So my first year of university has finished-the teaching part anyway and normally this warrants a reflective post.
I went to university without any real idea of how it would be. Obviously I had heard a few things from friends about how the first year was relaxing but even with that warning, I was still a little surprised at exactly how relaxing it could be. However, this is not to say that it is intentionally relaxing, the work is there to be done, the seminars are there for you to attend but there are very little consequences if you do not do them. This can be quite unsettling for students as we have just experienced thirteen years of rules, boundaries and punishments so the sudden apparent freedom takes some getting used to. I say apparent because in reality, you are only as free as you want yourself to be. You have the freedom to utterly immerse yourself in the subject and you also have the freedom to do the bare minimum.
Now the reason why the bare minimum applies to many of us is again due to our conditioning throughout education. Ever since we had our first formal tests aged seven, we have been taught that exams are terribly important. That is what we will be judged upon and that is how we will succeed. So throughout our teenage years we have been told that working towards exams is what we need to do and that things which won’t come up in them are not worth learning, therefore ignore them. This attitude is ironically most clear in the two years immediately preceding university. Studying for A levels is an intense experience and you are stretched for time so students have to determine which things are worth learning. It is in these years that exams become extremely important as they determine which university you are able to go onto.
So emerging from those intense two years of exam focussed learning as well as the remnants of GCSEs before that, students find the lack of exam focus in university quite bewildering. It takes time to realise that they should not be looking for exam relevance in every lecture or seminar as they are simply learning new things. For students, this can often feel quite pointless. Why do I need to know that? That is why the majority of questions students ask in their first week at university are related to exams yet the lectures try to tell them that they are not important. We students don’t believe them of course. At university we are told not to worry about exams or coursework grades yet we simply cannot do that. It has been embedded within us to pay particular attention to exams.
Another thing I found remarkable in my first year was the difference between the first and second semester. I found that the first was much more intense and not only because it was the beginning but because the writing tasks and assessments were more frequent. Perhaps that depends on the module but imagine going ten weeks without having to do an actual writing task. It felt weird to me and I am sure it did for other students. However in the first semester, we were given them quite regularly. What changed? Did they think we no longer needed them?
Talking about writing, university is all about essays. Yet throughout my school life, we never once did a university style essay. The closest I got to one was my history coursework. I find it quite ridiculous. Funnily enough, they are reducing the amount of coursework due to fears of cheating so even that opportunity will go. This is why when you’re given your first assignment you think: “What am I meant to do!” So practising essays is definitely something schools and colleges should be doing to prepare students for university.
What will I do different next year? I think reading ahead definitely helps so I will be looking to get to grips with the module texts in the summer. I find that if you prepare well each week, then you will be more motivated to attend the lecture and seminar and giving them your full attention, even if they aren’t going to come up in your exam. Another thing I would do is build a cycle superhighway from my doorstep to my university so that I can get there on time without getting lost. But yeah, that isn’t going to happen.
So that was the studying side of my first year. Now, what about the financial side? £9,000 yearly tuition fees. Well after receiving a £3,000 scholarship from a local organisation, I then borrowed £2,000 from a relative. Thereafter I used my student grant and savings to pay the £4,000 off. The initial plan was to borrow a total of £6,000 and use £3,000 from savings and some from student grants. However due to the scholarship, I decided to borrow less and wait and see whether I receive any more help from scholarships for next year’s fees as well as whether I will be able to save up more during the summer. So let’s see!
Until Next Time
A Worried Student