My name is Kenneth. I'm from the internet.

Please find enclosed in this here blog some of my writings. These range from poetry to flash fiction to short stories

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Advice for anyone starting University this autumn

There’s probably quite a lot of these kinds of pieces kicking about the internet right now. A lot of them are likely to have been produced by Universities themselves. This is not one of those pieces.

I graduated from Edinburgh University four years ago now. Since then, I have been in no way affiliated with any higher education establishment. Well, I went to college for a bit but that’s a whole other story and not relevant to my point. Basically: I am not employed by a University and the advice that follows is based on practical experience rather than creating a sales pitch.

I’m not going to sugar coat it: I had a horrible time at Uni. I got plenty out of my five years there – but most of that was gained through part-time work and other extracurricular activities (OK, drinking, lots and lots of drinking). Sure, I got a degree, but that hasn’t made me any more employable than the average school leaver.

But I’m not bitter about it. I just wish that someone out there would have been more honest with me before I went about what I was in for. Though, that being said, I’d never have listened to them anyway.

  1. School is not an accurate model for University life

Smartest kid in the room in your school? Probably not going to happen at Uni. Everyone you grew up with find you hilarious? Strangers aren’t going to be as impressed.

The mistake I made when I got to Uni was not realising how much different it was going to be to what I was used to. I’m from a small town originally. I went from having 600 kids in my entire school, to having more than 600 students in each lecture. That is a huge culture shock. Massive. It’s hard to describe just how intimidating I found it. Hell, I’d struggle with that at 26. But at 17? It was too much.

And it didn’t help that I was suddenly pitched into a living situation where I was surrounded by strangers. It’s easy to make friends at school or at home. Everyone has grown up around the same people and in the same town. Experiences have always been similar and you get a foxhole mentality almost. In a student flat or in halls, those building blocks are gone. You need to work to find common ground. That’s really difficult at first. In the first few weeks, for every new friend you make, you will meet about fifteen people you’ll end up awkwardly walking past without acknowledging for the next four years. Don’t worry about that, it’s going to happen to literally everyone.

The most important thing to take from this though is always be yourself. Don’t change just because you feel like you are struggling to fit in with your flatmates. People will see right through that. Trust in yourself, trust in who you want to be and be patient. If you don’t meet people in your halls, you will in tutorials and seminars – at least with people on your course you are guaranteed similar interests straight away.

  1. Join things

This plays into the above because obviously it’s a way of meeting people who like the same things that you do. I never joined any societies, clubs or sports teams while I was at Edinburgh and, honestly, it’s a regret. The students who did always seemed to do better as they had more of a community spirit to them. This is another way in which Uni differs from school. In school, a sense of community spirit (and I use that only in the lack of a better term) was almost engrained into you through assemblies and trips and houses etc. But University is such a sprawling thing that it’s easy for individuals just to get lost in the mix and go through their four years without feeling much connection to anything. That makes it too easy to skip classes or not contribute in tutorials. And frankly, if you start doing that you aren’t going to get the most out of your experience.

Another compelling argument for joining a club or society is that it will increase your job prospects when you graduate. At least, I get the impression it will. My CV, as it stands, is pretty vanilla. There is very little on it other than university and college courses and a few part-time jobs. Although not the case, it appears to demonstrate a very narrow scope of experience and, with the job market so competitive these days (especially for entry-level positions) you are going to want as much on it as possible. Which leads into:

  1. Seek Placements

Or more to the point: work out what the hell you want to do with your life. Right now, four years removed from University I still have not one idea about what I want to be doing with my life. For the last few years I have watched people I know go out there and snag jobs while I pull pints and stack shelves. The difference is they had a goal. They picked their target and they went for it.

I’m not alone though. A lot of people come out of Uni still not knowing what they want to be doing. The advantages of deciding while you are there, and deciding early, it that you can use the time to gain relevant experiences. Although it will seem to fly past, four years (or three if you’re down south) is a long time. You can fit a lot into it. Especially with four month summer holidays crammed in the middle of each year. If you know what you want to do then you can use this time to complete relevant placements. These will help you no end when it comes time to graduate and bugger off out into the real world.

  1. There is plenty of time to have fun AND put in the work

It is so tempting to just blow off what you’re doing and fuck off to the pub. So ridiculously tempting. Who wants to read – and trust me, whatever your course, you’re going to have to do a lot of reading – when you could be drinking beer? Lots and lots of beer? And having sex! I’m sure that somewhere in history a night in studying alone has somehow led to someone getting laid, but let’s face it, there’s a lot more chance of that happening if you’re out. But one night out can easily turn into two. Then three. And so on until you’re out most nights and essays get harder and harder to get in on time.

It’s not even that though: let’s face it, the majority of people could probably knock out an essay in an all-nighter before the deadline if they had to. And the majority of people will end up doing that at least once. In my experience, you’re grade doesn’t suffer that much anyway. I knew a couple of people who swore they got better grades from all night essay sessions as apparently “the fear” focused them a lot better.

What does fall by the wayside though is the general studying. Uni exams come thick and fast: twice a year and in the space of just a few months really. There is a quick turnaround on new information being taught and that knowledge being tested. You really have to keep on top of the reading if you want to get good grades. A lot of the time, especially in later years, lecturers will only actually deliver a portion of what you need to know: you’ll be expected to read around the topics. If you’re out every night you’re not going to be able to do that and your grades will suffer.

  1. Keep an open mind

As I’m acutely aware just how old I’ve made myself sound, I’m going to end on this note. Depending on your background prior to going to Uni, you’re likely to see a lot of things you haven’t seen before. You’re likely to be in a lot of situations you’ve never been in before. For example, I was never really around drugs when I was at school (at least not knowledgeably!) and actually found myself shocked the first time I went to a party and they were around (yeah, I know, I was sheltered). Because of everything I had been told, my instinct was to be judgemental. Don’t ever do that though. I’ve never taken anything myself, but that’s been a personal choice and I fully respect that it’s not the choice that another person may make. It’s an each to their own thing. Try not to put yourself in a position where you’re going to be uncomfortable with what’s happening around you. If you can’t keep an open mind about things – and I’m not even talking about just drugs I include sex, sexuality, karaoke etc in this – then just don’t put yourself in a situation where you are going to be around it. In that situation, you’re just going to end up being the dick.

So yeah, that’s my slightly-more-intense-sounding-than-I-meant guide to University success.

If you are just starting out then despite the impression I may have given, you are going to have fun and most of you will love it.

If there was one final piece of advice I could give as you head into freshers and the rest of your first year it’s this: put yourself out there. Put yourself in new situations with new people. Don’t be shy, don’t be hesitant, don’t be afraid to go into the kitchen because your flatmates are there: just go for it. The fun won’t come to you. 

  1. a-stoned-rose said: Big fish small pond point? So very very true x
  2. pennedportraits said: Good advice.
  3. confusedbyeverything posted this