Tips for Surviving University

Between both my undergrad and Masters I’ve learnt things I now couldn’t live without knowing alongside things I wish I’d known when I started. I’ve decided to share my top tips for surviving university – hopefully they will make the transition that little bit less daunting…..

Love where you are living

This may be hard for a number of people to even imagine given the rising rental prices in Ireland at the moment with many students living in below par accommodation. However no matter how small your bedroom/space is try as much as you can to make it your own and learn to love where you’re living. In reality, this space for at least a year will be your home away from home so do bring some home comforts with you such as throws, pillows and candles etc. Don’t blow the budget and overbuy though, see what you can source from home and be savvy with your packing as well!

Learn to fend for yourself

On top of this, make sure if you don’t already know, how to do things yourself such as cooking basic meals, laundry, changing your bed sheets and changing a fuse you should get on it before going to uni. This will make living out of home ten times easier and give you a much better sense of independence!

Prepping for your first day of lectures

Most likely your first lecture that you have in each class will be an introductory lecture where the teacher will give you a run down of the course content for the year, their expectations, the forms of assessment and possibly begin with some basic core concepts for the class. In order to prep for this I would look over the syllabus online for each subject to ensure you know what the first lecture will entail. If you already have access to your online platform such as blackboard or moodle and your lecturer has uploaded the notes ahead of the class I would recommend downloading this the day beforehand and either printing them off ahead of class or having them open on your laptop.

During class, each person will work differently in how they will take notes. Personally, in both undergrad and my masters, I typed my notes on my laptop using OneNote. I dabbled with using Microsoft word also but found OneNote to be a much more streamline and efficient way to both take and organise notes. At the beginning of class I would simply open a new tab in my notebook for that class and label it accordingly. I would then open up my class notes/presentation which my lecturer had uploaded online and I would split my screen in two so I could view them both simultaneously. This meant I could take notes and follow the lecturers notes alongside each other and meant I was able to stay on course with the lecturer as they worked through the content.

If you are heading off to grad school, this can be quite different and you may have reading/work to have already prepared for – this is a whole other blog post in itself!

Set up a study space

Whether your preferred study space is a desk, bed, library or a coffee shop, you need to have a designated study space for studying. This is a space you can go where you feel you’re in study mode and can be somewhat productive and start getting things done. I would recommend maybe trying a few places in your first year of university until you find your fit. Change it up also, I slowly but surely began to become frustrated with the library and changed it up to working/studying mostly in a coffee shop such as Starbucks or would use it as an excuse to find cute coffee shops in my hair to nestle down in for the day.

If you are more of a home bird and like having you’re own space and freedom at home, why not set up a study space at home. If your bedroom/student accommodation doesn’t have a desk for studying you can get a relatively basic/affordable desk online in IKEA starting from €21 and chairs from €15. No matter where you study you just need to make it your own and be able to get into a study zone!

You Won’t Love Everything…

This is something I had to come to terms with in my undergrad and then again in my Masters. I know everyone, especially in the Irish school system always says ‘when you get to university, it will be so much better, you will be doing subjects you love to study’. Nonetheless, reality is, you will not love every subject that you study in college, there were definitely aspects of both my undergrad courses and my Masters which I did not like studying but I knew I had to because they were core to the learning! You will get over it and learn to adapt. The good news is that aside from mandatory courses at university there will always be space for you to chose areas to study that you are really interested in. For me, it was specialising in immigration and asylum law in my Masters . With a number of universities in Ireland and the UK you will also have a chance to explore subject areas outside your core study through horizon and elective programmes.

Get Involved in Extracurricular Activities

Being involved in extracurricular activities in university, more so my undergrad really made my experience at university what it was. From first year onward I was involved in student societies, as well as student government and I slightly thrived on hackdom, with it even leading me to run for a student government position and taking a sabbatical year!

It all resulted in some incredible long lasting friendships and meeting people who had it not been for the clubs and societies, we would have never crossed paths. Academics aren’t everything so make sure you go out and get some other experience, whilst even bolstering up your CV. There is something for everyone at every university and hey if there isn’t why not create your own! 🙂

Start sooner rather than later

Procrastination is the biggest enemy of every college student and this next piece of advice is much easier said than done but try as much as possible to start sooner rather than later when it comes to work. Of course there will be last minute writing of assignments the night beforehand but try and minimise this as much as possible by planning your time and being organised!

This tip also applies to prepping for exams, as soon as you are settled into your lectures and small groups for seminars I would recommend being on top of your assigned work as much as possible and reviewing lecture notes after class to keep on top of them. This will allow you to review and ensure you understand the content of the course. If not, it will give you an opportunity to ask your lecturer/tutor a question and it will also allow you to fill in any missing gaps you have in your notes and to tidy them up. This will make studying for exams so much better. There’s nothing like the feeling of reviewing something a week out from the exam and not knowing what it means or where to even begin to understand it!

Study/Revision techniques

This brings me on to study/revision techniques. Everyone will have their own method and it will take time for you to find how you work/study best at university. Personally, I have found that I work really well using the pomodoro technique. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, usually 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. I find it has helped me to focus my mind a lot more during the time I have set to do a task! You can get so many free apps for your desktop and phone, I use Focus Keeper.

In terms of taking notes in class I tend to type my notes. However, when it comes to revision, as mentioned in another post my method to revising is:

  1. Organising
  2. Reading
  3. Reviewing
  4. Condensing

By the time exams roll around I will generally be working from written rather than typed notes and these will come in the form of A4 non lined paper with notes or more condensed flash cards depending on the course content!

Enjoy yourself

College truly is the best time of your life. You’re young, don’t have many responsibilities, you’re surrounded by fantastic people who share your interests, you feel as if you’ve got all the time in the world (or you could be like me and think you have all the time in the world and stretch yourself too thin, don’t), you’re generally no longer living with your parents, and so many other aspects that make university a really enjoyable experiences.

Don’t get me wrong, there can and will be down times but there is generally always a myriad of supports at your college or university that you can access. So speak to a student adviser, the head of your faculty, your tutor, book an appointment with the student doctor/nurse if you have one on campus or get a referral to student counselling supports or speak to your student union/government team if you can. My biggest advice is that college at times can be a lonely and daunting place but reach out and there will be someone there to support you and listen so don’t struggle alone! By speaking out and accessing support from someone even a friend, you can then focus and concentrate on all the amazing things that drew you to university initially.




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