Exam season is now upon us. While third year undergraduates swot over their dissertations and final exams revision (good luck!); prospective undergraduate students are also preparing to start a new phase in their academic journey. Going to University elicits a range of emotions – excitement, anticipation and sometimes anxiety. In this article, we will be discussing tips that can help you adjust to your new learning environment. We believe some of this information is also relevant to current students to enhance their academic experience.

Seek advice – This should start even before you make a final decision on what University to choose.Open days are a great place to start as you have an opportunity to meet students already enrolled on the courses you are interested in applying for. Current students are best suited to provide information not just about the University but advice on accommodation, living costs and social activities you can get involved with. Furthermore, academics are usually available at these events and can provide valuable information about the course; helping you understand the opportunities and potential challenges you may face. Some pertinent questions you can ask have been covered in our previous article –‘Before you choose a course to study at University.’

Embrace the ‘change’ – University is different. There is a reason why it is called ‘Higher Education.’ If you expect it to be different, then you can begin to prepare for it. It is normal for new students to severely underestimate the amount of work that is required at Univer sity. For every hour you spend in a lecture, you may need to invest another 2-3 hours in independent study. Your teacher tells you something in class but expects you to delve even deeper and tell him/her things they do not know. You are expected to think criticially, write more professionally, read academic journals etc. Look out for your University’s Learning support unit – they provide a whole array of support services that will help you embrace the change.

Get mentored – In recent years, we have been lucky to mentor undergraduate and postgraduate students who have gone on to develop exciting careers. Many Universities now have mentoring schemes providing peer mentor support for first years provided by second and third year students. It is unfortunate that many students do not utilise these even though they are of great value. For second year students, contact your Careers service and see if they have an employability mentoring scheme, where you can be mentored by a professional in your field. We have both benefited greatly from having mentors who invested time and effort to shape our careers and support us through some parts of our university experience. Lecturers can also be a valuable source in developing professional relationships especially if they have worked in the field.

Volunteer – It is great to see more students are starting to value volunteering as a way not only to develop their transferable skills but also as a way to make friends and have a social network whilst at University. Remember that having a degree, even a good one, simply is not enough to keep you ahead. Your experience and skills are things that will set you apart from other candidates when you go for jobs. The idea for this website was born at a volunteering event and we have made a lot of friends through volunteering too. Apart from what you get out of it, just think about the significant contribution you are making to the organisation you are volunteering for.

Apply for an internship – View internships as a valuable contribution to your education. Final year students tell us how they view life outside University with some anxiety as they do not understand how the ‘world of work’ works. An internship can help with that. I (Emmanuel) employed an intern last summer and the experience of carrying out innovative projects with my intern has given me the desire to employ more interns this year. If you would like to go into research, why not ask a research active lecturer if s/he will be taking on any interns. See your Careers adviser for more information. Apart from honing your skills, internships provide the opportunity to develop valuable contacts in your area.

Sign up for a sandwich degree – Should I study for 3 or 4 years? We get this question often from students and parents alike. While it seems like a silly question as 3 is obviously shorter than 4 years, the 4 year sandwich degree is definitely worth considering – taking cost implications into consideration. The sandwich degree offers you the opportunity to be placed at a company or organisation working (mostly paid) for a year. Students who take up these placements usually return better equipped for their final years due to all the experiential learning taking place. In a good number of cases, students are offered jobs by their work placement companies after their degrees provided they attain good grades (a very good incentive we think!!)

Join a professional society – Most courses are affiliated with a professional body.  Majority of them offer student membership at significantly reduced rates or even for free. We benefitted greatly from our membership of the Society for Applied Microbiology and Voice of Young Scientists. Attend events organised by your Society and use them as networking opportunities to develop relationships within your discipline.

Earlier we mentioned going to your Careers department, this is important even if you do not know what you want from them, just go in, say hello and ask what they do! Careers consultants are usually friendly and supportive and will shape up your CVs and guide you through applying for internships, work placements etc.

We would advise you ‘not to give up any extracurricular talents or skills you have before going to University.” A lot is usually said about Universities and employability and less about entrepreneurship. Universities should be the building grounds for you to blossom and let your creativity shine. Please check out our Entrepreneur’s Corner for more inspiration.


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