What I wish I had known before starting University-

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

Before I begin, I’ll give you a bit of background on my life as a student- as I by no means have had the ‘typical’ experience. I go to university at UEA (University of East Anglia) and I study English Literature. Choosing to study at UEA was a long process for me as I already had lived in Norwich for a couple of years. I was, at first reluctant to choose somewhere so close to where I lived out of fear that I wouldn’t get the typical ‘uni experience.’ However, many open days later I knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to the one place that felt like home. I moved out of my parents and in with my boyfriend, so didn’t have the experience of living in halls, instead opting to walk or take the bus each day to uni! I also took three years to do my A levels meaning I went to university straight from a year of part-time study and part-time work rather than the full-on studying experience most of my peers had. I’ll be writing up some blog posts talking about all these ‘non-typical’ experiences at another time but for now here are the things I wish I had known before I began University-

How to access academic help- You have your reading lists, lectures and seminars, Great! But where do I find out how to reference? How do I know whether there are more essays on this topic? What does a 2:1 even mean? These are all questions I had in my first few weeks of University and simply didn’t know how to answer. The simple answer is - ask.

Your seminar leaders and academic advisors are there to help you. It can be intimidating feeling like you don’t know something, but this is their job and they will be happy to help you, so go ahead and email over that question you think is ‘silly’. I remember having a panic over one of my final essays because there didn’t seem to be a single article written about Ali Smith on the university system. One email later to my seminar leader and suddenly I had three to choose from. Long story short, without that email, I wouldn’t have had an essay!

How independent your studying will be –

I was lucky in that my year of part-time study equipped me with the skills to study independently but that didn’t prepare me for just how independent that studying would be. Of course, every degree and institution will be varied but, on my course, I only had 8 hours contact time per week in my first year. That was 1 lecture, 1 seminar per module. The rest of the time was taken up by reading.

My top tip for this is to plan! Plan what you know needs to be done each week, stick to it and split it into before and after lectures and seminars. For example- I knew I had a lecture at 10 am on a Monday so I wanted all my reading and own notes done by the weekend before, which then gave me the Tuesday to write up lecture notes before my seminar on a Wednesday. Creating a pattern like this for each module ensured that I was always on track and knew roughly what had to be done.

That not everyone is going to work the same way, find your own ‘places’-

The Library is the hub of every campus, right? Well for some it is and some it isn’t. I found it difficult to concentrate in the library. I could stay there to do reading and rough notes when I had gaps between classes but for long pieces of work, the library was not my friend. This might be the same for you, it might not but whatever you do explore!

I found a café on campus that was super quiet and calm that I could work in for hours, much more than I ever managed to do in the library.

Everyone is just as nervous as you, we all come with different experiences-

In one of my first seminars, the leader began an analysis where he likened a piece of theory to a scene in Pride and Prejudice, a book I have never read. As he checked we all read it and every person nodded I realised I was alone. So, I nodded and didn’t understand a word of what was said after. I confided in my mate after class explaining how nervous I felt. She turned around to me and revealed that she was nervous too because she hadn’t read as much theory as I had. The moral of the story- every single person in that class probably felt like they didn’t know something, or they weren’t good enough. As the year wore on and all the facades ebbed away I soon realised that all of us had vastly different knowledge bases, reading experiences and interests and that’s what made discussions so fun- what we thought us appear ‘uncultured’ added to debates and ideas. So, although it’s easier said than done- pipe up if you don’t know something!

You don’t have to do everything-

This applies both academically and socially! Some of us just aren’t built for nights out or loads and loads of societies. I went on a night out probably once a month in my first year whereas some people I knew didn’t go at all or went twice a week! We are all different but ultimately you know what you enjoy. The same goes for societies- testers during freshers week are great for gauging what you might enjoy, but past that don’t feel pressured into attending everything all of the time- you are doing a degree too and you need some time to sleep! I started university with 6 societies I wanted to join, went to 4 tasters and ultimately only found time for one.

Academically speaking I found that there were lots of tasks I assigned myself that were super unnecessary- I did not, for example, have time to annotate every single page of a 200-page book that needed to be read in 5 days. I also did not have time to rewrite every lecture, every week. It took a whole year of trial and error to know what worked for me and where the balance lied but eventually, I got there. My hard-worn advice with this is if you feel like you a task is taking way longer than it should, step back and re-evaluate.

I hope this helps!