Dear first year me,
Here’s what you absolutely need to know when you start university (thank me later):
- Professors are best friend material
I cannot even begin to stress this enough. BEFRIEND A PROFESSOR. Not only will you need a recommendation letter at some point, but a professor is one of the few people who will be able to give you useful advice in terms of module options, internship programmes and academic life. That makes him or her the best ally to have on your side. It doesn’t necessarily have to be your tutor, it can be any member of staff whom you share similar interests with and with whom you think you can have nice conversations. And contrary to the expectations, professors are actually really nice, laid-back people who do not like being “Sir-ed”.
- Embrace the module change policy
If you thought the most important thing about a module is how interesting it is, you were wrong. There are lots of variables to factor in, such as how engaging the teacher is, how long the readings are, assessement practices, even how many times it has been taught before. And almost every semester you are going to end up dreading one of the modules which you thought you’re going to love. To avoid, choose more modules than you’re supposed to: attend all for one or two weeks, and then selectively choose the ones you liked the most. Surely it’s going to be more work in the first week(s), but it is nothing compared to having to study for something you do not find engaging or stimulating, let alone convincing yourself to perform at your peak.
- Start working on assignments ASAP
After getting a couple of high marks in my first essay-based assessments, I concluded that I was some sort of never-seen-before talent who will always be able to successfully pull out 3000 words worth all-nighters. That was not the case.
Not because I am not good at writing essays, but because essay-based assessments become increasingly complex to the point where the quality of writing was less relevant than having a thorough coverage of secondary literature, or original and well polished arguments. How could I have avoided this situation? If I realised how much work I have to do anytime earlier than 3 days before the deadline. Which I would have, had I tackled the assessment the day I was told about it. That way I could have realistically asserted the amount of work I have to do, weight it against my capacity to perform that work, and plan accordingly. And I would have definitely come out of the second year happier, and still confident in my writing capabilities.
- Apply to as many scholarships and awards as possible
We all have that coursemate with a very impressive LinkedIn profile who seems to win at acting like an adult but also parties harder than anyone. How does he do it you may ask? It’s really not a question of what he does, but of what others don’t do. Unless you’re applying for a Rhodes Scholarship, chances are you are not competing against that many people, because probably not many have heard about the scholarship, and a lot of them are think there’s not point in applying because they’re not going to get it anyways. So most of the time, realistically, you can get that scholarship or win that award. Choosing 10 to apply to a year, increases your chance of receiving at least one, and thus boosting your CV. Pro tip: Global Summer Experiences at King’s are a very good place to start. Check them out.
- Work on a personal project
Despite of the fact that you are technically studying your favourite subject, and this is potentially what you want to do for the rest of your life, uni can get quite boring at times. No matter how much you’re initially enjoying it, your excitement will inevitably at some point flat-line (usually in November and February). And that’s when your modules, your job, or whatever volunteering activity you’re doing outside of uni will begin to seem dull, and you won’t be able to find the motivation to get yourself to do this anymore. So always have something to go to in order to turn the procrastination hours into something actually productive. It can either be writing a book, learning a language or learning how to play the piano, but always have something you want to do for the sake of doing it, not as means to an end. And make that something your place of refuge when you’re running away from procrastination.
- Surround yourself with phenomenal achievers
And since we’re this on page, here’s an extra tip to kick-start your motivation. You are going to spend your next 3 years (minimum) surrounded by students which, especially during exam periods, can become quite nasty creatures. You need to keep that positive vibe and motivation in order to be able to do your work optimally. And one of the best ways of doing this is meeting people who are exactly that – a source of inspiration that can get you motivated to do whatever you don’t feel like you can do at the time. And there are multiple ways you can do this: attend a guest lecture at least once a month, go out for lunch with that classmate you admire, talk to that cool entrepreneur that’s your age or just pop-in to your favourite professor’s office hours and have a chat. You will leave feeling better and will be more likely to do that task you dread.
BONUS TIP: I was never the type of person to believe having fun is the most important thing in life, and I probably never will, but it is crucial to believe that your experience at uni brings 27k-worth of meaningful experience in your life. (Un)fortunatelly you are the only person responsible for that, so make it happen.
A very stressed, less-confused, dissertation-obsessed you.