Sophie Hodson is a second year Bsc Biochemistry student based at the Streatham Campus. We asked her to reflect on her first year, the ups and downs of starting at university, and to share some advice for new students with Autistic Spectrum Conditions.
“You already worked hard enough to get here, so there’s no doubt that you deserve to be here.”
Hello! Well done for getting into university – it’s no easy feat! I’ve just finished my first year and it was overall an amazing experience but undoubtedly difficult at times. You don’t need to worry too much; I found I learned pretty much everything I needed to know along the way. However it is helpful to be prepared and have a plan in place for when you start, so here’s my advice:
Firstly, everyone is as nervous as you are about making friends. Most people come to university not knowing anyone. You’ll meet so many people at the start of the year and most of the time you’ll have short conversations and not make lasting friendships (which is fine). You might not make great friends in Fresher’s Week so don’t feel pressured to do so – you might meet people you really like and connect with at society events or during your course.
The typical conversations at the start of the year go something like this:
What’s your name?
Where are you from?
What are you studying?
What halls are you in?
Speaking of Fresher’s Week, it’s not as amazing as I thought it would be. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t enjoy the first week!
Secondly, don’t feel pressured to drink alcohol if you don’t want to. I hardly drink at all and socials and society events should have a non-drinking option so don’t be put off going to socials for that reason (they’re really fun).
I’d recommend going for the first time to pubs /clubs with a second or third year student, or with a whole society just because they’ll probably know the atmosphere of the venues, like how noisy they get.
“You don’t need to worry too much; I found I learned pretty much everything I needed to know along the way.”
This is the reason why you’re at university, after all. I found that studying for a degree was very different from studying for A Levels – students here are generally a lot more relaxed about it (until the week before exams) and timetables are a lot less busy than at school. How (lectures, seminars, practical lab sessions) and what (textbooks, literature, lecture notes) you study depends on the degree you do – you’ll be told the specifics at the start of your course. Personally, here are the things I found hard about studying in my first year:
The part I probably found the most challenging was the reduced hours of contact between students and staff. Meaning I was used to walking into my teacher’s offices every day at college to ask for help with work, and I never failed to ask loads of questions in lessons. I was used to being able to talk to my teachers at college like friends.
Going from that to being talked to from the front of a very big lecture theatre, with hundreds of other students, by someone who didn’t know me by name just felt so impersonal and alien to me. Even my academic tutor (who did help me out a lot in the first term) was so busy with research and teaching other modules that I had to make an appointment one week in advance to talk to him for 15 minutes.
I also struggled with knowing what was expected of me, as in whether I was doing enough revision of lecture material, reading of textbooks or writing enough in my coursework. If I was stuck on something I’d email my lecturers or ask them quickly at the end of a lecture but it just wasn’t the same as before.
I’m still learning how to understand what’s expected of me, and I expect the second year won’t feel as much as a step up because I’ll know better how to handle things. Some things that I found helped this year are:
- Talking to my academic tutor – he taught one of the modules I took in first term so he knew the lecture content inside out and could tell me exactly what I needed to revise
- Talking to my mentors (from AccessAbility and Wellbeing) about what to revise and when
- Trying to answer the intended learning outcomes for each section of the module – if I can answer those myself then I’ll know how to answer any exam question!
Getting to know how everything works and looking after yourself can be difficult, but just know that you won’t be the only one to feel that way. Talking to other people on my course helped me – it turned out that often they found the same assignments challenging and the same lecture content confusing as I did.
There are loads of people you can talk to, such as anyone from AccessAbility, if you ever get really stressed. But you already worked hard enough to get here, so there’s no doubt that you deserve to be here.
Other things that I can recommend are:
- Quizlet! My mentor introduced me to it and no word of a lie it has changed my life, it’s a free app and website where you make flashcards. It helped me so much because I could make them about the lecture content and test myself on it rather than just passively reading it.
- If you want somewhere to study that’s not your room I can’t recommend highly enough the Old Library because I’ve walked around the main library in the forum many a time trying to find seats when I should have gone straight to the Old Library!
- Writing out your deadlines well in advance (like in the first few weeks of term) was really helpful for me because the deadlines didn’t creep up on me.
One of the most important things I did before starting university was arranging my disabled student’s allowance from Student Finance so that I was set up with 2 mentors almost as soon as teaching started. Mentoring sessions are directed by you so you decide what to talk about, I like to discuss timetabling and time management mostly.
I also found the mindfulness course run by the Wellbeing centre really helpful, it’s not that big of a commitment and it really helped me to not worry about the future so much by just focusing on right now.
Finally, don’t put too much pressure on yourself to study all the time because university is about more than studying. It took me a long while to find a balance between studying and doing other things like going to socials or meeting up with people, so don’t worry if it takes you a while to sort out a routine because it is a big change. Just remember that you’re not the only one in this situation and that it is hard, but if it isn’t hard it’s not worth doing, right?