Having just finished my degree in International Relations I have come to realise that nobody warns you about third year, so I feel it’s only right that I do so. “Second year is the hardest” almost feels like an old wives tale as I heard this repeated over and over at the start of my degree. I think anybody who said this must have just finished their second year as I now know that it was not the second, but the third and final year which was actually the hardest and most taxing.
First there is the dreaded dissertation that hangs over your head for the best part of the year. If you’re one of those lucky people who don’t have to do a dissertation don’t say it out loud too many times as people may genuinely start to dislike you. I had chosen my dissertation question at the end of the second year and planned to work on it throughout the summer. Yet when summer arrives the last thing I wanted was to think about more uni work. So come September I am left with a whole 13,500 word dissertation and a March deadline that no longer feels that far away, especially when you factor in submitting a first draft, meetings with your supervisor (where you may have to lie about your progress) and finding those references that you used months ago but didn’t have the foresight to write down. It becomes wearing and I don’t know anybody who didn’t hate their dissertation by the time they submitted their final draft. More tiring than this though is having to think about the same subject for such a length of time. I’d often find myself in random places thinking of ideas for my dissertation and wishing I could stop thinking about it for just a few moments. The only advice I’d like to give, and this is from experience, don’t leave it until deadline day to complete, especially referencing, as it’s such unnecessary stress and everything seems to take that much longer.
Next is trying to contend with your normal university workload alongside your dissertation. Whilst all your attention is on your disso its so hard to keep up with essential weekly readings, lecture notes, even attending lectures so when it comes to assignments I found they are often left to the last minute, or were started well in advance, but the pressing need to submit the dissertation meant I still left it until the week or even the night before it was due. You do have to juggle every thing and hope that all the balls stay in the air. Keeping on top of both at the same time becomes a great challenge and time management is so fundamental for being organised during your third year.
If your degree is weighted in the standard division between your second and third year than the number 75 suddenly has the greatest importance, as that’s the percentage your final year is worth. I often remember thinking in second year that it wouldn’t matter if I messed up that year as it was only worth 25%. When that catapulted to 75% the pressure is on and there is suddenly a need for all pieces of submitted work to be of a high standard as any mistake could bring aggregated marks down significantly.
When it comes to the exam period, like with the dissertation, there are always those who say “I don’t have any exams” and you have to plaster on a fake smile and say, “oh lucky you” *Hate you*. The rest of us are locked away in the library or in our rooms, removed away from society, staring out the window at the sun, which we know will miraculously disappear once we have time to enjoy it. Often the furthest I got away from my desk is for a cigarette in the back garden.
When you’re not studying, and it’s not sanctioned, be prepared to be overcome with feelings of guilt. It’s absolutely awful! “Should I be out? Should I be having fun?, there’s only a few weeks left why don’t I just study and I can have fun when it’s over?”. The guilt was often enough to get me chained to my desk again. Nobody warns you that for a period of up to 8 weeks, if not more, you can only think of revision, revision, revision, (and those last few assignments) as so much rests on your final exams to bring the whole year and your entire degree together.
This year has been a challenge academically and to make it worse I have seen so little of my friends, inside and outside of uni. I still live at home so it’s not as if I am surrounded by other students. We are all on different courses and have had diverse timetables, plus of course, its third year so we’re all so busy trying to keep our heads above water. In comparison to the last two years where we would be hanging out constantly on campus, catching up, arranging society events or partying, this year it has felt like near radio silence. It made final year so much more difficult for me, although I love my own space it felt quite lonely and isolated at times because the sad truth is we didn’t have the same time for each other that we used to. We are making up for it now though, but just a heads up that this year you may find yourself alone more than you’re used to.
If you have nothing lined up for after you’ve finished your degree you’re going to find yourself in a strange void. After the euphoria of completing my final exam, the next day I was overcome with a wealth of guilt that I wasn’t doing any academic work as I couldn’t quite comprehend that I had actually reached the finish line. So you no longer have to get up and study any more, you don’t have any money because you’ve pulled back from work over the exam period and you now realise you have nothing to do with all this free time. It’s been just over two weeks, and whilst I am still enjoying my free time, I’m acutely aware how quickly this feeling will pass and I will be left wondering what I’m going to do with the rest of my life. Yikes!
I hope I haven’t put you completely off your final year. I know I may have made it sound awful, but it’s really not, well maybe a little. It will be a struggle, it will be challenging, and you may wish to give up at times, but just remember there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The feeling of accomplishment at the end is something else! Three, or in same cases four years of hard work and you’ve finished. You didn’t give up as you often dreamed about, it didn’t kill you and you’ve reached the finish line. It’s exhilarating. It’s an achievement. You will feel immensely proud of yourself.
You have now been warned about third year.
Best Wishes and Good luck!
Image from CollegeDegrees360