Why I’m Studying A History Degree

Term two of second year has gotten off to a great start. I’m so glad to be back in the buzz of university life, have a schedule of basketball practices and Exeposé meetings to structure my week around and get stuck back into my degree. I was thrilled with how well received my One Second Everyday video was when it was shared on Exeter’s official Facebook page; 276 likes, 37 shares and over 5,000 views and counting! Looking back on it has made me realise how much fun I had last term – and how important it is to make the most of daily things; the walk to campus on a beautiful day, or weekend pancakes with my housemates. I will definitely be keeping it up for 2016, and now that I know the ropes of making a good compilation hopefully this one will be better than ever!

HistoryToday though, I thought I’d make a post on a more academic vein than I usually prefer to opt for. There’s no doubt that university life involves so much more than the degree, but it’s also important to appreciate we’re only here because of our degree. The UCAS applications and A levels weren’t for the purpose of having fun at societies and learning the pros and cons of independent living; ultimately we’re here to study our chosen discipline. Through the pain of 8:30 lectures and the stress of deadlines however, sometimes I find it’s easy to lose sight of why I chose History, so in this post I thought I’d look back and consolidate some of the reasons why, despite how much I resent it some days, I chose History – and why I have no regrets about doing so.

  • I had a wonderful History teacher. I feel no shame in the slightest in saying that my fabulous A level teacher at school was a huge influence in me deciding to pursue history. Impossibly clever, terrifyingly witty and generally very entertaining, she would conduct whole lessons on the ins and outs of the French Revolution without referring to any notes or plans. She’d done an undergrad and then a PhD (with her thesis being on Medieval gambling and horse racing) and there’s no doubt a little piece of me wanted to be like her; knowledgeable about seemingly everything, and able to win the respect of all who met her. I was far from the only one – of the students who took A Level history I reckon at least 4/5 went on to do a History degree, and will largely in debt their decision to her.
  • History is essentially stories. As a child, I loved having my story book read to me each night. The reason I learnt to properly read at all was because 7 year old me thought we were progressing too slowly through Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, so I started to read ahead. At school I loved English for the same reason, but the more I studied history the more I realised it offers the most fundamental stories of humanity. Since the beginning we have been telling tales of our ancestors, and the myths surrounding them, and to look back at history now – at not only the ‘truth’ of the past but also how people remember it or have told it since then, is to keep up this ancient tradition.
  • The past teaches us about the future. To quote George Santayana on a gobbit that I’m fairly sure appeared in 80% of all History personal statements: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It might be cliché, but it’s true. People who say history isn’t relevant to the modern day infuriate me, as no matter whatever political decision or social crisis we’re facing we’ve probably already dealt with a comparable situation in the past. I remember learning about the Wall Street Crash at the time of the 2008 recession and our teacher pointing out all the similarities in the situation. Looking back at how humanity has acted in the past (and the benefits and flaws of those methods) are key to being informed on taking such decisions in the present and future. Remembering this is an important one for me, as sometimes I worry that there’s ‘no point’ to my degree. The very reason I didn’t choose English (not to down on the subject) was because I thought I’d probably end up having a post-modernist existential crisis several times a week – History has thankfully saved me from these!
  • It’s insanely interesting. Out of our house, I’m pretty sure I could bank on being the one to get away with talking about what I’m studying at the moment without boring my housemates to tears. Unlike Economics, English or Physics, you can guarantee there will be a part of history people will find interesting. History is everywhere you look, on every holiday you go on, in every town you visit. There are certainly less interesting aspects, but as a subject I find that from Charlemagne to Hiroshima most of the time I get drawn into my assigned reading through sheer natural interest.
  • There’s so much to study; and you get to choose. This leads on from my previous point; no matter what you find interesting there’s definitely some way you can adapt your degree in order to study exactly that. Compulsory modules in first year provide a grounding knowledge, but from second year onwards the options when choosing specialist modules are huge; last term my friend studied William of Orange and the Stuarts, and this term she’s learning African-American History, from the Slave Trade to Obama.
  • It incorporates lots of other disciplines. I’m sure there are those who would argue this is true for a lot of subjects, but to give an example; first year essay questions ranged from analysing the impact of famine (Science), assessing religious fundamentalism in the modern day (International Relations and Theology) and looking at economic factors for European expansion (Economics).  Whatever your strengths or interests, History caters for those and you can head down the path which best suits you. In some ways I feel I’ve learnt more about religion, science and literature than I ever would have if I’d done a subject specific degree. No matter the discipline, the history of said subject is covered at some point.
  • You learn important transferable skills. Here it comes; the inevitably ‘career utility’ justifications. But again, it’s true – a History degree is far more than just learning about history. It equips you with highly regarded transferable skills that will be valued in almost every workplace. As listed on the Careers section on Exeter’s website, a History degree will teach you:

o   Communication skills, both written and oral
o   Critical reasoning and analytical skills, including problem solving and creative            thinking
o   Research skills such as disseminating and collating information
o   Construct persuasive arguments and question assumptions by selecting and            ordering relevant evidence
o   Work in groups, accommodating different ideas and reaching agreements
o   Think objectively and approach problems with an open mind

(These might sound generic but that’s sort of the point – History degrees teach important and flexible skills you can apply everywhere.)

  • It’s a valuable degree. From Salaman Rushdie and Jonathan Ross to Sacha Baron Cohen and Gordon Brown – History graduates have gone on to do all manner of things. But whether you’re interested in media, politics, journalism, MI5 or education, a good degree in History is certainly going to put you in a great position. It’s appreciated that History is academically challenging but also provides the transferable skills already mentioned and a strong cultural understanding for the world we live in.

(If anyone reading this is thinking about choosing to study a History degree at Exeter and has any questions, feel free to email me at tb397@exeter.ac.uk)

A Level Results Day: One Year On

A level results day is fast approaching; there are university guides and advice on Clearing appearing in the papers, some of your more confident friends might be preemptively joining Freshers’ groups on Facebook and there’s that slight anxiety in the air when asking any recent leaver where exactly they’re going in September. (I was always overly deliberate when answering that one, “Well hopefully I’ll be going to Exeter, but it could all change!!” – just in case anyone got the wrong idea and started assuming things.)

For the millions out there with conditional offers for places at university, that awkwardly placed day in August (following an entire summer of deliberately not thinking about the whole thing) can feel like a life-defining moment, a major turning point in your academic career. The exams are over, the coursework is in, the UCAS form long since submitted; at this final hurdle it’s as simple as a yes or no answer, in or out, and there’s not a lot you can do about it either way.

My experience of A level results day was an overwhelming one, just as I imagine it is for most people. I can vividly remember the low-grade nerves that built up in the week before, which manifested themselves in carefully constructing plans B, C and D if my grades weren’t enough for my History offer. Up until the night before I was trying to distract myself by making notes on how exactly to go about navigating the Clearing website, and writing down numbers for people to contact in Exeter if needs be. Even the best friend, famously chilled about academic drama, later admitted she had to go for a late night stroll to try and walk off some of the tension. We’d already been warned (read: lectured on multiple times by teachers and received numerous emails about) that UCAS would absolutely not be accessible at midnight, and that we might as well sleep through. Needless to say, it was not a great night’s sleep. More like Christmas Eve as a kid again, but without the guarantee of any presents in the morning.

When morning did come it was at the leisurely hour of 8am, just as I was getting ready to head to school to collect my results, that an email and a text arrived from Exeter confirming my offer. That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the day – I was absolutely thrilled and intensely relieved that the hard work had paid off, and that plans B, C and D would not be needed. I didn’t quite cry, but my Dad certainly did – loudly and shamelessly down the phone from work. Arriving in the school car park I met the best friend (whose place had been confirmed at Manchester) with a hug so violent I think we gave each other mild concussion. The sixth form centre was a sea of emotion, crying, both happy and sad, from teachers and students, and a whole lot more hugging.

I can’t really remember the rest of the day, but I know it passed in a never-ending series of congratulations and condolences, of yelling at classmates across the street in town and sending friends cautious texts along the lines of “is everything alright?” in an effort to be as tactful as possible in case of the worst. I quickly realised as happy as I was to be set up with my first choice of university, I was also very lucky to be in that position. Close friends I’d been through the whole 7 years of secondary education with had just missed out on offers and were second-guessing insurance options, and some had missed out completely. Painfully, one friend who’d been in the coveted position of getting an offer for medicine just missed out on her grades, while those aspiring medics who had received 5 rejections were delighted with multiple A*s that pretty much assured them an offer in the coming September. It was a long and emotionally-charged day, and as much as I tried to tone it down for those for whom things hadn’t gone as well – I literally spent the next 3 weeks on cloud nine. A friend several years into uni told me somewhat cynically “this is a great time, enjoy it while it lasts before the real work starts” and I definitely did.

There was no room for feeling worried about leaving home and moving 200 miles away in and around the dorky happiness and sense of pride I felt about now being officially a ‘university student’. In the coming weeks by day I raided Wilkos for bathroom bins and bedside lights (I could write odes to what a fabulous student shop Wilkos is) and Tescos for an all-inclusive crockery set; by night I was buying tickets for Freshers’ events (with mixed results – see my first post on advice to Freshers) and shamelessly stalking the Facebook profiles of people in my halls. As my older and wiser friend advised, it really was a great time – and for those of you whose place in September is a sure thing, enjoy it. Make the most of seeing friends before you all go your separate ways up and down the country, feel proud of yourself that you’ve made it past the final hoop-jump of our education system and if you’re feeling über keen, maybe have a look at reading lists or advisory prep material so it’s not too much of shock come your first lecture (she says, despite that being something I certainly didn’t do.)

For anyone already feeling anxious about making friends and being homesick, it’s best to embrace the fact you’ll inevitably encounter those issues at uni at some point. What’s important to remember is that time-old cliché that every other first year is in exactly the same boat. Everyone wants to make friends as soon as possible, and everyone will have a night or two where they wish they could be back home – though most will do their damnedest to try and hide it. I’ll admit to being guilty on this front; to any of the friends I wasn’t in regular contact with, my Facebook/Instagram/Twitter probably gave off the impression I was enjoying a seamless transition from school to the ‘#studentlife’ experience. The reality of course, was far from it. I don’t think it would be too much of an assumption to say that nobody’s transition is ‘seamless.’ Be wary of social media in that respect, particularly when it comes to starting university; everyone wants to project the freshers year they want other people to think they’re having, not the one they’re necessarily experiencing.

May your results day be worthy of a cheesy photo op

May your results day be worthy of a cheesy photo op

To come back to the subject of this post however, while it’d be nice to wish you all an A level results day worthy of the cheesy High School Muscial-esque jumping photoshoots that appear on the front of The Times the following day, I know that realistically that won’t be the case for everyone. While I can’t speak from experience and am therefore probably not best placed to be giving advice, I can say that from following others’ experiences I do know that as awful as it can be not getting the offer you dreamed of and the results you wanted, in the end, it really does all work out. Promise. Friends who went on unexpected gap years have truly had amazingly enviable times, and for some it has completely changed their life plans – who wants to do a business degree at Leeds when you can be a fully-qualified ski instructor in Austria? Likewise, for those who really did want to do the uni thing, they re-applied in September and are no worse off for it. On a sidenote, everyone will tell you (and I’m happy to join that number) that age isn’t a thing at university, and it really isn’t. No-one asks how old you are. People might assume, but if your birthday comes around and it’s an iced 20 on your dodgy student-kitchen made cake as opposed to a 19, no one thinks any differently of you for it.

And with that, there’s nothing left for me to say other than good luck (as redundant as luck might be at this point!) I’ve got my fingers crossed for you all x

Inspirational Quotes: The First Year Edition

Surreally enough, the day I officially left first year accommodation for good coincided with a university Open Day. While surrounded by lost looking Sixth Formers clutching Open Day guides and wandering around with their parents, I was busy hauling never-ending boxes of books and kitchen supplies out to the car. As hundreds of potential new students descended on campus with their lists of questions and maps to subject talks, I was saying goodbye to my friends as quickly as possible so I couldn’t get too emotional about it all. I’ve never been very good at long goodbyes, but as everyone keeps reminding me – we’ll back before we know it.

Despite looking forward to seeing family and friends and having a few months of reading for leisure (which feels like a foreign concept it’s been so long), it’s comforting to know it won’t be too long before I’m back in Exeter again.

Now, I’ve already done several reflective posts on first year (I’m a sentimental sap, to be honest you’re lucky I haven’t written more) but this really is my final one. Looking back on it all, first year has not been what I expected. I hadn’t anticipated the challenges I ended up having to deal with, which were unexpectedly more on a mental level than an academic one, and at the same time I hadn’t imagined I’d meet the people I have, and that I’d spend my 19th birthday on the beach at sunset.

I think it’s important to realise that though lots of people hype up university to be the time of your life, that light at the end of the tunnel after years of GCSEs and A levels, we should remember that the ‘grass is always greener’ mentality just isn’t the way things work. Because while in the beautiful city and campus of Exeter the grass certainly is very green, it is also reality. University life has its pros and its cons just like secondary school did, but I’ve found them to be exacerbated. The good days at uni have been amazing; the bad days terrible.

This is not to say everyone’s experience will be the same as mine (if I’ve learnt nothing else other than facts about Charlemagne and the Great Irish famine, it’s that no one ever experiences things the same way) but that’s what this blog was for I guess, to give my personal take on things. I hope anyone who has skimmed a couple of my posts have found it to be what I initially intended – light-hearted, advisory and honest.

At the risk of coming across as horribly pretentious, I am going to share a few quotes that I’ve found to be particularly relevant and inspirational this past year to round this off. I have a lot of quotes I’m fond of, but these are the ones that make it to the cork board, and while I think they’re good advice for life at university I’ll probably try and remember them in the long run too.

    • “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana

QuoteMost history students will be familiar with this one, as I’d wager it’s probably the most popular personal statement quote for historians out there. Despite it’s ‘cliché ness’ however (she says, writing a blog post on inspirational quotes), in the midst of inevitable course doubts and post-modernist induced crises of “but what is the point of the past?!” it can be useful to be reminded why I’m studying my degree. For me, the idea that our best guide to the future of humanity is to look to our past is what makes history such a relevant, fascinating and enlightening subject. Outside of academia however, it’s also relevant advice for other aspects of life – learn from your mistakes to make sure they don’t happen again. (*Cough* no matter how drunk you are, be sure to fall asleep somewhere you’ll be happy to wake up.)

  • “Today was the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.’” – Dale Carneige

If you are the type to lie in bed at night, worrying and over-thinking the things you’ve got to do in the day to come fear not – you are in good company on this blog. I only found this quote recently, but it really resonated with me. Too often I will stress and over-analyse the next day, the to do’s to be conquered, the tight time schedule to get through, and yet when the day is over, usually without event or incident, I move straight onto the next one. The reality is, however much I might build up a day with this presentation to deliver, or this book to get back by 11am unless I feel like facing a fine, nine and half times out of ten, everything turns out fine.

  • The only person you should try to be better than, is the person you were yesterday.”– Anon

There are various iterations of this on the internet and no obvious source, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. The constant desire to compare and compete with others is one that I’d imagine most people encounter through their education, but while it can motivate you to work harder and improve, I’ve found it can also be very draining and counter-productive. Sure, knowing you’ve done better than your neighbour can be a bit of a confidence boost, but at the same time knowing you’ve done worse is a horrible feeling, and in reality neither scenario will change the fact you’ve got the grade you’ve been given. This past year I’ve been trying to remove myself from the temptation of comparing with others and just trying to focus on my own progress in a well-intended self-centred sort of way. Again, it works outside of academia as well; we all say or do things we regret or wish we could do differently, but when all is said and done, the best way to combat that regret is to try and do things better in the future.

  • “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain

Oh the woes of procrastination. Forget 4am fire drills and 9am Monday morning lectures – the real enemy of first year has been how much time I’ve spent putting off what I should have been getting round to. There are those who seem impossibly sorted and organised, but really they just got going before you did. There is no secret formula, no cheat sheet, no short-cut at degree level, just the cold reality that if you want to avoid the hideousness of an all-nighter in the library you’ve just got to get started. To reference another quote; “It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop” (Confucius).

  • “The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive.” – JK Rowling

As perhaps the most famous University of Exeter alumni, it only felt fitting JK made this list, and this happens to be one of my favourite quotes of all time. Rowling was referring to her own struggle as single mother on the poverty line in this, but it can apply to a lot. Knowing that at one point I was seriously considering dropping out but made it through that phase is a comfort to me now. Times can be hard, but getting through them is only strengthening your resolve to face similar challenges in the future.

JKR(If you have 20 minutes to spare and are a fellow fan of All Things Inspirational, I highly, highly recommend JK Rowling’s Harvard Commencement Speech where this quote is taken from; if nothing else watch it for the gay wizard joke. The speech was so well received it’s also been recently released as a book ‘Very Good Lives’ which pretty much permanently lives on my bedside table.)

  • “You can’t control the outer circumstances of your life, but you can control how you react to them.”- Anon

A good friend of mine recommended this to me, and I think it captures pretty much everything the rest of these quotes are trying to say. Life happens and goes on regardless of the impact it might have on us as individuals, and all we can do is try and keep a level head and deal with everything that comes our way. Found yourself in a flat of party-hard folk as an introvert? Join societies or look elsewhere to find like-minded people. Got a third on that last essay? Learn from the criticisms, maybe ask your tutor, and change your technique for next time. There’s a line of thinking which says ‘the only thing stopping you is you’ and while this is easier said than done, I think for a lot of things it’s the truth.

I’ll definitely take up this blog again for second year, but until then I hope people have a great holiday and a relatively stress-free results day! See you in September! 🙂 x

The One Where First Year Is Nearly Over

It’s the weekend before we break up for Easter, and the fact that technically that means we only have one week left of teaching for first year is finally sinking in.

It feels like I’ve been here an age, like I’ve always complained about trekking up Forum hill, like I’ve always had lunches that consist of bizarre combinations of items at the back of my fridge shelf, like I’ve always been friends with the awesome group of people I hang around with in the evenings – but the reality of it is is that we’ve only been here 7 months. 7 months of living pretty much independently and having to build new relationships; 7 months of adapting to a new timetable of working hours, a new level of academic expectation; 7 months of finding my feet 200 miles away from home.

Students soaking up the sun on campus

Students soaking up the sun on campus

We might still have summer term to come with weeks of no-doubt glorious weather and torturous indoor revision, but in many ways first year is nearly over and that’s just a little terrifying. Terrifying, but also pretty awesome – because we’ve nearly made it through and out the other side of the baptism of fire that is your first year at university. I’m feeling pretty reflective about the whole experience thus far at the minute, but I think there will be time for a proper review post at the official end of the year. At the moment, there’s still plenty going on in the here and now to keep me occupied.

Things have definitely been getting hectic in the past few weeks. The deadlines for the end of term are amping up and I know I’m not the only one in saying I’ve got two huge essays in for next week that I’m not quite as far along with as I’d like. As a result, there’s been a lot of mutual daydreaming about the imminent holidays going around, but I know that after a month away I’ll be glad to be back in Devon and at Exeter – exams or not.

Watching the solar eclipse

Watching the solar eclipse

Despite the extra pressure recently though, there’s also been plenty of good stuff going on too. First year historians submitted our choices for second year modules this week (whether I’ll get my first choices or not is another question entirely), and in choosing a French language module I’ve been reminded that in just over 12 months I’ll be heading off on my study abroad year. We’ve also been blessed with some pretty gorgeous weather; Friday was the technically the first day of spring (with the added excitement of the first solar eclipse since 1999) but you wouldn’t have guessed it. For the past two weeks students have been lounging about in the sun on picnic blankets all over campus, or else playing football outside accommodation blocks. There is a slightly ‘prospectus photo shoot’ feel to it all, except that it’s genuine – and I can’t help but feel this is Exeter at it’s best.

Exmouth beach

Exmouth beach

The other weekend saw a Saturday so sunny that it warranted another spontaneous trip to Exmouth, along with at least a quarter of the student population. The beach was packed with kite surfers, families and students, and sitting on the sand with a Tesco meal deal, my Feel Good playlist playing through mini-speakers, and some great company – I felt about as happy as I think I’ve been in a long while. Even the 12 hour essay writing stint I had to pull the next day for slacking off couldn’t put a damper on my mood.

It’s tempting sometimes to get caught up in the workload and grade aspirations, but I think it’s also so important to take aside those days to appreciate just where you are, and how great it is to be there.

The Big Taboo: Thoughts on Dropping Out

In my introductory post about the sort of content this blog would feature, I may have promised ‘light-hearted’ but I also promised ‘honest’. Hence the nature of this post.

‘Dropping out’ is traditionally a pretty scary idea, and in many ways has become something of a taboo topic. When applying to university, I was often told to look at the drop out rates when gaging the best institutions. The theory was, the higher the drop out rates, the worse the general student experience, the ‘lesser’ the university. At the time that made perfect sense to me, but now the idea of  ‘drop outs’ defining a university is far from clear-cut.

If I’m being honest, dropping out crossed my mind more than a couple of times during first term. This wasn’t necessary Exeter’s fault, rather how I imagine most students feel at some point or another. There were days when I felt isolated, homesick and unsure about my course; days when the deadlines and reading lists seemed never-ending; days when I took a step back in a mini-existential-crisis sort of fashion and thought to myself “is 4 more years of education really what I want?” University is built up to be this huge, life-affirming, amazing experience, but in the cold light of day, sometimes it just doesn’t work out like that.

People’s reasons for dropping out can vary hugely, and I for one have had two close friends make the decision that Exeter, at this particular time, just isn’t for them. In many ways, their courage and decisiveness was in part what inspired this post – I respect them both hugely for their decisions, and wanted to make sure their stories were heard in the hope of dispelling any myths surrounding why people drop out. They were kind enough to share their thoughts on the process with me:

1.  What were your reasons for dropping out?

J: “My reason for dropping out was simply that I really didn’t feel the course was right for me and I wanted to choose something that would suit me more. I tried to switch courses at Exeter, but I was too late as all the places in other courses had filled up at this point (after the October reading week). In the end I had to take the other option and drop out with the intention to reapply on a different course for next year.”

B: “I was really struggling with stress and anxiety from the workload and frankly it was making me very depressed a lot of the time…at first I tried to just push through it but gradually it got worse, to the point where I had no real motivation and was just stumbling through each day. All this just had me asking myself the question, “What am I trying to achieve with this?” and suddenly it seemed obvious that University was not something I had to do – I had always asserted that I did not want an office job and had often pictured myself in a more vocational career, plus I knew I wanted to start travelling again soon. When I properly started to research other options, such as vocational apprenticeships, I started to feel hopeful about the future once more and as soon as I made the decision to leave, I felt like my old, happy and confident self again, which is something I had not felt in months.”

2. How did you find the ‘dropping out’ process?

J: “I felt the process logistically through the University went smoothly and there were lots of people to advise me on what to do and they were supportive of the fact I was certain that the course wasn’t for me and I would be happier on a different course. Emotionally I felt fine about the process, my parents were supportive too and I just knew it was the right decision. However reapplying for university on UCAS was very daunting.”

B: “The process was not too bad logistically – there was a fair bit of going to see various people, such as senior tutors and people in the administration offices, but they were all quite friendly and the Guild advice unit were really helpful on the nuts and bolts of student finance and the like.  Emotionally it was a bit of whirlwind…I think about 75% of the time I was confident that I was doing the ‘right thing’ but there were definitely times where I thought, “Holy crap, what am I doing?”. Talking to people definitely helped though – I also think being open about the whole thing prevented any irrational feelings of embarrassment or shame over dropping out.”

3. Looking back, do you still feel your decision was the right one?

J: “I definitely still feel my decision was the right one. Even though I do miss University, I knew I wouldn’t have been happy continuing on with the course I was on for the next three years of my life.”

B: “Yes. Whenever I feel uncertain I look back at diary entries from the last few months or think about how much time I spent crying down the phone to my Mum and then look at how much happier I am now. That’s not to say I don’t have uncertain moments or even moments when I miss my course, but when it comes to rationally weighing up how much happier I am it seems like it was clearly for the best. I also do not think though that coming to University in the first place was the wrong decision either as I have had a really valuable experience – I’ve met new people, tried new things and apart from anything else I have found out what it’s like. But I don’t think it would have been worth me pushing through the next three years in the state I was in when there is so much else I would like to do with my life.”

4. How do you feel about the future now?

J: “Even though taking a gap year isn’t what I thought I was going to do, I’m still going to get a degree so I don’t feel too differently about the future.”

B: “Nervous but optimistic. I have just found my first full-time job and I have big plans for the next few years, although I am still figuring out the details. So yes, I am looking forward to the future and more importantly, I’m enjoying right now.”


With these two testimonies in mind and from talking to others, I’d like to offer up three key things I think affect people’s decision when it comes to dropping out.

1)   Course – is it the right thing for you?

In a lot of cases, course is a big influencing factor in people’s decisions to drop out. You can have loved your subject through GCSE and A level, but at degree it’s a whole new ball game. If you realise you chose wrong early on, there is some flexibility to change, but usually before reading week. If not, there’s absolutely no shame in admitting it isn’t right, and taking the decision to drop out. Better that than face around £30,000 worth of debt for 3 years of misery.

2)   Support – if you’re struggling with adjusting to university do you have the support, emotionally and practically, that you need?

I imagine some people sail through university without ever dropping their Personal Tutor an email or visiting the Student Health Centre. I also imagine that they’re probably the minority. Support is there, just not always immediately obvious. When I first asked about support, I was genuinely amazed at how much there was – everything from deadline extensions to taking extended leave and returning in the new year.

3)   The Bigger Picture – is university just not for you?

It can be hard sometimes to think against the grain, but the reality is that the university environment is not for everyone. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. If the course isn’t the issue and you’ve sought out support but it still just isn’t working, university just might not be your thing.

Whatever the motivating factor, I’m a firm believer that dropping out of university isn’t nearly so shameful or embarrassing as it seems to have gained the reputation of being. I think the experiences of my friends are both important examples to bear in mind; although some might hype up the idea of dropping out of university to be ‘the be all and end all’, sometimes it’s just the right decision.

Music to get you through the week

I have a pretty eclectic music collection on my iPod and I am not ashamed to admit I’m quite proud of it. Music is an amazingly powerful thing in my opinion, and in the day-to-day drudgery that students can find themselves in by midterm, it can do wonders to pick up your mood, ease deadline stress or even, wonders of wonders, stoke some motivation.

Monday

9am morning lecture: ‘Highway to Hell’ by AC/DC

Unusual choice you might think, but with an opening instrumental like this you can’t help but a) be very, very awake and b) feel pretty badass; the only way to start the week. Also, the lyrics are pretty accurate, especially for those poor souls who face the long slog up Cardiac.

Tuesday

Post 6pm lecture: ‘Shake it Off’ by Taylor Swift

Tuesday is a long day. A gruelling timetable of lectures and seminars, combined with the fact that I’m already exhausted from Monday and the weekend is still in the depressingly distant future. Tuning my radio to Capital and it’s shameless top 40 replays is my usual mood booster; Taylor hatin’ right back at the haters is pretty catchy and the lyrics again are very on point too:  ‘I stay up too late/Sick of deadlines al-read-ay/Feel I need a break mmm-mmm’ etc.

Wednesday

Hard-core slog at the library: ‘I Giorni’ by Ludovico Einaudi and ‘Gymnopédie No. 1’ by Erik Satie

Wednesday is my supposed ‘day off’, but tragically thus far it has ended up being the ‘let’s-catch-up-on-all-the-work-you-left-till-your-free-day’ day. So it’s up to the library by 9am, rucksack packed with all the necessary supplies for a day-long stint: packed lunch, purse for Market Place additions to said-packed lunch, several KitKat chunkies, a loo roll for the eternal Freshers’ Flu sniffles and of course, the vital laptop charger.

Classical music might sound a tad pretentious, but I’m a big fan of modern piano, and it’s the only sort of background noise I can have when trying to churn out essays. I read somewhere once that listening to music with words used up to 37% of your brainpower that could be utilised on studying, whereas lyric-less classic music was considerable less. (I would source this but for the life of me I can’t remember where I read it #humanitiesstudentprobs)

Thursday

Evening cooking in: ‘Little Bitty Pretty One’ by Thurston Harris

It’s nearly the weekend, so things are looking up. I’m also usually running low on supplies leftover from the weekend shop though, so it’s time to get creative and do some actual cooking. The soundtrack from the famous Matilda pancake scene is the only music to mess around in the kitchen to; ‘Little Bitty Pretty One’ is one of those songs that everyone knows the tune to and can hum and dance along, but no-one ever remembers the title or artist. So, now you know. You’re welcome.

Friday

Flat party playlist: ‘Prayer in C (Robin Schulz remix)’ by Lilly Wood & The Prick

Don’t fancy a night out? Re-create the club scene but without the smelly strangers and trek through the freezing November rain in your own kitchen with some decent speakers and a playlist of the latest club tracks. I am a huge fan of these and spend far too much on iTunes keeping my collection up-to-date; this is my latest favourite but there are so many others that are perfect for that Friday night feeling.

Saturday

Morning run: ‘Not Giving In’ by Rudimental

A decent running playlist is the only thing I look forward to in my weekly flirtation with actual exercise. Rudimental have some great tracks, but this is one of the best in my opinion. Hugely motivational and a great way to start a productive weekend in which there is absolutely no last-minute cramming on Sunday night. At all. Ever.

Sunday

Evening room tidy: ‘9 to 5’ by Sheena Easton

My room has usually reached apocalyptic levels of untidiness by Sunday night, and so I usually try and do something about it before the new week. Tidying is a pretty dull and solitary activity though, so Sheena Easton 9 to 5 of the internet sensation ‘dancing roommate’ makes it a lot more entertaining. Cheesy, feel good sing-a-long songs help to ease those depressing Sunday evening blues too.