At times it seemed impossible; now, suddenly, it’s done. You’ve got the grades, you’ve got the place, and university has morphed from a distant prospect into a rapidly emerging reality. The future’s calling – with a brand new voice, and even higher expectations than before – inviting you to rise to the challenge. But how, exactly?
The fundamental way undergraduate education differs from A-level is in the degree of independent-study involved; outside of lectures and seminars the responsibility for learning falls to you, which demands a conscientious effort of motivation, organization, and time management. This is the open secret to university: that it’s a transition into your own ability to manage your future, meaning that you already have all the resources you need to succeed.
While everyone’s undergraduate experience is different, developing good academic practices, right from the beginning, will give you an edge against whatever challenges you may face over the coming few weeks. Some useful examples include:
First and foremost, start strong by getting ahead. Do you have access to your reading lists? Excellent, then begin familiarizing yourself with your subject area. Whether it’s something you’ve studied before, or are approaching for the first time, this will help you build up essential background knowledge, and potentially identify sources you can utilize later. Bring this attitude into your lectures and seminars too: be proactive in note-taking, engage a hundredfold with what you’re being taught, and consistently strive to reinforce your own development. This is your passion, the thing you’ve chosen to direct yourself towards, it’s worth getting excited about.
Secondly, make order ineradicable. Undergraduate study is both intense and varied, meaning it’s also the perfect equation for entropy if left to its own devices. A planner or academic diary, therefore, is crucial. What lessons do you have this week? At what times? Where on campus? No-one will be gently reminding you of your 9am, or that assignment due in two days’ time. You have to be prepared, from balancing your deadlines, right down to making sure your materials (pen, paper, laptop, etc) are in good working order before each class. It’s obscenely easy to forget something, we all know from experience.
Thirdly, manage your days like Chronos himself. Three years fly – in your first week the prospect of writing a thousand-word essay seems insurmountable; by your final you’ll be handing in a completely self-defined dissertation. The technique for either does not alter: always start working earlier than you think you need to, and give yourself leeway for things to slide off-course, or life to abruptly intrude (both happen, frequently). Very few people realistically thrive under pressure, and the risk that you don’t isn’t worth the cost of a little prioritization. Work written and revised over a few weeks, with time to relax in between, will automatically be of a higher standard than any midnight brain-blurt in the library.
Above all, be consistent in what you do. Genius isn’t the thing which earns you a degree, tenacity, perseverance, and dedication are.
Breathe. You’ve got this.