Your transition to university may surely feel like an exciting moment in your life. It does not matter at what age you decided to start a degree, few events will be as important as this one for you. However, excitement may also come with a sense of mild anxiety about the unknown.
As a university lecturer, I have seen many first-year students go through the same process year after year. Carry on reading if you want to know the top 5 tips which I always give to my first-year students.
In my experience, the biggest shock for first-year students comes when they are exposed to new styles of learning. When you were doing your A-levels you had a prescribed curriculum to learn. Most of the times, there may not have been much to do outside the academic program you were told to follow. You also knew that, in order to prepare yourself for your A-level exams, there was a path you had to work hard to complete. In other words, your teachers had to get you from A to B in whatever subject you studied, be this biology, maths or modern languages. But things are different at university.
There is no equivalent of Ofsted inspections for British universities. The government does not set the curriculum which lecturers should teach you. This is especially the case for the Humanities and Social Sciences. And so, what you learn and how you learn it will vary greatly from university to university, and from lecturer to lecturer. Variations will depend on staff availability, lecturer’s own interests, university resources and whether it is a research- or teaching- intensive university.
And yet, regardless of differences between universities, your lecturer will always reward intellectual curiosity. To get top marks in every module, my advice is that you engage with the topic beyond the PowerPoint slides you get during your lecture. If you have a passion for discovering new things, make sure this is reflected in the work you do. Creativity and innovation are allowed and very much welcomed in every university. That’s what doing “research” means.
In the case of subjects leading to professional accreditation, such as Law or Medicine, your course would have to fulfil certain criteria set up by professional bodies, but the flexibility your lecturers will have is far greater than you’re A-level teachers had. Even in degrees leading to professional accreditation, you will have to do research at some point.
You will still have your contact hours, tutorials, lab time, etc. But what sets university learning apart is the great importance given to independent study and learning.
As I write this I feel a bit like the “bad cop” but this topic is a must in my list. I don’t know why, but some students think that it is ok to reformat online content for an essay, copy what Wikipedia says about a particular topic, or, even worse, buy an essay from a dodgy website.
I have discussed this topic many times with my colleagues and we all agree that plagiarism is something very easy to detect for us. Your lecturers will have been in education for a long time. They do know how to spot a plagiarised essay.
Besides, technology has come a long way. And more likely than not, your university has purchased software to scan and detect plagiarism against the internet. Some software can now, for example, detect plagiarised material which is just a translation into English of a website in a different language.
The London Metropolitan University has produced a comprehensive guide to understand how to reference and avoid plagiarism. Your university’s library will probably have more resources and workshops about this.
Some students think that lecturers are distant and can’t be disturbed. But I personally encourage all my students to come to see me and discuss anything related to my modules.
It is common practice for Higher Education lecturers to have office hours. This means you can drop in or make an appointment during those times. You will then be able to discuss anything you want about the classes, assessment, etc. Be wise and use this time properly.
There are very few chances in a professional environment when you can have one-to-one consultations and talk about the issues that are important to you. Don’t be shy and write down when your lecturers are free for appointments with students.
Have fun during freshers’ week!! Many times, newly arrived students ask me or email me about reading lists even before classes start. While I feel flattered that they want to start working on my modules so early in the year, I always tell students to go out and enjoy themselves before the hard work begins.
The first weeks at university should be about learning what your new place is all about. This includes knowing where the library is (sorry, I was itching to say it!). But this is also the time to find your favourite pub with the best student deals.
Check you students union for events which might interest you. Most universities also have societies to bring likeminded people together. That’s university life too!
Your undergraduate degree will last at least three years, and during this time you will meet amazing (and not so amazing!) people.
In fact, I still keep in touch with all my friends from when I was a student. I don’t know why, but we all are a bunch of big travellers. We live now in different countries: France, Germany, Spain and the UK. But we still have Christmas parties and keep in touch all the time.
I’ve talked about your study time. And even fun time. But that’s not all. Many university students find that volunteering is an enriching experience which goes hand in hand with the new directions which their lives are taking.
There is nothing more satisfying than giving back to the community. But volunteering is a two-way process for students too. I have seen many cases of volunteers who help others and, at the same time, are able to explore what career pattern they would like to take after graduation. Volunteering is greatly appreciated by employers because it says a LOT about you as a person. It will also allow you to develop some skills which otherwise would remain dormant.
I’m confident university will change your life. Not only will you get a great education, you will remember those years as the time when your adult life started to take its definite shape.
Anything I missed or that you want to share? I would love to hear from you. Write your comments below or follow me on Google+ or Twitter.
Featured image from Thompson Rivers