Since people have already got their results and know what university’s they’re going to/taking a gap year I’ve decided to write a little, albeit brief guide containing what I wish I knew before I started uni. I did a lot of things wrong in my first year, in fact I did a lot of things wrong over the course of my whole university period. I thought I’d share my useful insights because it could maybe help one person… I’m speaking from my own personal experiences which seem to relate to my uni and course (history and politics). I pray this doesn’t come across as patronising at all so here go’s
- If you have to write a dissertation you are not weird, but in fact wise to start thinking about potential topics of interest from the start of first year. A good piece of advise is to have a word doc and literally write down anything throughout any of your modules that grabs your attention. For example, last week (too late I know right) I thought I wish I did a dissertation comparing how the US presented the USSR and modern day China through propaganda, and how it is more revealing of the insecurities that the US feels about itself. It would have been so much more interesting than my unfinished disseration lol. Essentially you might have to spend a huge chunk of third year doing a dissertation so the earlier you lay the foundations the easier your task will be.
- In addition to thinking about topics- if you do a history dissertation like I did then sourcing potential archives, talking to any lecturers (even ones who’s modules you do not take) who do teach subjects you are interested in early on may help you. The more you can spread over the three years the easier your life will be, and you can laugh while all the fools (aka people like me) are crying through the whole of third year.
- If you like international politics and international relations I cannot stress how useful the book ‘Masters of Mankind’ by Noan Chomsky was. You might not understand it all, but there are sections relevant to a lot of topics I did within these type of modules.
- You will probably have to attend an introductory type module. Go to it! In fact, even though the lectures are probably recorded and ‘you can watch them in your own time’ realistically you won’t. Go to every single lecture and seminar in first year because believe it or not they’re actually interesting! It is also good to get into the practice of going to lectures. Sounds like a bizarre thing to need to practice but trust me on this one.
- If you can pick your own timetable avoid 9 ams! I promise you that there is a high chance you won’t make 9 ams, especially in the winter months. Once I picked a Monday 9 am and my theory was you don’t go out on Sunday’s so there isn’t an excuse to not make it. However, you will surprise yourself at the excuses you come up with to convince yourself to not go into uni. The best time to pick modules is 10 or 11 which enables you to wake up at about 8 and laze around in the morning, and leisurely make it on time.
- Try to give yourself a three or four day weekend- so have Monday or Friday off but ideally both. Having an extra long weekend is unreal, and another bonus is getting Wednesday off. This isn’t that tricky to achieve because most unis have Wednesday afternoon’s off for sports. Therefore, avoid picking modules on a Wednesday morning and boom! you have Wednesday off.
- I do have some logic to what seems like giving yourself so many full days off, but you’ll need to bare with me on this one. If, like me, you only have to be in 9 hours a week then it makes sense to schedule most of your lectures and seminars for one/two days. This made me far more likely to go in and then stay at uni between the different lectures actually getting some work done than if I was timetabled for a single hour. For example, one term I was in uni 11-1 on Tuesday and had a seminar from 5-6, and it was my favourite and most productive day.
- Get into a routine in first year! By this I mean try to do a 9-5 or equivalent in the library and then because you are in first year you literally can take evenings off to do other stuff if you smash the work out. Tip: most people go to the library at 10 so if you get there between 9 and 9.30 you are guaranteed a seat. Despite what articles on websites like ‘The Tab’ say which claim as a first year you do not deserve a seat in the library, this is bollocks. No one can actually tell the difference between a fresher and 2/3 year, and your work is actually just as important as theirs (in a different form).
- However, you also should remember that it’s first year so you can chill and 100% get away with plenty of what I call ‘nothing days’. These often involve literally dying of a hangover with a couple of friends binge watching films and a take away, or lazing in the park in the sun. In second year, and definitely third year, you will not be able to have guilt free nothing day’s as there are constantly extra things you can be doing. Enjoy them wisely! I have fantastic memories from some of my nothing days.
- Maybe accept that you will still leave work to the last minute and be doing all nighter’s. It is fine but not advisable as they are avoidable if you learn to plan.
- I can’t speak for all unis, but mine offers a lot of modules that include no exams. Use this to your advantage either giving yourself less/more exams.
- Get a part time job! Retail work is pretty easy, and places like Hollister hire without previous retail experience. Plus the discount is fantastic and the clothes have seriously improved. Everyone that works there is also really young so it’s a good way to socialise. Most importantly though you will pick up valuable skills and a little bit of extra money is always nice. Maybe don’t agree to the Saturday morning early shift though, but a few hours during the week or a late Saturday shift will be fine.
- Volunteer! This is something I regret not doing because it is so important to give back to the community. Literally pick any type of volunteering, but you could always try and relate it to a future career choice?
- If you’re going to a uni up North buy a thick, puffa jacket with a hood. Don’t complain about the price because you’ll get your money’s worth. Especially in second year when no one wants to turn the heating on in your house or when you have to walk to a bus stop in the freezing cold rain.
- Remember that friendship groups are not set in stone. You might be bffe’s with someone in freshers week and hardly speak to them by reading week. Do not stress. What you should do though is speak to anyone and everyone at any opportunity. People might give you a weird look initially but they’re probably more than happy to chat. Unless they have headphone in. Or aren’t giving you warm signals. Don’t let one cold person get you down though/just consider they’re having a bad day and remember it’s not personal.
- This is important advice that you’re probably going to ignore- but agreeing who to live with is stressful and I would avoid picking until as late as possible. There are loads of houses going and an abundance of people to live with, keep your options open. However, one person is gonna stress which will stress everyone else out and it’s a pain. P.S do not live with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Trust me, living with people is difficult.
- Also buy a pair of cheap flip flops to shower in. Shared bathrooms are gross. It’s also worth buying one of those hanging shower bags and putting your different shampoos and shaving stuff all together. Do not leave your stuff in the showers and if you do do not get it back there might be questionable bits in it. Also invest in a dressing gown to walk to the bathroom in and wear after.
- Trust me when I say an M&S dressing gown and slippers are the best things to chill in. Also I know they’re lame but trust me uggs are your best friend for the cold weather.
Essentially plan ahead, get your work done, and remember to have fun. University will teach you to grow up and you will experience so many new things. Take advantage of everything because you might not ever have this much free time and lack of responsibilities ever again. I hope that some of this is useful, any questions/if I forgot anything let me know!