about first so I had more time to focus on them)
- Use the timetable to plan what subject(s) you want to cover every day (they’re your goals).
Revision (I did this for every topic):
- Use those neat notes from throughout the term/year (I used to read through them and highlight key points as I went along).
- I used to talk to myself and explain things to myself – this helps! Re-read things and teach yourself.
- Re-write notes (colourful and bright notes are nice to look at)
- I used plain paper and made flow charts or spider diagrams.
After I had made those second batches of notes, I would type them up… or sit in a group of friends and test each other… it all depended on how well I knew that topic and understood it.
7. How did you enjoy your final year but still achieve good grades?
Third year was a stressful one, I’m not gonna lie and say yay it was so easy, because it wasn’t! It was all assignments, dissertation and exams BUT it could have been much harder.
Organise, stay focused and stay calm.
Remember to give yourself some time to chill out but also remember that this year, every single assignment or exam you have…MATTERS! Give it your all! What got me through my final year were my supportive family, good friends and TV shows.
Come on, you’ve made it to third year, you can smash this last hurdle without a doubt. It’s hard not to get distracted but keep reminding yourself how it really is the last year of education (unless you decide to go further) and if you do well in this… you’re all set!
8. Do you think there’s any point in joining societies during Freshers?
Yes! It’s a great way to meet more people, do something different, interesting and brilliant to put on your CV because there’s so many things you do with these societies that help you grow as a person. There’s a society for pretty much everything… even Harry Potter!
If you feel like you can do it… try get involved with one or even create your own!
ALSO, keep a look out for other things like:
- Mentoring Schemes where you mentor other students (great on your CV)
- Apply to be a student ambassador (which in some unis is a paid role)
- Student Reps (great on your CV)
When we’re out there looking for a job people are usually looking for a little more than a brilliant degree and collecting experiences in Uni is a good way to add those extra skills to your CV.
9. Student Discounts?
Us students are lucky because, whether it’s 5£ or 20£, we do get some discounts here and there!
- If you’re travelling by train apply for a Railcard
- If you’re travelling by bus it maybe worth it to check out whether it’s cheaper to get a weekly/monthly/yearly pass (depending on how many days you go in etc).
- UNIDAYS! DOWNLOAD THAT ASAP! lol. You’d be surprised, there’s actually a few things that might interest you there.
- Microsoft Office – some unis actually provide it for you, so make sure to find out before you do buy your own.
10. How did you balance these relatively opposing subjects?
As I mentioned earlier, I studied Human Biology and Journalism – different subjects, I know, how did I do it?
Think about it – For GCSEs we studied 11 different subjects and revised, did assignments for all of them, we managed that right? If you’re going to uni then you most definitely did. Yes university is different, there’s a little more at stake, but don’t scare yourself by thinking it’s a big deal. Think of it as, you managed to balance 11 different subjects – balancing 2 will be a breeze.
The way I made it easier for myself was organising like I mentioned above. I planned my time accordingly between the two subjects and their modules. For some of my journalism modules, I would plan my assignments the moment I was given them and then allow myself to focus on something from Biology and later go back to that Journalism assignment, having the plan there to guide me.
Give yourself certain days where you focus on one subject and days where you focus on the other. Of course you’ll know yourself whether you are finding one thing harder than the other so it would make sense to focus on that a little more.
But the bottom line is – organise yourself, your brain and your time.
11. Just wondering if you can hint on what to expect in 2nd and third year and how u kept it together?
Every course is different – but from my experience 2nd year was a little bit more difficult – the workload was higher and the content, well it was different to the introductory stuff in first year. You do start to feel like things get serious in 2nd year as majority of the modules will contribute towards your final degree grade....so you do find yourself needing to focus a lot more but it’s not impossible! You can do it if you organise yourself, stay motivated and surround yourself with positive energy [by positive energy I mean people who share the same goal, who also want to ace university – trust me there will be moments where you will need some motivation and having a focused group of friends can actually inspire you to continue working hard].
Come third year, the final hurdle, you have an idea of how well you need to do in order to get that target grade. Depending on how well you did in second year, you’ll know how hard you will need to work. If you’re doing a dissertation, yes it might be a mission, but I’ll be honest… I really enjoyed doing mine! Just make sure that when you do decide on a topic for your final project, try to do it on something you have a genuine interest in! Don’t just pick anything and ‘see how it goes’ – you are going to be writing 10, 000+ words on this topic, you need to have an interest in it for you to be able to enjoy writing and researching for it.
(If anyone wants to read my dissertation – The presentation of dietary research and advice, particularly that related to the Mediterranean diet, in UK newspapers – you’re more than welcome to, blood, sweat and tears went into those 8000+ words – let me know LOL)
12. People say first year doesn’t count? Is that true?
First year was a little more relaxed – it was like they were warming us up to university life and what comes with it. A lot of people do say don’t worry about first year ‘it’s doesn’t count’ but my friend do not listen to them. If you want to do well – do your best every year. If you didn’t buck up in first year then come second year, the work load might just seem too much – for those who may be looking to do a placement year, employees may have a look at your first year grades in order to see how focused and hardworking you actually are!
13. What’s it like travelling to University?
A few people asked me what it’s like commuting to university by bus and honestly, it was actually okay most days. Of course there were days where I would totally dread travelling, especially the 7:30am bus for those 9am lectures – but hey, it’s got to be done. I always had my headphones with me, or my book so I was never bored.
Before uni, I had NEVER taken any sort of public transport (yes I know that sounds weird) but uni was genuinely going to be the first time I was going to travel by myself and was in charge. Yes, I was scared… I was so used to my parents dropping me off everywhere, the idea of taking the bus was daunting, but it was absolutely fine. There were loads of students taking the bus and a few people I knew so I didn’t feel like I was lost. I actually made so many friends too – different people from different walks of life, I still remember a few I came across in first year. So for those who will be travelling for the first time for uni, don’t worry! You’re going to be absolutely fine, masses of people use public transport everyday and after a while you’ll get used to it too.
You’ve made the decision to go to uni… of course enjoy yourself, as much as you can, but don’t put your education on the line. Give your studies priority.
You are in control of your own future.
If you don’t start that assignment or revision when you know you really should… no one else but you will be wishing you had because it’ll be you holding that degree and carrying it everywhere you go for the rest of your life….
Wow, so dramatic, but it’s true.
Don’t play yourself.
Embrace uni, embrace the experience, embrace the fun and embrace the knowledge. You’ll miss it once it’s all over.
LOL… this was a bit of a long one wasn’t it, but I hope it’s been helpful for few people out there.