Freshers’ Week and Term One: What NOT To Worry About

Written by Emma MA Creativity: Innovation and Business Strategy student

The days leading up to your first week of university can be emotional. I remember feeling a bizarre mixture of excitement and anxiety. My mum grew tearful over nearly everything I did, and I was permanently torn over how much I should take with me. I’m now a postgraduate student at the University of Exeter and I’ve moved five times since moving into halls nearly four academic years ago. I found that adapting to change became easier with that first step of attending Freshers’ week. To remedy those Freshers’ fears, I’ve compiled this list of things NOT to worry about as a new undergraduate.

1. Halls: Moving out of my family home and into halls was the biggest hurdle I encountered during Freshers’ week and for a long time after. I had expected to meet my best friends for life in my new accommodation. I didn’t. I hadn’t expected to miss my family a lot. I did. If you’ve never lived away from home then this is probably the trickiest bit for you, but it is by no means something that needs worrying about. Yes, sometimes I felt a little lonely, but I truly believe that those first few months of university made me into the independent individual I am today. I stuck it out, I met life-altering personalities, I spent time getting to know the people in my block and the people in my lectures and seminars. I made a lot of amazing acquaintances, a few amazing friends, and three amazing best friends. By my second year of university I was itching to return and found over the summer break that I missed being on campus where everyone knew my name. So, don’t worry about moving or feeling alienated by your home away from home because you really will be settled down in no time without even realising it. I promise.

2. Making a good first impression: Social anxiety has been a close companion of mine for a few years now. Some days I find myself over-analysing the tiniest of things. These feelings especially acted up during Freshers’ week. I wanted my lecturers to like me, I wanted my new hall mates to like me and I wanted my course mates to like me. However, what you’ll soon come to realise is that every Fresher feels the same way. Make that effort to introduce yourself to everyone but don’t panic about being the most memorable person in the room. The friends I made in the flat below during my first few weeks of university I never kept in contact with after my second term. Not because I didn’t want to but simply because I settled with different company in the end. You might not find your more permanent social group right away, and that’s okay.

3. Getting top grades: Congratulations! You made it to the University of Exeter and you absolutely smashed your A-Levels. Now it’s time to dial it up a notch. I was immensely disheartened by my first few essay grades. How could I go from being top of the class at college to scrapping a 2:1 with a 60? University level study is hard. I adored the overwhelming intake of information in my lectures. I lived for the buzz in the room during an impassioned seminar debate. I also found myself permanently exhausted. The good news is that your first year doesn’t count towards your final grade. Spend the year finding a comfortable balance between all the new components in your life and before you know it, you’ll be floating back up to First Class territory.

4. Picking the best societies: I joined only one society in my first year: Creative Writing Society. I attended two workshops and never went again. The society was inspiring and immensely fun but I was too preoccupied with adjusting to my new environment to devote myself to it. By my second year of university I was involved in two societies: Archery (which I went into never having tried the sport before) and Xpression FM (of which I became the Arts and Literature Senior Correspondent for the News Team). In my case, I found that I was more able to give my absolute attention to societies and society socials by my second year when I’d found my footing. Here’s the secret: Freshers’ fair isn’t just for Freshers! It’s for anyone who wants to immerse themselves in university life at any point of their degree. I’ve attended the Freshers’ Fair every year I’ve spent at university and not just for all the freebies but for the electricity right at my fingertips. Go to the fair, enjoy the free snacks, pens, and pizza vouchers and don’t feel pressured to sign up to a single thing.

5. Time management: This one is a fine art that is perfected throughout one’s life. I remember feeling incredibly overwhelmed during my first year of university. Information came at me from all angles through several different channels that I wasn’t yet accustomed to using. I was being invited to society socials, to nights out clubbing with course mates, to dinners in my accommodation block, to parties in a friend’s friend’s halls, to additional lectures, to non-compulsory workshops, to poetry slams and art exhibitions, all alongside completing suffocating masses of reading in time for my seminars. I found time management easier when I purchased my first academic diary. I used to schedule everything in my day from waking up and writing emails to relaxing with a bottle of wine in the evening. I can’t remember at what point I stopped consulting it religiously, but it must have been the point in which I’d found a sense of routine. I still buy myself an academic diary every year and I still find myself writing in it every day (even when I’m searching for things to keep myself occupied with during the summer break). My top tip would be to invest in an academic diary yourself. Use it as a crutch until you no longer entirely depend on it. It’ll be the best tenner you’ve spent that year and you’ll have one less thing to worry about.

6. Freshers’ Flu: For some reason I lost the ability to hear out of my left ear entirely during my second and third week of university which really didn’t help my nervous fears surrounding my ability to keep on top of all my coursework. I went to the Student Health Centre with possibly the worst flu I’d ever experienced. I felt ran-down, lethargic, and bunged-up. The nurse recommended plenty of rest and explained to me that Freshers’ Flu wasn’t in fact a myth. I also developed a milder strain of the flu in my second year of university. Don’t panic, watch your lectures at home from your bed, eat well, and cut back on the partying (at least for a couple of nights). You’ll feel better once your body has built a resistance to your full and hectic lifestyle.

Despite my undergraduate years being some of the toughest of my life they were also the best years of my life to date. University is full of extreme emotions which make it a hell of a thrilling and unforgettable time. Just remember to keep your cool and everything will find its place. There really is nothing to worry about.

The Postgraduate life: Managing study and managing your routine

Written by Emma Anderson MA Creativity student

When I made the choice to carry on with my studies by taking on a postgraduate degree, I was left contemplating how an MA schedule would affect by routine. I also questioned how it would fit in around my current job. Funding for an MA can be covered by a government loan, but maintenance loans were scraped for postgraduate students about a year ago. I decided to work part-time and study part-time to remedy this. This way I could ensure that I would have the time to do my MA justice. However, many of my friends have managed to work part-time and study an MA full-time under more stressful time restraints. Still, I was pleased with the choice I made to go part-time while studying an MA in Creativity. An MA offers so many routes for growth and expansion that are not part of the required reading list or contact hours. In this blog, I hope to explain what life is like for a part-time MA student so that others might better be able to decide what pace they want to work at during further study.

How long can I expect to be on campus?
I can be on campus anywhere between two and four days a week. This means that my part-time job needs to be flexible to suit my requirements. It also means I need to constantly be updating my employer with any schedule changes. One thing is always certain though: weekends are university free! So, I try and keep a minimum of half my weekdays for academia and weekends free for work shifts. I also find that sometimes I end up being on campus from eight thirty in the morning until six in the evening whilst sometimes I only have a short two-hour workshop. I often extend days like this (when I also won’t be going into work) by doing some core reading in the Queens café or organising a meeting with my project team for an hour or so. Trying to be conservative with time by keeping days on campus dedicated to academia can help balance the time divided between study and making money.

Which jobs work well with study?
I work part-time as a supervisor for a high street store whilst also finding time to write blogs as a Social Media Ambassador for the University of Exeter whenever I can. I have friends who work in hospitality, friends with jobs in bars, and friends with jobs in the cultural heritage sector who all manage to study an MA alongside their profession. The beauty of postgraduate study is the flexibility that comes with it. You are responsible for managing your time and making sure that you catch up with everyone that you work with. This means that every week can vary hugely, including the amount of time you put into each component of your life. Sometimes I find myself working on a module project for three full days straight. At other times I can take on some overtime at work and write an extra blog or two for spare cash. If your job can handle this kind of variation the choice to study part-time or full-time is totally yours.

How much of your time is spent on university timetabled activities?
One of my favourite things about studying an MA in Creativity: Innovation and Business Strategy is the time I can spend networking in social circles I would normally never be able to. I have had the privilege of conversing with experts in their field. Completing an MA is about taking on available opportunities and not just the compulsory content. In my case I enjoy participating in all available excursions and work placement opportunities. I spend additional time improving my CV and making new LinkedIn connections to improve my career prospects. Even taking the time to discuss business collaborations with a course mate over a drink at Wetherspoons is all part of preparing for my life beyond academia and beyond my course. Extra-curricular attendance needs to be embraced with a greater enthusiasm in further study. Considering this when deciding how to divide your time is hugely important to the level of success you strive for.

How much free time can I expect?
I thrive off a busy schedule which is why the opportunities that go alongside with studying at university suit me. However, I still find myself needing some time for TLC like anyone else. By managing my time and sticking to a schedule I usually manage to free up time in the evenings to spend with friends and family. There is always more work that could be done but studying at postgraduate level involves finding healthy ways to balance your time between doing some further reading and watching that new Netflix series everyone has been raving about. A measure of control, restraint, and organisation is vital for all students. This is taken up a notch with the flexibility of an MA. Studying part-time will always permit more freedom in terms of free time but you should still be finding yourself as busy as a full-time student if you are using that freedom wisely.

Do you ever feel left out of major projects as a part-time student?
My entire MA group are extremely supportive and work inclusively. We consistently aim to utilise each other’s diverse range of talents and skills. As a result, I have never felt excluded by my status as a part-timer. I have at times found myself excitedly anticipating a module I will be completing in the next academic year which my full-time course mates positively feedback on. If anything, I feel part-time study has given me the advantage of witnessing my course mates’ successes and progress which has aided in my gradual advancements. I also consider myself incredibly lucky in the fact that I will be a part of two academic cohorts of talented individuals with whom I can ideate and creative problem-solve. I have the capacity to bounce my business propositions off a wider variety of aspiring entrepreneurs which can only ever benefit my creative visions. I would imagine that completing a full-time course is much the same, but with a higher intensity work ethic and a greater need to rely on your current workmates.

Whatever your choice, time management is the key to adapting to your new lifestyle pace. Adopt as much as you possibly can into your new routine and relish all the potential that life at the University of Exeter has to offer its students.