Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Life Lessons: Advice of a Graduate (pt. 1)

A few weeks ago I wrote about how going to university was the best decision of my life so far. At the moment, term is nearly over for the Christmas break and students, from first to final year, have settled into their routines and are facing the first of their deadlines...and the dreaded January exams and assignments.

In my last post, I spoke about how, although I went to university for academic reasons, I learned far, far more than that. I came out of the other side a completely different person, having grown and discovered myself a little more. I had learnt many lessons, and not just through my seminars and lectures.

University is not just a place to educate yourself about your chosen subject for three or more years (which is exactly what happens - you learn to teach yourself). It's a place to try new things, meet people, fall in (or out of) love, go on adventures and work out what makes you tick. You are exposed to so many opportunities and people that anything is possible. The intensity of the time spend at university can mean that everything happens very quickly, and you grow more within a few years than you did as an awkward, uncertain adolescent.

Although at 24 I really do not feel grown up, I realise how much more of an adult I am now compared to my 18 year-old self when I moved into halls five years ago. At the time, I thought myself fairly mature, sensible and wise. Looking back, I now realise that I dealt with things very differently and saw life through very different eyes. Although I know all these changes can occur outside of further education,  from personal experience I am quite sure that I will never learn quite so much about life as I did within those four years at university.

So, as some of you reading this may be students, considering higher education, or perhaps feeling nostalgic about your own student life, I offer some of my own personal advice for your time as a student in two posts - here's part one.

1. Give it time

So many people I knew as a student felt that they should settle in and get stuck into alllll the activities as soon as they finished unpacking and personalising their new room. The pressure to throw yourself straight in can mean that, if things don't fall into place within a few days, some people may panic.

I was very lucky in that I got on with my flatmates in halls from the moment we brewed our first cuppa together - but my involvement in societies took a couple of years, as my confidence grew. In fact, I didn't join a society until my third and fourth years. My marks weren't at their best when I started either,  due to still thinking like a sixth-former (there's a big leap in terms of what's expected of you), and I wondered what was wrong with me - why was I taking so long to get involved and see progress when others found it so easy?

There's no right or wrong way to spend your years as a student. My advice would be to join societies when you are ready, make informed decisions, don't go wild on nights out if you don't want to, and if you'd rather stay in for a film-night then do it.  Even if you feel settled into independent life, some of the little things will take a little longer to fall into place until you feel you can be yourself and do what you want.

Everyone's different and so our university experiences will all differ greatly - what works for some may not for others. It's ok to try things out, otherwise you'll never learn about what you enjoy! But never feel forced to rush into anything, or do anything you don't want to do. I suppose that's a lesson for life, not just for uni. If you can't wait to get stuck in straight away...then great!

Most importantly, if you're struggling, sad, homesick or unhappy with your course and are thinking of leaving, you need to give it as much time as you can before you know for certain. Talk to coursemates, lecturers, counsellors, advisors, friends and housemates. Give it all a chance. Just put your happiness and safety first.

2. It's all about balance

I spent far too many nights in my first year staying up as late as possible for no good reason, even if I wasn't going out. Eventually this made me ill and grumpy, and my grades suffered. In second year, I nearly wept with joy when it became normal to go to bed at 11pm!

Looking after yourself is another thing to get used to, and the initial reaction to moving away from home is to do whatever you want, through just sheer excitement. Too many late nights, binge-drinking sessions and takeaways are just going to make you feel unwell and can have a huge effect on your productivity, relationships and health. Try to eat well on a budget, enjoy an early night every so often, stick to soft drinks when you want to and just take some time away from those books to relax and make yourself happy. Don't crash and burn, but don't forget to make memories - it's all about finding your perfect balance. Do what feels good for you.

3. Be yourself

At first, the focus is all on making friends, meeting people and finding common ground. This is great, but I found that after that initial rush, it was important to do what I wanted to. So, join that society you're interested in, even if you'd be going alone; go for a run, or indulge in your guilty pleasures. University is all about finding yourself, and not copying other people, whether that starts in your first or final year. Try new things, explore the area, start a blog, get involved in student politics. There's nothing worse than looking back on three years and saying to yourself 'That wasn't me.' or 'I wish I'd done that...'. Not doing something you're passionate about because it's not the status quo is what school was for - university is a time to break boundaries and push yourself out of your comfort zone a little!  It's ok to be a little selfish and focus on what you want. Go for it, work out who you are, and don't be afraid of the fact that you might change as a person, because you will; it's called growth.

4. Take advantage of what's around you

University is a unique place where everything is available to you. You want to be a television presenter? Join the Student Television team. You want to try out a new sport? Good  - there are hundreds to choose from. What about evenings? Well, there are nights out, theatre performances, debates, lectures, meetings...countless things to get involved with. After graduation, it's harder to get involved in such a variety of exciting projects and societies - so now is the time to take up Cantonese, life drawing or archery. The world's your oyster. Grab every opportunity that comes your way with both hands when you want it,  and who knows where it might lead you! I know so many people who have turned their student hobbies into careers. This is as important as your degree (but don't tell your lecturers that!).

5. Work isn't everything - switch off

My degree was the most important thing to me, and of course I worked as hard as I could. However, I found it difficult to switch off and enjoy the time off I would occasionally have, be it in the holiday breaks or in the evenings. The feeling that I needed to be working would hang over me like a heavy black cloud, sucking the fun out of everything. The guilt would be overpowering.

So my fifth piece of advice is to take time out. And I mean real time out. Separate it from your work; enjoy time with family and friends, and don't let assignments prey on your mind 24/7. It's hard, but it means you won't look back and remember everything you did in relation to what assignment you had going on at that stage (so, so depressing). 

If you're a student, or considering university in the future, I hope these five points are helpful. I'll be posting part two up soon.


  1. What a fantastic post, so informative and spot on.

    Really enjoyed reading

    X Emma |

    1. Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it :) x

  2. I can relate to so many of your tips! I am taking a year out for placement right now and have realised how far I've come in the two years since I moved to university! x

    NINEGRANDSTUDENT: A Student Lifestyle Blog

    1. Thanks! I think taking a year out is seriously valuable and I hope you've learned a lot :) It's amazing how much you can change!


  3. Love the 'Its all about balance' one, lately I've been discovering this myself and it is so good to read about it :)

    Melane | Pure Perspective