Stuff You Need to Know for University by Richard Osbourne, does not promise the world. It does not promise everything you need to know before you embark upon your degree. And in the introduction it makes no bones about the fact that while it has attempted to cover as much as possible, by trying to emcompass so many aspects of university life, there are sections that are not covered in-depth.
The book, it explains, can be read from cover-to-cover, like a novel, or simply thumbed through as a reference guide when needed. It promises that there will be some advice for every student during their university career and is written not from statistics but from experience.
I am about my enter my fourth, and final, year of University so I was curious to see how this book could not only help me, but students about to enter their first terrifying year of higher education. While for the most part, the book is aimed at new students, there were definitely moments where I nodded along in agreements to advice about experiences I have had during my time at University or had heard stories about. There is definitely some advice in this book I could’ve used three years ago!
The book begins with what it calls The Ten Commandments. These are great snippets of advice that are repeated throughout the book. My favourites were:
This book doesn’t preach, or insist that you spend 12 hours a day studying. It understands that part of university life is socialising, drinking and having fun. The tone is advising, but also friendly and understanding.
You don’t feel judged or patronised. It feels more like an older friend or relative is giving you advice based on their experiences. I especially thought the sections on health, including sexual and mental health, broached topics that can be uncomfortable and that other books might avoid addressing.
Another thing I really liked about this book was it’s relevance. The book is obviously brand-new and refers to to coalition government and plans for the future of universities. This I really loved. Universities will be changing over the next few years and this book has some really up-to-date information about this.
The book doesn’t beat around the bush and gives honest advice on university experiences. I personally didn’t really enjoy freshers week, or my first semester of university, and the book addresses how difficult the first few months can be for students. While everyone else tells you you should be out having a good time and making friends, this book lets you know that at first university isn’t always so easy.
While the section on writing essays was an obvious idea to include, it wasn’t especially helpful for me. It explains referencing, bibliographies and citations, but these can vary from university to university. There wasn’t any solid information on how to actually write and structure an essay, so if you’re after something to help you in your essay writing, there are probably better tools at your disposal.
The book then goes on to include chapters on a number of different university subjects. I study English and American studies and therefore read the chapters on the Humanities, Literature and Drama. I cannot vouch for how useful other chapters on different subjects might be as they were not relevant to me and I wouldn’t know if the information given was useful for not.
I personally didn’t find the chapters on my own subjects to be very useful. The book simply lists a number of different authors and playwrights and some information about each of them. However, the list of literary movements was useful, especially if you stumble across one mentioned in your reading list and need a quick definition. I wouldn’t turn to this book for help with my studying, but it could be useful for a non-literature student who might need to know the works of Jane Austen.
The book ends with some Top Ten lists, ranging from the useful (Food tips and Theories to know), to the fun (Films and Books to read), and a section on music, which aimed to create a sense of cultural understanding in various topics.
I liked this book for its advice on university life, choosing your courses and how to cope with freshers week and making friends. The Ten Commandments were particularly useful. However, I didn’t find the information offered for my course to be particularly helpful academically, though the sections on other subjects might be useful to other students.