How to prepare for university

Hello! Welcome to this blog by me, Ryan. I wanted to use this space to talk about my experiences with various topics. I know you’re probably thinking, ‘what makes you so special’. Well to be entirely honest, the answer is Nothing. But if my experience ends up helping just one person who reads then that makes me a happy person. 

So I wanted this blog to help with preparation as something someone can come back to whenever they need. Preparing for University is such a big deal so it doesn’t have to be rushed; unless of course you’re the sort of person who loves a near impossible challenge the day before (Hi, I’m that sort of person). I’m going to run through how I planned to go to university and what you might need. We’ll take a look at physical things you might need, but also how to prepare yourself mentally for university. The advice I have to give is very much based on my limited experience, but I hope it can help some other people.

A simple way of planning the physical items is like pretending you’re going abroad for a few months (after the year we’ve had everyone needs it) but you don’t know what country you’re going to, so you can’t just take a whole suitcase of swimwear, you’ll need to balance your clothing for the wonderfully random British climate. For a lot of people, you’ll be taking your things in one car to university. So as much as a car full of clothes and not much else, would be sufficient for some people, it is not the best approach to living away. Just like a holiday, you’ll need your typical bathroom items, and even some cooking/kitchen items to take along with you. Unlike a luxury hotel however, you need to bring your own duvet, sheets and blankets which I made the silly mistake of not doing the first time. If you’ve forgotten anything along the way you can always get anything you missed anyway, at nearby Tesco (or wherever your shop of choice is). So I’ve spoken about all your essential items being so important, but equally important are your luxury items. What do you want to take that makes your life happier or easier? For me, it was my laptop and my camera and for you guys it may be completely different. The idea for me was to make the dorm rooms seem less like prison cells, and more like a bedroom by adding posters, tapestry, basically if blu-tack keeps it up, you can have whatever you want on your walls (and I’d fully recommend it). 

I’ve spoken about the physical items that you need to take with you to university but just as important as that, is your mental preparation for a completely new experience. Before going to uni, a lot of people haven’t been away from home for any length of time. Some people may struggle being away from home and some people may be okay with it, everyone is completely different. Creating some sort of method of communication between yourself and your family before going to uni can be amazing, whether that be creating some family group chats or even just setting a time each week to call your family in advance, it will all help to relieve that initial homesickness. University is going to be an unusual experience, especially for the first few weeks, meeting so many new people with new habits and schedules. The thing that worked for me was being positive about everything I possibly could (which I understand is much easier said than done). But if you get excited about the things you could achieve and accomplish, things could be amazing. On a slightly more realistic note however, people have very different experiences with mental health at university. As I spoke about in my last post; a lot of universities have mental health support and there is a handy website to know what your one will have (I’ll link it below like last time). Knowing what support is at your chosen university can very much help you if you’re ever in the situation that you might need it.

Before moving to university I had a little head start on some of the people I was going to meet. After being accepted onto the course, the head lecturer created a facebook group which we would use to communicate to the lecturers to ask any questions. Through that, someone had the brilliant idea to add everyone into a messenger group without the lecturers so we could get to know one another. Seeing as my confidence at the time was next to non-existent, it was a great way to speak to like-minded people that I would get to know, without having to start a conversation of my own. At Staffordshire University (and potentially other unis), there was a freshers group on social media for my intake, which meant it was easy to see all the new people and connect with whoever I wanted. If so far, there is no way of communicating with potential friends then don’t worry, making friends is so easy whilst at university and can really be done within freshers week if you would prefer that to see people in person to make your new friends.

My final piece of advice is to GET EXCITED. University is such an amazing experience and it’s made better if you think of everything positive that you can get from it. For a lot of people this is their one shot at university and the uni lifestyle so MAKE IT COUNT. The friends that you can along the way, the life experience and the snazzy degree you get at the end is something to be proud of and an amazing thing to work towards and be excited about.

https://studentspace.org.uk/find-support – Student Space , Support services provided by university. 

So you’re thinking about going to uni…

Hello! Welcome to this blog by me, Ryan. I wanted to use this space to talk about my experiences with various topics. I know you’re probably thinking, ‘what makes you so special’. Well to be entirely honest, the answer is Nothing. But if my experience ends up helping just one person who reads then that makes me a happy person. 

(Introduction) The topic for this one is University, as someone who recently graduated after three years of (BA) Media Production at Staffordshire University. I feel my experience could be very important to some people who read this. I know that my experience doesn’t reflect that of other people’s experience but it could help people along the way. The very first thing most people think about when someone rambles on about university is the nightlife. For me personally, it was a great way to meet new people at different venues over the campus owned purely by the students union; which for anyone who doesn’t know, means that it is run by a group of elected students with student experience and wellbeing being first priority. Alternatively, if nights out aren’t your thing there are so many societies that cater to almost every hobby, sport and interest where yourself and like-minded individuals create friendships and make memories.

(Making Friends) So regarding friendships, the most common question about people moving to university is how to meet new people. In my experience the way to make friends is to say ‘Yes’ to new things and new experiences. I don’t mean neglecting your moral compass just to fit in. I mean say ‘Yes’ to joining new societies, meeting new people and doing activities outside of your comfort zone. Freshers week is the easiest way for this to happen because it can be like a taster week for new societies, sports and experiences for everyone in your intake. For me personally, I was a very vanilla person before I went to university and joining societies and meeting new people allowed me to boost my confidence and spice up my life a bit. Getting out of your comfort zone can be quite a hard thing to do for a lot of people especially when there are so many new things going on so freshers week might not be everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re living in student halls or group accommodation, the people in your flat can make great friends; alternatively, if you can’t stand your flatmates, people on your course may be easier to get along with. From my experience, I managed to make friends with flatmates and coursemates but more so from working at one of the campus bars within the students union. 

(Working at uni) For a lot of people at university, the maintenance loan might not cover rent, food and course related items so I personally believe that getting a job whilst at university helps buy essential things and may even pay for some new hobbies. Whilst I was at Staffordshire University, I worked at a bar called The Ember Lounge as part of the students union and I can whole-heartedly say it was one of the best jobs I have worked so far. The other staff members were all like-minded students; which meant that the work rota was arranged purely around what hours you weren’t in lectures or studying. The customers were other students (with the occasional parent or lecturer coming in) which meant there were very few ‘can I speak to the manager’ types that everyone despises. Virtually every uni in England has a Students Union with some sort of student jobs available if you want a little bit of extra money in your pocket. 

(Mental Health – my experience, where to go, what university can do to help) My years at university wasn’t all fun and games however; over my third year the pressure of various things in my life got a bit too much. I started to do the classic Me thing to do and push people I cared about away. Although I’ll spare the in-depth details of the matter I was in a situation that kept getting worse; skipping important meetings, avoiding doing coursework. For anyone who might ever find themself in a situation like this, at university or otherwise it is always best to speak to someone whether it be your friends, managers or lecturers, most people can offer you support. For me, I chose to speak to Student Wellbeing which are a great team situated on campus. They were sort of like therapists but less ‘how did that make you feel’ and more ‘this is what we can do to help’, in which case they helped me to extend my main deadline or even apply to resit my year if I felt like I would have needed more time. As far as I know with my limited knowledge, most universities in England and Wales offer some sort of Mental Health support for their students. I will add a very helpful link at the end of the blog that allows you to search what support your current or desired university has available. 

(Course – Media, lecturers, facilities) As amazingly boring as it sounds for most people, Media (Film) Production was actually quite a good course. But it wasn’t the lecturers or curriculum that made it for me, it was the experience with other people on the course and my passion for everything film related. My degree, although it doesn’t sound too hard, just filming things with friends. It actually involved a lot of planning and meeting with lecturers to make sure what we were creating was actually something good. The lecturers had experience in the industry whether it be working for a production company or having their own, so they knew what they were talking about (as much as we didn’t like to admit, especially you Colin). The other students on my course were great though and the group I tried to stay with ended up being some good friends. Of course they were like-minded students with film interests, but they created a good energy and enthusiasm to go to lectures. Staffordshire University has a lot of the facilities available for all students not just those in film degrees. The ‘media center’ had a variety of expensive top of the line equipment that could be hired out, along with computers with essential programs alternatively the library was open 24/7 for all students to access pretty much every needed program.

(Overall why university helped me – helps for future jobs, friends that last a lifetime) 

One of the things I get asked a lot about my experience is whether the student loans are worth it. My answer is, YES. The experience of university for a lot of people creates a lot of lasting memories, whether it is people you will speak to for the rest of your life or experience with dealing with certain situations, not to mention the degree you get as a little bonus. No matter what degree you choose to do, there will be some sort of benefit to it. Whether that be getting your dream job or using it to get any other job available. A lot of places will see any sort of degree as a bonus because of the effort you put into achieving your goals. For me, university allowed me to grow my confidence, myself and my ability to actually become an adult which I never thought was possible. I sincerely hope that this article can help some people and good luck to everyone reading in achieving what you set out for.

https://studentspace.org.uk/find-support – Student Space , Support services provided by university. 

Thinking about going to university?

Written by a recent graduate, Charlotte

Ah, university, it can be the best time of your life, it can be the worst time of your life, but there’s no doubting that whatever the outcome, it’s unforgettable. It’s usually this time of year that college students up and down the country are tweaking their UCAS statements to ensure they get into the university of their dreams, eager to get as far or close as possible from home. But, what if you’re not ready for university? How do you even know? Will you ever know? Is the meaning of life really forty two? Well, read on and you’ll find out as I attempt to answer these questions and more.

As I mentioned previously, university is unforgettable. Where else can you gain a degree whilst pulling an all nighter in the library fuelled by energy drinks and a four pack of crunchies? Fortunately unlike the olden times, university isn’t as elitist as it once was and whilst there are some exceptions such as Oxford, Cambridge and Eton (the really fancy ones) you have just as much a chance as any for getting into the one you want. “But Charlotte!” I hear you cry “I don’t know if I want to do university!” Okay, cool. Again, like the olden times, university isn’t the be all end all it once was. Yes, it does help to have a degree, but this is 2020 we’re in, there’s other options besides a degree. Apprenticeships, volunteering, starting from the bottom and working to the top, the entire world is your oyster! You don’t have to have a degree to get where you want to, the path isn’t completely linear; there’s diversions, distractions and even times where the road cuts off completely. So what do you do? Find a different path until you get back on to your original one. It may take several tries, you may still be on your path, you may be dealing with roadworks that prevent you going any further. All of those are okay and valid and honestly, are part of the journey. If it was that easy, then surely the payoff wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding?

For those that have decided university is for them, good for you as well! Having been to university myself, I would like to take it upon myself to impart some wisdom in the hope that someone out there would take this advice to heart or at the very least, try it out and see what they think.

And with the world being more uncertain than ever, more universities are looking at online teaching for the upcoming year. Whilst this makes it accessible to everyone, unfortunately it’s not for everyone.  If you prefer an active learning environment such as myself, then you may decide on a different approach. If you’re not like me and can cope absolutely fine in a non learning environment, then look at your options. At the end of the day, no one else is doing the learning but yourself, so do what is best for you.

Not one person’s experience is the same and again as I’ve reiterated before, that’s okay. Just because you’re staying home and commuting to classes every day to save money on accommodation works for you, doesn’t mean it will work for others. I mean, in an ideal situation, I would have moved out of student accommodation and found somewhere of my own with friends for second and third year. But I didn’t. Seeing how I’m autistic and therefore classed as disabled, I was able to stay in on campus accommodation all three years. Do I wish that wasn’t the case and I could have done my own thing? Absolutely. Do I regret it? No. It made things easier for me and because I knew what to expect (a big thing for autistic folks) it was comforting and made my experience less stressful.

Tips for university

I would say the most important tip, and I cannot stress this enough, is research. Research the course, research the best uni, research that uni, research the time it gets there, how much in travel fees, the qualifications you’ll need, accommodation, amenities, everything. Without research, you know nothing, and you end up convincing your mum to spend fifty quid for a B&B whilst she fully knows well the area, only for you to see it for yourself and ask can we turn back, feeling incredibly guilty for getting her to fork out that amount of money and getting stuck in traffic and torrential rain on the way back. True story, actually. I’m not naming names, but yeah, should have done me research more.

You want independence from your parents but still miss the comforts of home? You’re not the only one. When considering universities, I knew this would be a problem. I’m not the most careful of people and I will generally miss home at some point, meaning that inevitably, I’d either go back or mum and dad would be meeting me at the local hospital after I, I dunno, sliced my leg open on a night out after falling onto glass. Solution? I have two. Students, we get the job done.  I wanted my university to be far away enough from home so that I have that sense of independence and could become my own person, but at the same time, have it be close enough or easily accessible so that should something happen, it’s easy to come back home. I ended up going to Edge Hill University which whilst pretty far, is super easy to get to. Follow the roads up to Leeds, turn left and then onto the M62 for the last 100 miles. Also, give university a chance.  My mum said to me before I went away that the least I could do is try. If by Christmas I still wasn’t happy, then I could come back home. And you know what? I did and I enjoyed it. Granted there were ups and downs and times where all I wanted was to go back home and enjoy a nice hot bath, but I stuck it out, found my people with the rugby team and by the time I went back for Christmas, I found out how boring home actually is. Don’t let first impressions make up your uni experience. It’s tough and can get lonely, but you’re not the only one and you’ll be okay.

The social life at university is one shrouded in myth and legend, one of horror and fantasy. Making night long friends in the toilets, losing half your outfit in the student union, anything can happen; even more so if you ever take part in the infamous sports socials on a Wednesday night. Chugging as much cheap booze in as little time as possible, being subjected to humiliating rituals and punishments, they’re not for the faint of heart. If you do find yourself at a sports social, have fun, drinking is optional but encouraged and whatever is said, goes. Also if you do have a lecture the next morning, I’d suggest not drinking or go light on the beers. Trust me, I know. *Shudders at the flashbacks*

That said, university social life isn’t all about drinking only to wake up in a bush the next morning with a broken phone and two quid to your name and forgotten memories, no, no! There’s also the infamous fresher’s fair where all the societies group round in a blatant attempt to lure you in with their promises of fun and also let’s face it, the free lollipops and bags of Haribo. Don’t kid yourself, you know that’s the only reason you go along to these things. It’s like Halloween but without the pumpkins. The beauty of such societies is that literally no matter how niche your interest, there’s bound to be a society for it or at the very least likeminded individuals who are willing to meet up for two hours a week to discuss Hungarian goat yodelling techniques. If you find enough people, then you can even set up your own society! Pretty sure you just need to convince the student union that it’s a good idea, but don’t quote me on that; it’s been a few years since I stepped into a university environment and the ol’ noggin ain’t what it used to be.

Depending on where you go, accommodation at university can be hit or miss. Fortunately, mine was generally nice although I will admit to getting a wee bit sick of showers come third year. And yet the lesser blocks had baths? Come on, what’s up with that? Back to the point. Accommodation is also a major factor to consider during your time. Generally the first years are prioritised for on campus living; the uni doesn’t want them scarred for life so it only makes sense. And any that are left over are for those that may need it (such as myself) or even third years, which is something my university did after building new accommodation for us. And this may sound strange, but I found this genuinely helped; make friends with the cleaners. Even if it’s just knowing their name and giving a friendly hello in the mornings. Cleaners are known for getting shtick around campus, but if it wasn’t for them, then the floor from the night before would remain forever sticky and the tables wouldn’t be cleaned. Cleaners do a lot and whilst yes, I don’t understand how they complain of places being messy when it’s their job, it still helps to make it easier for them. Who knows? Maybe the ‘annoying cleaning lady’ won’t have such a bad reputation if you go out of your way slightly for her. Just sayin’ 😉

Finally, just have fun and make the most of it. I’m not saying it’ll be the incredible life experience everyone makes it out to be, if anything I found it quite overrated myself, but that doesn’t automatically not make it worth it. I found my people, got a degree and a knee injury that will no doubt come back to haunt me in my later years out of it. I had fun, had regrets and even had my heart broken on more than one occasion (don’t dump through phone, folks. Try and avoid it if you can). What you put in is what you get out and it can be anything you make it to be; more so even! Be yourself, relax and remember; there’s no pressure. You got this.

This is Charlotte writing for The Network, signing out. Peace and good vibes!