Applying for Uni in 2014? Read this first!

Friday February 7th 2014

This month has been my most exciting yet…not. Unfortunately, I have spent most of my time revising for the dreaded E-word. Yep…exams. Woe is me. But I struggled through them (I think I’m being a little hyperbolic perhaps) and now that they are over, I’m on an inter semester break. It’s a surreal feeling to have absolutely nothing to do (not complaining, though!) During term time at the weekends, there’s that annoyingly irritating thought lingering at the back of your mind that you do have work to do. So now that there’s nothing on my to-do list, it’s a bit like having a mini Summer Holidays in January. As I have been spending most of my time at home this month, not much has happened in terms of university life. So, I have decided to alter the format somewhat this month and provide a list of tips for Students. Some of the things I have learned myself, some are advice I received from other students, and a lot are the tips that I preach, but don’t necessarily practise…oops! When I was awarded a Michaela Scholarship, I knew that I wanted my blogs to be aimed primarily for prospective students to give them an idea of what university life is really like. So, most tips are aimed at students applying to university, but I hope that a lot of them will be useful for current students starting out on a new semester.

  • First and foremost, lectures aren’t optional – I know, I know, it’s tempting to miss that 2 hour lecture that you dread every week, but there’s an enormous amount of content covered in each lecture. Even though most slides are uploaded online, trust me when I say that I have learned the hard way that a lot of lecturers will expand on the basic bullet points, meaning that your own notes are essential. I guess I’m stating the obvious here, as it is a lecturer’s job to do this, but I also find that lecturers are great at explaining new concepts and terminology. But most importantly, keep absences to an absolute minimum.
  • In keeping with lectures: record them! No fancy equipment required; I just use my phone! I can’t tell you the amount of times that I have resorted to a recording I have of the lecture to help clarify something when my notes are either a collation of illegible hieroglyphics or where the sentence just trails off unfinished. It doesn’t even have to be for revision purposes, it’s particularly useful when you are doing coursework and need to remember what your lecturer said. Just be sure to get their permission before recording them.
  • Thirdly, if you don’t understand something and you still don’t understand it after trying to figure it out through reading, practical sessions, or tutorials, email your lecturer or module coordinator. This seems a bit daunting initially, but take the plunge and do it – they don’t bite! (I find that they are only too happy to help and you actually stand out because you’re showing an interest!)
  • In most courses, you tend to have seminars or tutorials. Believe it or not, they are useful, and here, attendance is most definitely compulsory as a register is often taken!
  • My course falls within the faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences which means that I have a lengthy reading list. A selection of reading is usually assigned for each tutorial, sometimes a few pages, sometimes a few chapters – it all just depends, really. However, there is the “Required Reading” and “Further Reading”. It goes without saying that the required reading isn’t optional, sadly. But don’t disregard the further reading lists either! I know, you are probably asking yourself “Why would I bother reading something that I don’t need to?” but if, like me, one or more of your assignments is something like a reflective journal, and you can demonstrate that you used your time to go outside the required reading, it will boost your answer and boost your mark! Even if you only try reading one of the items on the list, it is better than nothing. The main tip here is to treat the “Further Reading” list as the “Required Reading” list.
  • Organisation is key. I’m a person who likes to stay organised, even if it’s just to make yourself feel better and focused. Get a planner, either one in a book form or use your phone if you wish, and write everything in it. It’s incredibly useful when you need a quick reminder on what you should be doing and helps you stay on top of things. If you fall behind a little bit, it’s hard to get caught up again, resulting in a vicious circle.
  • Put a date on everything! Notes, lecture slides, hand-outs – everything! This is so handy when you’re trying to sort out your file and you want to put it in chronological order. (I know we as students tend to back-date things to make it look like we did it earlier than we actually did in case a teacher lifts the work, but nobody will be looking at your work in university, so put the true date on it.)
  • When a new semester begins, develop a routine as soon as possible. Know what you’re going to do, when you’re going to do and how to do it. This can be a bit difficult as many secondary schools tend to ‘spoon-feed’ students, but now there’s much more independence, so now’s the time to plan around your class timetable to go to the library. This extends to things that aren’t even academic, I have a routine for when I need to start cooking, when to pack/unpack and other boring adult-stuff like that!
  • The next tip applies for coursework assignments but not exams sadly. If you know when your deadlines are, which are usually found in the syllabus for your module, I use a pretty handy tip which is to adjust the deadline to fall 2 days before when it’s actually due. If you can ‘trick’ yourself into thinking that your assignment is due sooner than it actually is, you’ll find that the final 2 days can be spend refining and perfecting your work.
  • If you stay fairly close to home for university, you probably have the option of going home at the weekends. Some students choose to go home every weekend and others go home only every few weekends. Personally I am part of the former group as I’m a bit of a home bird. Before university I thought I would maybe come home every other weekend, but there’s no better feeling than driving down the M1 on a Friday afternoon. Maybe I just love my home comforts too much. My bed, home cooking, having your laundry done, a dishwasher(!!!) – What’s not to love?!
  • If you are a student with a disability or long-standing medical condition, look into what services your university provides. From the moment I sent away my UCAS Application, my university has done so much to provide me with support in a number of areas. At the end of last year, The Irish News published a report on how Queen’s University was one of the best for providing support for disabled students and I have been more than satisfied with the support I have received. Don’t think that your condition is too trivial or nothing can be done for you because if you don’t declare it, nothing can be put in place for you.
  • A balance in academic life and social life is essential. Yes, the main reason why you go to University is for a tertiary level education and to hopefully end up with a degree one day, but if you don’t make time to socialise and do something fun with your friends, university can become a very lonely place. Many university cities like Belfast, Coleraine, Derry and Dublin all have their fair share of nightclubs, but if nightlife isn’t your cup of tea, a DVD with a group of friends is more than enjoyable.
  • Get involved! There are more clubs and societies that you can imagine at university and there’s generally something for everyone. It’s a nice change from lectures, work and revision, but still allows you to feel productive. In fact, at Queen’s, taking part in a club or society contributes to a program called Degree Plus – so it will actually boost your CV.
  • Closely related to this, your school or faculty will most likely organise extra events such as guest lecturers, seminars or workshops. Attend these whenever possible as it allows you to meet more people on your course and they can often present great opportunities which will benefit you. I know that for a course such as Law, a lot of legal firms organise networking events which are incredibly useful once you submit an application for a vacation scheme or training contract for their firm. It helps you to stand out enormously.

It has been really fun to reflect on the year so far, and I hope that if you’re a student, these tips are useful for you. I’m getting ready to begin my next semester at university and as much as I would still like to be on holidays (somehow 6 weeks just isn’t enough), I’m also excited to start back again.  So whatever you’re doing this month, I hope that it goes well for you!

Until next month,

Stephen.