I graduated last Thursday. It was a very exciting, stressful, rushed, happy and lively day. But it allowed me to further reflect on my undergraduate experience and realise that I walked away with a lot more than just a degree. Throughout my three years at the University of Reading, I met a wide spectrum of people and was faced with numerous of challenges. I had many essays, projects and exams to do, all while dealing with people I didn’t really get along with, trying to feed myself a somewhat healthy diet and managing the very little student money I had.
One of the things I came to realise about university, is that you learn a lot more than just academic knowledge about the subject you study. I now understand why some people describe university as an experience and it’s an experience I will hold onto for life. It was the first time ever living independently away from my parents, which made me realise how much I relied on them sometimes. Being independent gave me confidence that I can tackle anything that comes my way on my own.
Sometimes trying your best may not be good enough.
The most difficult and annoying thing at university, would be working extra hard on an essay only to get it back 2 weeks later with a shitty mark, all because I didn’t really understand the essay question set and silly me should’ve emailed the lecturer to confirm my understanding. I learnt that the hard way of course. My perception of trying my best changed immensely. Communication is important, most people want to help you achieve the best you can and you can’t always achieve your best solitarily. Sometimes you need to get support in order to do your best.
- Listen to the advice you are given and act upon it – I used to read criticism on a piece of work but then not take it into account on my next piece of work. Slowly, I began to understand and learn from the criticism I was given to help further achieve my best.
- Approach people – I received the best guidance when I explained my struggles to academics alone and they helped to figure out the best solution for me. All academics have been an undergraduate once and they’ve all gone through very similar difficulties, so don’t just learn the content they teach you but also learn from their mistakes.
I personally found it hard asking for help at first, but it did get easier. It can be frustrating too when people don’t give the best help and also figuring out the answer yourself can also be just as rewarding. It’s also hard when the person who wrote the whole essay the night before got a first. I realised this is just a part of life. Some people are lucky and others are just have to work a little harder. Your best pieces of work come from a bunch of different learning experiences… or luck.
You have to walk through a storm to reach the sunshine
Simply put, the first few years at university were shit and then my last year was a rollercoaster in the sunshine. In my first year, I heard about many people dropping out and the thought crossed my mind many times. But now looking back, I’m glad I didn’t give up and stayed strong. The main struggle for me was the social aspect of university, to such a great degree that during first year I developed Social Anxiety disorder. I firstly assumed that it was just my shy personality and homesickness, but I then discovered that my behaviour was significantly disruptive. During this time I was living in halls and our flat consisted of 8 girls (including myself). I won’t go into too much detail, but I avoided socialising with people as much as I could. I really struggled to connect with my flatmates and I felt like I was never good enough. Most of the time, I would eat my dinner in my room and I would rarely go into the kitchen. When I did socialise with others, I would feel an intense amount of anxiety and I would be shaking and hearing my heart pounding. The pressure of being sociable at university made my experience in first year very difficult; I would constantly bring myself down because I felt like I should be joining societies and going out clubbing rather than locking myself in my room. Eventually, through the techniques of CBT, I began to recognise my dysfunctional thoughts and taught myself to live with them but not let them affect my behaviours negatively.
During university, most students spend the first year in halls and then move into student housing until graduating. The friends I had made, kinda messed me around with the housing situation and I was left to sort something out on my own, which didn’t help my anxiety at all. Luckily, I found a group of girls who’s housemate was going on a placement year and they needed someone to fill her room. These housemates were a little easier to socialise with, so the social experience was a little better, but I did always feel like a stranger in the house since they had been together since first year. A lot of the time I felt very uncomfortable and I tended to see them as housemates but never really friends. But once again, for third year, I found myself in the same awkward housing situation, however, this time things got a lot better. The 3 girls I had found were also on my course but I had never spoken to them before. Living with them was an honest delight; they were clean, pleasant and understanding. I wish I knew them in first year. I made friends with their friends and it was finally nice to find a group of people I could connect with and be myself around them.
This whole experience made me realise that nothing is as easy as it seems. I had to deal with a lot of shitty people and feel so incredibly uncomfortable to finally find people who were accepting and loving. I’m thankful for the bad experience since it made me feel more appreciative when things got better and the people I’ve met in third year will be people I hope to treasure for the rest of my life.
How to stop procrastinating
I will always be thankful that first year didn’t count towards my degree. The learning experience at university is hugely different than school and college since no one is forcing you to be there. If you don’t turn up to a lecture or do the extra reading the consequences will only be on you and your degree. I will put my hand up and say I procrastinate a lot. Sometimes when I need to do something I’ll do anything to try avoid doing it, even though I know it needs to be done. First year made this perfectly clear to me, why should I do the extra reading when I could go watch another episode of Dexter? Social media was a huge distraction too and this was the time where I was really getting into watching makeup tutorials on YouTube. After first year, I reflected on my study methods and made the right choice to do something about it.
- Set a time limit for how long you want to do work for and block all distractions during this time. I used an app called self control, where I would have a list of websites that I would frequently use to procrastinate and I could set a time limit and these websites would be blocked. While I was revising for my final year exams, I would block the websites in the morning, have a break during lunch and then block the websites again in the afternoon. I would do a similar thing with my phone where I would put it on airplane mode and hide it away.
- Find a place where you work best. Even if websites were blocked, when I would study at home, I would try and find something else to do. So, I always found that the best place for me to study was the library. I also felt like the study vibe in the library motivated me to get down to work, but I knew some people who hated working in the library since the environment was too distracting for them.
- Make a solid and realistic to-do list. I found that it would be quite disheartening when I would reflect on a to-do list and I didn’t get much done. But I realised the tasks I was setting myself were too much. So once I broke down my tasks and made it more realistic to get things done, it would be more uplifting and motivating when I saw lots of ticks on my to-do list. This also helped me when I felt a little demotivated, so I would focus on the smaller tasks and still get things done rather than procrastinating completely.
Procrastination is something everyone experiences and finding ways to not let it affect you is something very important that I learnt during university.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my university experience and I hope you are able to take something away from what I’ve learnt. I may write some more blog posts about university to help out more students or people who are considering going to university. It’s an experience I wouldn’t tell everyone to do, since we are all aware of have expensive it is. My experience was certainly a rollercoaster ride and I learnt a lot about myself and became independent in tackling my challenges.