As the start of your first (and second, third!) years at university quickly approach, it can be so easy to get completely swept up in all the practical preparations, to-do lists and general chaos of organising all your belongings into piles ‘to take’, ‘to charity shop’, or to put in the vague ‘undecided’ category that you convince yourself you’ll come back to later… It’s no surprise then that people often forget to take a moment to think about how to prepare themselves mentally for the transition from A Levels or gap years to the academic and social life of university. Here’s where I’ll do half the work for you by prompting you to think about some ways you can prepare before even arriving on campus and generally just make the most of your time studying for a degree.
Open That Mind
It’s a very cliché thing to say, but it really does help to show up with an open mind. You will be meeting and socialising with a whole host of different people who’ve come from across the UK and even abroad to study alongside you, so it is very likely you will encounter a variety of viewpoints, cultures, traditions, values and attitudes. The beauty of most courses is that they provide the perfect opportunity to healthily discuss (normally in seminars) how these shape people’s ways of approaching their studies and everyday life. If you struggle to take into account differing perspectives, you will probably only make the experience more miserable for yourself!
Are you F.A.T.? (Flexible, Adaptable, Teachable)
Being F.A.T. in all the right places is absolutely essential if you want to thrive during your time at university. Most people are aware that leaving home finally gives them the opportunity to be independent and ‘free’, and while this is all true, in order to maintain healthy social and academic lives, it’s good to be flexible with plans, ways of learning and doing things and being open to suggestions from others. You’ll be surprised at how many habits or methods for getting stuff done you have might not actually work in the same way anymore. And on a pretty basic level, you’re going to need to be fairly adaptable to a completely new way of living – unless you went to a boarding school, being around other students 24/7 is quite unusual!
It can be quite daunting to go from college where you were more or less aware of your relative academic abilities and progress, to starting your degree with a whole new group of students, each with completely varying levels of experience. Personally, I took Sociology and Spanish without previously having studied them at school and remembered feeling overwhelmed at the start because it seemed like everyone else had so much more background knowledge. After a while you realise everyone feels just as intimidated by each other! The lecturers are also fully aware of the fact everyone is starting from a different position, and in any case the focus at university is your own individual progress and the help available to focus on your specific work is widely available. Over time, you’ll also start to see what areas and modules intrigue you most and are your ‘strengths’ and begin to tailor your degree to reflect that.
With independence, comes great responsibility! University has so much to offer – be it societies, internships or jobs, research and academic opportunities, or other experiences – and yet none of them will be forced on you, so it’s really important that you are proactive about looking for them and signing up. You will get as much out of uni as you put into it. I suggest trying out different societies, signing up to receive job and internship emails, following the university’s socials or agreeing to email updates, and having the confidence in yourself to try new and perhaps slightly scary things!
This list is hardly exhaustive, but the aim is to encourage you to think a little bit about how mental preparations are just as important as practical ones and can help make the move a lot less stressful or overwhelming. The key thing to remember is that most people are going through the same emotions as you, and you’re all just trying to find your feet to start, so be gracious and patient!