Having completed my final exams, I have finished my undergraduate degree and know many others who are in the same position. Indeed, over the past few weeks I have often heard remarks such as ‘at last’, ‘thank goodness it’s all over’ and ‘I’m so glad I’ll never have to sit another exam’. Such comments, however, are by no means a true reflection of most finalists’ feelings upon reaching the end of university; they simply indicate the relief that comes with finishing exams.
I know for a fact that, though ready to move on, the vast majority of finalists have thoroughly enjoyed their time at university from beginning to end. This is why all those starting university this year should take heed; during the build-up to university, emphasis is inevitably placed on Freshers’ Week. However, university lasts a great deal longer than seven days. So make the most of the first week, of course, but don’t’ forget to enjoy the years that lie before you.
First things first, though. Freshers’ Week is an exciting yet daunting prospect. As nobody knows anybody, everybody wants to meet somebody. It is therefore essential to put yourself out there- if you don’t make an effort to befriend those you meet, they will simply find friends elsewhere. This does not mean you should try too hard to fit in, but that you need to be self-confident and comfortable in your own skin. What’s more, don’t panic if at the end of Freshers’ Week you haven’t found your best friend for life; friendships take time and in any case, you will meet many more people in the weeks, months and years ahead.
Going out, joining clubs and having a go at new things is an integral part of the university experience. However, if you’re not happy in your work, chances are you won’t be happy in your play. Remember why you applied to university in the first place; your academic subject should not be a chore, but rather something you have chosen to pursue and should therefore enjoy. Striking a balance is essential- academic pressure should not lead you to tire of studying, but nor should the determination to do well lead you to neglect your social life. Getting bogged down in work does more harm than good and, from a personal point of view, is just not worth it.
For many undergraduates, first year exam results do not even count towards the final degree. This does not mean, however, that first year is to be taken lightly. Yes, it is an opportunity to find your feet and if you are going to make mistakes, it’s far better to do so now than later on. Nevertheless, the academic aspect of university life must be taken as seriously in first year as it is in all others. Though your marks may not count, they will give you an indication as to how prepared you are for tougher, subsequent years and will allow you to identify the areas in which you need to up your game.
Student life is frequently referred to as a ‘bubble’ and rightly so. It is all too easy to fall into the habit of socialising exclusively with university friends, only ever shopping on campus and, as a result, going weeks without venturing into town. Though having a sense of community is one of the greatest advantages of university life, it is important to get away from it every once in a while. Going home for a (though not every) weekend, visiting friends at another university or simply going for a walk are all ideal ways of keeping a level head and avoiding the sense of cabin fever that almost all students experience at some point or another.
Getting to know your place of study beyond the university campus is also essential. Many students grow incredibly attached to their university town or city, so it is important not to underestimate the ways in which the latter can enhance your university experience. Even if you’re not travelling very far from home, you must get out and explore wherever it is you are. After all, there will always be new places to discover and when final year comes around- and, like so many things, it will do so sooner than you expect-, the last thing you want is a never-ending bucket list.
What you do want is to be able to look back knowing you have capitalised on the opportunities that have come your way. Whether you end up spending a year abroad, editing the campus newspaper or excelling as part of a sports team, your time at university should be challenging, educational and above all rewarding. At this point, I know, it is difficult to imagine graduating. But I also know that when you do, you will ask yourself whether you made the most of the experience. In order for the answer to that question to be yes, you must start as you mean to go on and treat your first year as if it is your last.