How I Got Through My First Year at University

Every student has their own reason for going to university.

At 26, I was certainly older than the rest and at first, I really felt it. My reason for choosing to study stems from a dwindling initial career choice. I was a travel agent for 6 years and worked on and off in the industry for a further 2 years, however, the wonderfulness of the internet was starting to take over and I just didn’t enjoy my job any more. I felt that every sale was a battle and in the end, the customer was not getting the best deal and I wasn’t earning enough money.
On my days off of work, I tended to sit on my sofa with numerous cups of tea, watching the likes of Dr. Spencer Reid and the BAU (my favourite: Criminal Minds). I would rather watch Crimewatch than Corrie, a gory murder case file programme over Lorraine. So that was it, after being made redundant in 2013 and working bitty jobs, I made a life changing decision and applied to university.

In March 2014, I received my acceptance letter and was due to begin my new journey in September 2014 at Anglia Ruskin University – Cambridge on the Crime and Investigative Studies Course (BSc).

My first year was full of high and lows.

The first day, happened to be Freshers. At 26, I was nervous. I didn’t really feel like partying like the young ones! So my first day was quite lonely and awkward. I went in, got my pass, went to a couple of talks and left. The rest of the week was mainly for partying, so actually, I didn’t go. In hindsight, I should have gone on at least one bar crawl! However, as lectures started it got much easier.

I have broken down areas of studying below, my advice and experiences…

Services
Most universities are likely to have services in relation to getting academic help. Stepping up a level from college/sixth form will be daunting at first. It was for me, especially as I did my A-Levels nearly 10 years earlier. My university have a service called Study Skills Plus. This service in my first semester was actually amazing. You can book in for group drop-in sessions for many different areas such as organisation, referencing, academic writing, note taking, ICT and much more. Often many people didn’t turn up and I ended up with one-to-one tuition. Services like these are there to be used and seriously, if you need to use them, do. Make the most out of it, maximise your potential.
Other services on hand are study support (great if you have any form of learning disability), student services, help with managing your money, counselling and wellbeing and childcare services.

Lectures
Very important! It’s easy to get lazy and not go but trust me, if you don’t go, you don’t learn. I didn’t go to university to doss and get crappy grades. It costs a lot of money now to study, make the most of it! One of my lovely new uni friends sent me a message at the end of the last semester, which at first I was thinking….why?! Why would send me that…but it puts things into perspective. She simply told me that each lecture worked out to be worth around £75 average. Crazy.
It took a few weeks to get used to lectures and note taking, everyone learns differently. At first I tried recording them, but to me, that was a waste of time. I was recording and then listening to 2 hours and then taking notes, which is longwinded. So I switched to note books. I bought a set of three note books from Paperchase (one for each module) for £5.00 which I found worked best for me.
*Always do the required reading before lectures…not only will you understand what the lecturer is talking about, it helps your brain memorise and your notes will tend to be better in the long run! I used to do mine in the park with a Subway ;-)*

Books
I felt like I was living in a library! I had books everywhere at one point.
Most books will be available through your university library, either in physical form or electronically. I would advise to wait until you have actually started your course before buying any books. They can be costly and you may not need all on your reading list. Charity shops in your university town are a good start for older editions of what you need (unless it’s stated you must have the most up to date), Amazon marketplace is great for used/second hand academic books and student forums, where students may advertise their used books. I bought a few books in my first year, two of them I know I will continue to use, one probably not so much…£60 worth of book…sitting on a dusty shelf! So, be smart with reading. If your library have them, great. I would often stay an hour or more after lectures and work in the library, using their books, making notes. Much less to carry and always put me in a ‘must do work’ frame of mind.

Assessments
Exciting and painful! I loved getting information about what assessments were coming up, however I am a ‘time freak’ and started on most of my assessments way too early. In my first year, I had a few essays, a few exams a poster presentation and a couple of group presentations. Prepare yourself!
Yes, preparation is key. Don’t be lazy, get your timetable sorted out and set aside time for each module. I used a whiteboard and a set of coloured pens (available here) and organised each semester by due in dates. Obviously the earliest ones get priority but don’t underestimate presentations. They take a lot of work and nagging and practice to get the good grades. If you are organised, you will certainly be less stressed when it comes to undertaking your assessments. It’s important to have fun too, take your mind off of things and if an idea pops into your head, jot it down in your phone or on a small notebook. If you overwork, you’ll end up like my mate Howard over there (@howardsbones).
Always try to finish a week before hand-in day. That way, you can proof read your work and make amendments last minute if need be. Hand in days always seemed to be busy, so if it’s not too much hassle, hand in the day before if you’re happy with it and avoid queues.

Organisation
A good diary will help, for a start. Last year I used The Palgrave Student Planner, this year I have opted for the Pearson version. I slightly prefer the layout of this one (see in video below).
The diaries are bulky but they literally do have all of the information you need. These diaries range between £6.00 and £10.00 and can be bought from WH Smiths or online. I got mine here. The point of a diary like this is that you keep EVERYTHING in one place. There are timetables on the back and you can discard them as your semester finishes, plenty of writing space, notes pages, monthly planner pages, deadline pages etc etc. There really is a lot and if you look through it and use as much as possible, it will make your life a hell of a lot easier.



Apps I Used:

My iPhone/iPad were really useful throughout. 
My top apps would be – Evernote, Dropbox and Cram.
If you can get the Microsoft viewing platforms on your tablet, they are handy for viewing PowerPoints and making notes. 
Evernote: you can add notes, links, photos, videos and all sorts. Your content is arranged by date made, you can add ‘notebooks’ and share with your friends. It syncs with your iPhone/iPad/Mac. Not sure about Microsoft compatibility. 
Dropbox: great for group work. Sharing folders of photos/ideas and notes between people. Also good for storage and backup of your work. I stored all of my work securely in Dropbox and also on a USB memory stick.
Cram: I used this for my exam revision. It is great for flash card style memory. I would advise only to use for short answer questions though. Good if, like me, you travel by train to uni as it passes the time and helps your memory!
There will be many occasions your desk looks like this….
And post-it notes, highlighters and caffeine become everything!
Good Luck 
Make sure you sign up to the below websites for STUDENT DISCOUNTS!

Other useful websites:
University is all about getting what you want out of it. So far, I love my course and I have made some lovely friends. I am a study nerd, I do want top grades and I do work really hard but I always find time to have fun too!
This is my first ever blog, I hope it’s been useful. Please leave your comments/questions below.
Follow my Instagram @stcy 
XO

2 thoughts on “How I Got Through My First Year at University

  1. Kate Jordan says:

    This is SO helpful, thank you! I am starting uni this year as a mature student (I'm 24) and all the guides have been so geared towards moving out of home for the first time and that kind of thing, which has well and truly passed for me. This is exactly the kind of info I needed to know :). Thanks again.

    Like

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