Advice on Surviving your First Year at University

Friday, July 20, 2012 12:00 AM

Liz Claridge, student at Exeter, gives advice on making the most of your first year at university

First year at university is absolutely mad. It goes by so fast and it's such a shock when you realize… hang on… I'm a third of the way through my course! Despite the social side everyone associates with Fresher's, at the end of the day you are (or should be) there for your course, so choosing a course that's right for you is key.

I didn't really know what to expect of my course, since History and Mathematics is such an unusual combination. I guessed what to expect of the individual subjects but not the interaction between the two.

History is a lot of work. Typically you have fewer hours than other courses but there is a lot of preparation and reading for seminars. Sometimes it can seem to be a bit of a slog but at the end of the day, if you're interested enough to want to study it for three years, it's worth the work.

The lectures are fast paced, covering a lot of material quickly, but are really interesting with a lot of information being fired at you. Being able to take good notes or just absorb is key. At Exeter the first year course is designed to try and give you a wide overview of a large period, which is great to let you find out which topics you enjoy and which you don't. This also means that, if you don't like a topic in seminars or your reading you'll have moved on in a week.

Whilst the staff are generally quite helpful if you find you're confused on an essay, listening to their feedback and really working on your essays is key. We didn't do a lot of essays during the year so getting the most out of each one really was important, especially for summer exams.

Maths is almost the opposite course wise. You have a lot more hours and at Exeter it seems more similar to school - you feel like you're being taught not lectured.


There was a lot less work than I'd thought there would be outside of lectures - although this might be because I wasn't doing a straight degree. Again, being able to make good notes - and remembering to copy examples to help you understand what's going on - is key and will really pay off in the long run.
First year seemed to build a lot on Further Maths A level. However, the idea was to get everyone to the same level so if you're not taking it I wouldn't worry. It'll be slightly harder work but you wont be far behind.

We all have different priorities when we are thinking about what course to choose. Some people know what the career they want when they graduate so choose their course according to that, but I chose my course based on what I was interested in studying. I didn't have a clear view about what I want to do after university so I've been using the resources that the university offers to help me figure out where I go from here.

Going into first year I had a vague idea of going into publishing or advertising but no real clue after university. I had no idea what this would really entail or what I would need to do this.

There are a huge range of employability opportunities and events at university - from guest speakers coming in, to fairs, to training workshops and networking events. Plus the careers service can be a great help. As much spiel as you'll hear about going to these it really is a good idea to get in there early, get as much experience and talk to as many people as you can.  Even if the events feel like a waste of time, they really aren't - if anything they help you work out what you don't want to do. I now know I'm highly unlikely to want to work in the City but have found out about a number of opportunities that I want to look more into that I'd never thought of. I also know that publishing probably isn't for me.

I think it's also a good idea to spend some time during your summer break getting some work experience in different types of organizations. It can help you to get to know what a career is really about, and will also be a good addition to yout CV when the time comes to leave uni and look for your first job.

So, advice for a fresher - get involved, try everything, get started early (don't go out and get drunk too much, you'll just end up exhausted, miserable and broke) and choose a course that you're interested in, preferably good at, and honestly want to do. It's going to be your life for 3 years, or more, so you have to be interested and want to do it.

Good luck x

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