Tag Archives: education

Life at university – the good, the bad and the ugly

uni2When it comes to university, I will never write anyone off. Even those who are the least academic people around can find a perfect course for them, perhaps with more practical work, and can find it a fantastic experience. The big question is whether it is in fact a truly valuable experience for the individual, and while I think the life experience you gain is immeasurable, often the money and time involved can mean the experience is worth somewhat less in the long run. For me, university was something I had been set on from a young age. Not because of my education, family or upbringing, but because I wanted to study, I loved to learn and I needed a degree in order to achieve my life goals. Plus I really wanted the experience, I wanted to get away from my town, I wanted to move out and look after myself, to gain independence. This was the perfect opportunity and I know that many who are currently looking, researching and making final choices will feel the same.

What I want to do is to make you aware that university is not a doddle, it is hard work for a minimum of three years of living away from home, working while studying and surviving on meagre loans and it can be lonely at times. But at the same time, you will meet the best friends, have the most bizarre experiences and finally have a chance to follow and indulge your true passions. So many people I know are preparing to sit their exams and are trying to make huge decisions about the next three years of their life and where they want to spend it. For me, I was lucky and this was easy – I walked on the campus and instantly fell in love with it. When I read about the courses and met the professors it only further cemented my decision and I am so glad I stuck with it despite my university asking for the lowest number of UCAS points out of each of my offers.

There is a lot to think about when making your decision and it is easy to be blinded by the thought of parties, living in a city, and studying with or following your friends. By writing this, I hope to give prospective university students into the slightly less exciting and fun sides of university just to try and balance out all the amazing fun you will be hearing about. Don’t by any means take this as a negative view of university because it really was the best three years of my life so far and I would encourage anyone to take the opportunity, I just think it is important to make an informed decision. Here’s what happens when things aren’t all sunshine and roses at university:uni1

  • Sometimes things don’t go right. You might not get the place at the university of your choice, you might not get on to the course you wanted or you might not get into the good accommodation. So what happens then? Well, I have a friend who was forced into a hotel for the first few months of university after an accommodation cock-up and she ended up struggling to meet people or make friends. She hated her time at university and found it difficult later on to find housemates for second and third year.
  • Your course might not be the one you wanted. I know a lot of people who switched courses during the first few months because they decided it wasn’t for them. There are always options available – my course allowed us to take on modules from any course in the Humanities sector, it was my choice to focus on English.
  • You might end up in the good accommodation, but with the smelliest and dirtiest people around. We had a particularly smelly individual living in ours who refused to clean his room or wash his plates in the kitchen even when they grew mould in three colours. It was gross, but we found ways around it, piled his stuff outside his room until he got the hint and locked it in one cupboard.
  • You are going to be poor. Being a student in first year I was living in my overdraft from the first week and I had friends who had more than one overdraft as well as their loans. Accept it from the start and be realistic about what you spend your money on. When you get your loan, work out what you have to spend each week and decide whether you can live off this. If you can’t – you need to think about getting a part-time job. This is easy, work in retail, at a bar, in the student union, with the marketing team or even in a supermarket. There’s loads of options available and around universities work is always flexible to suit university students.
  • Sometimes, you and your “friends” will not get on. I was incredibly lucky and the girls I met in my first week in my own flat turned out to be some of the best friends I have ever had. I lived with them throughout university and still see them all regularly after finishing. But if you don’t get on with them, things can often turn nasty in such close living and study quarters and university can become a very lonely place. Do yourself a favour and get out, join clubs or work on the newspaper, meet people on nights out and make the most of every second. Sitting at home alone will only make things worse.
  • The workload could be a shock. After putting in a lot of extra work at A Level, I found I was very prepared for the workload at university, but I know many that weren’t. If you are not one for independent study and reading, you might find it a bit of a culture shock to be expected to do so much on your own. You need to adapt and fast or you will end up behind. Stay organised and keep on top of things because you can quickly feel like you are drowning. Study with friends on your course and talk about difficult bits with them, they may be able to offer help. Don’t be afraid to speak to your tutor and to ask for advice – they certainly get paid enough to help you!
  • You might not be great at taking care of yourself. Whether we are talking personal safety and not walking home alone at night or we’re talking about doing the washing up, cooking and washing your clothes. For those pampered by mum at home, it can be a real surprise to see how much is involved and it can seem crazy to those who have never cooked or cleaned. But this is an amazing opportunity to learn and become capable. I was lucky and knew how to look after myself, but one of my flatmates was scared to cook, another had been pampered by mummy who still sent pack-ups, and another had never used a washing machine. Learn from each other, get your friends to teach you and realise that you will live a hell of a lot better and save a lot more money if you have these vital skills.

uni4Don’t let this put you off – university is amazing. It is so much fun and really does help set you up for life if you make the most of it and grab every opportunity. Just be prepared and aware that it isn’t sunshine and smiles 24/7, and that sometimes you might be homesick and lonely but that is okay. It isn’t right for everyone, but it could also be the best thing you ever do, and it certainly whizzes by in no time at all. I have a friend who studied abroad for a year, left behind her university friends and made a whole load of new ones. She is now travelling the world and staying with all of her international friends along the way. If that doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will! Of course, I would never argue that university is the only option and I know that for many it isn’t, but having the opportunity is amazing and making that decision over what is the right choice for you, is one of the biggest decisions of your life at 18.

What was your best university experience? Planning to go, what are you most worried about?

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It’s never too late to hit the books and change your path

Photo by Avolore

Photo by Avolore

I write this as someone who has always put her all into studying for every course, exam and essay – as someone who got good grades first time around at GCSE, A level and a degree. I did put in a lot of hard work for all of these and deserved the grades I got, but I know that there are a lot of people out there who have not had the study support they need at the time, or have just not applied themselves enough in order to get the grades they needed.

Now before anyone jumps down my throat – of course exams and grades are not the be-all and end-all of finding a successful career, but they do help give you a good base on which to grow, whether you want to continue your studies or not. It seems ridiculous to me that so many people fail to take full advantage of the education on offer for free in this country when so many people across the globe are not even given that opportunity. There can be various reasons for this, perhaps they don’t get the support they need to understand the subject and approach the exam, perhaps they just don’t put in the work to revise and study, perhaps they prefer to mess around in school or they might just think it is all stupid.

I know quite a few people who have not taken or been offered study opportunities early on who have later regretted this and have been forced to return to education, and this has inspired me to write on the topic. I just want to point out to those who have perhaps often thought about wanting to complete their studies but have never done anything about it – it’s not too late! My mum never had the option of university and instead studied to be a nurse (something she had always wanted to do despite being told by her biology teacher it would never happen!). When she later branched out from nursing to become a lecturer in health and social care, she took the opportunity, through her place of work, to study on courses and eventually for a degree in education. She was lucky and paid very little towards the course because her company were willing to fund the training, but often there are other ways of getting help with funding these courses.

Photo by Steven S

Photo by Steven S

I know others who have left school early and unsure of what they wanted to do, they might have worked for a while before finding their passion and returning to school or college to retrain – distance learning is also a great option and often cheaper. While others have left school and refused university, instead preferring to find ways of training whilst working with some days of study in a university – combining the best of both worlds! There are also those who have gone away to university because they are unsure of what they want to do and who leave even less sure. Sometimes these individuals might discover a passion later, like I did with journalism, and find that they have to train further and complete a load of exams to qualify for a position – again distance learning can help you secure a job alongside your studies.

Another example is someone I know who was always the mischievous one in the class – that person who cheeked the teachers and never did any work but you couldn’t dislike them. Despite being an intelligent individual, she left without great grades and went straight into work before starting an apprenticeship. Years later she finds herself in a job she has no passion for, and she’s bored. What is her biggest regret? Not bothering with her A levels. So now she’s studying hard and retaking the exams with big ideas about having a career she loves and possibly going to university. It’s a shame she only discovered the joy of learning a few years late, but better late than never!

The point is that no route is better than another – whether you choose to get a degree, do an apprenticeship, leave and work, train on the job or whatever – all of them give you opportunities, they are just different ones! But no matter what path you choose, there are always opportunities and ways of backtracking and rewriting your story by heading in a different direction.

Have you returned to education after discovering your passion or realising you should have tried harder?

My home town is full of betting shops and cafés – the perils of making career plans while growing up in the countryside

Photograph by Nick Hubbard

Photograph by Nick Hubbard

I come from a large town called King’s Lynn, in Norfolk – you might have heard of it, more than likely you haven’t, but it is close to the Sandringham Royal Estate where good old Queenie comes for her Christmas lunch and is plonked halfway between Cambridge and Norwich.

Google Maps - King's Lynn

Google Maps – King’s Lynn

It doesn’t really matter where I am from, but I thought it was polite to introduce myself. On a quick walk around the town centre during my lunch break, I couldn’t help but notice yet another betting shop had popped up, add this to the countless charity and pound shops, and of course the ridiculous number of cafés  and coffee shops and that just about makes up my home town. The King’s Lynn high street has certainly noticed a decline in the number and quality of shops over recent years, with several branches of huge chains closing due to high rents and lack of footfall, but on the contrary, we have had our first, and rather large Primark open, along with two huge new Sainsbury’s and Tesco superstores. So perhaps things are on the up?

But I’m more concerned with those who are younger, the teenagers and high school students growing up in a town like this, those trying to further their work experience and careers, and those forced to move home following university – just what is it like growing up in a town like this? I thought I would take a closer look at the pros and cons of town life and how it affects our futures.

Photo by Elliott Brown

Photo by Elliott Brown

Cons:

  • Everyone grows up in a small town with the attitude that their home is a “shit-hole”, they treat is so because they have not chosen to grow up here and because they know nothing else.
  • Everyone spends their youth looking for an escape, some rush to do so without qualifications and end up struggling while others do well. Half will go on to university (some of these just to escape rather than to study something they love) and the other half will settle down young with kids (multiple) and usually a great deal of drama in their relationships.
  • It is difficult to get to find work sometimes with so many people going for the same jobs and the range is less – with most work in retail or waitressing/pub work rather than perhaps securing lower jobs in larger companies with chances to work your way up.
  • Less opportunities for work experience in certain fields – I was the first to be given the opportunity to do work experience at the local paper for nearly a decade – and there are very limited options for those in year 10 who are looking to learn about work for future careers – many end up spending the two weeks in a school despite having no interest in teaching.
  • For those who have been forced to return when they finish university – there is a real lack of jobs in certain areas, for example, marketing and business, which means graduates are forced into lower paid and unrelated jobs to make ends meet.
  • Less independence in some ways – perhaps a lack of experiencing travelling around a bustling city alone and less responsibility for own personal safety – but at the same time this could work in the opposite way and individuals can become very independent – but also can experience the freedom of a real childhood.
Photo by Bremnma

Photo by Bremnma

Pros:

  • My absolute favourite pro of living in Norfolk has got to be the incredible location, I am walking distance from endless woods and beaches, I live near a castle surrounded by a moat, the Queen lives just up the road from me, and soon, so will Wills, Kate and baby George. There is so much to see and do, and I have truly grown up as a ruddy faced youngster with bright eyes and a runny nose from running around outside covered in mud – the way all children should grow up.
  • Easy access to Central London (just two hours on the train) which means commuting is possible for further work experience either in London or Cambridge, or just for trips out.
  • There is more opportunity for work experience with lesser candidates and a chance to blow your own path where others haven’t before. A chance to be a big fish in a small pond before tackling the ocean. Again, this really helped me with my journalism.
  • A lack of distractions and more opportunity to focus on your studies in smaller schools so you get more attention and focus from the teachers… (this does depend on the school and the teachers though)
  • Leaving the town for university really helps you to gain perspective and realise that your home is not a “shit-hole” and it makes you appreciate it for the future. You may even willingly return and take up a job here.
  • You have the opportunity to become close to a company and lay the groundwork on a personal level before finishing university which can really help with securing a job post-graduation whereas in a larger company, or one that sees a lot of interns, your face could be lost in a sea of expectant students. Plus, you would really have to shine on paper as well as in person compared to a town.
  • Less travel – commuting is a pet hate of mine and I am lucky to have found a job in my home town which takes me just seven minutes drive in the morning and a short walk – in a city, you could be on a bus/tube for up to an hour or you could be travelling by train out of the city. This is exhausting and adds a lot of time onto your working day.
  • Having this extra time can provide you with the opportunity to look into other areas as extracurriculars – for example, my festival writing has been helped by having lots of festivals close by and it was this that got me into it. It could also give you a chance to do something completely different such as volunteering for the Lifeboat.
  • Inspiration – these beautiful Norfolk landscapes are the inspiration for so much local talent whether musically, theatrical, dance, art or anything else – it can be a great head-clearer and muse for writers and especially bloggers. I love getting outside and blowing away the cobwebs – always gives me an idea for a new post such as this.
Photo by Jon Bunting

Photo by Jon Bunting

I’m sure I could list many, many more pros and cons, but I think that I’ve covered the main ones. With all these thoughts in my head lately about the future, I have found myself wondering how much growing up in King’s Lynn and returning here has affected my career and plans – I wonder what I might be doing if I weren’t here working as a journalist. It must be a concern for students now, especially those living in a small town, that their limited experience as a result of living in such a town might hold them back – but I want to reassure all students out there that this is not the case and in fact living in a small town instead of central London could help your future rather than hindering it.

Think you’ve sat your last exam? Think again…

Remember that feeling, like you were drowning in words and letters, like the pages were going to come alive in front of your very eyes and smother you with all the information you had yet to learn? That feeling of hopelessness and being so sure that you would fail? The constant cycle of fear of exams and relief when they were finished was how many of us spent the last five or six years through sixth form/college and then university. At that time, it was difficult to visualise a life outside of the cycle and to imagine actually going to work and finishing the day without homework and further reading…

Then, the end was in sight. That glimmer of light at the end of a tunnel made of books, it wasn’t just the reflection from your glasses, or yet another clock timing your essay writing. That glimmer was freedom! It was the realisation that there was a world outside of your studies and that you would soon be thrust into it and forced to find a real 9-5 job, to sign up to a pension plan and to make your own pack-up lunches. Wow. How exciting it was to think that after three years of studying for the privilege, you would finally be eligible for your dream job – or at least one at the bottom of the rung with hopes of making it to that dream job. It might sound sad, but after three years of studying, reading, writing essays, of partying hard and staying up late, I was ready to leave that world and move on to a real career. I had finally worked out that I wanted to be a journalist or to work in the media and I was eager to sink my teeth into a new and real challenge.

I was lucky, I had put the time and effort into extra work experience, unpaid positions, and had made the connections needed to secure me a job early on, but I hadn’t realised how much work was involved when one decides to become a journalist! The problem is, when you leave university, you just assume that you have written your last essay, scribbled madly in your last exam, made your final presentation and submitted your final piece of group work. But the shock comes when you realise it’s not the case. Now more than ever, with competition so high for jobs and everyone reaching incredible standards of training, it is important to keep ahead of the game by taking advantage of as many types of training as possible.

I have two friends who studied English with me at university and they are now elbow-deep in teacher training, creating learning resources and endless amounts of paperwork – they arrive at work two hours before the children arrive for school and continue to work for several hours after they leave, barely breaking for lunch, then carry on with more work in the evenings. They work harder now that ever before, and although it will all be worth it in the long run, I’m sure that both of them would love to be enjoying a 9-5 job which sees them focusing on the children rather than the paperwork.

As some of you may have already read on my About page, I chose to take the job offered to me and to enrol in my distance learning NTCJ Diploma in Journalism course rather than fork out the few thousand to study the 10-week course – it was cost-effective and meant I could work straight away rather than miss the job opportunity. My problem was the fact that after studying for three years and paying more than £10,000 for the privilege alongside mountains of extra work experience, I was still not qualified enough for the job! This was such a kick in the teeth. I had finally found the career I had longed for and I was finally given the chance to work full-time, but I was to be penalised in my wages for not having my NCTJ qualification. I understand that I journalism, there are aspects such as shorthand and law that you need to study in order to protect yourself as a writer – but it doesn’t take away from the fact that so many graduates are finding themselves still not qualified enough for the jobs they are applying for despite studying for a full three or four years!

It is a very unfair part of the education system, but even more so for those who managed to enrol on a journalism course that didn’t take them through all the necessary exams or to 100wph shorthand – that must be very disappointing – to finish a three-year journalism BA and still have to pay for the 10-week course.It just shows you, you really need to push yourself to get every advantage that is available to you to stand a chance in the big, wide, world.

 

Age is just a number – and you better believe it!

I, as I’m sure many university graduates and young people, am getting rather frustrated with being patronised.

It is incredibly disrespectful, and seems to be a growing problem as I enter the working world. They always said while I was growing up, “respect your elders”, but respect works both ways and is necessary if anything productive is going to be achieved.

I understand fully that as a recent entrant into the world of journalism I am very naive and lacking knowledge of many aspects of the journalistic world, such as law and public affairs, and will remain so until I have completed my diploma. But it would be nice to be given credit for what I do know rather than being patronised and questioned at length.

I think that graduates who are entering the working world need to remember their worth – while I understand that each and every one of us must be prepared to start at the bottom of the ladder and pay our dues – we also have to remember not to give everything away at once, not to work beyond our means just to satisfy a new boss when they are expecting us to do far beyond our expected workload.

It is so easy to get stuck into a routine of working up to an extra three hours a day now that we are in a recession and companies are short staffed. If you arrive early to work and start immediately, work through your lunch and stay late at the end of the day, you are essentially giving up your life for a job that – at the end of the day – might just make you redundant or the company may go under at any time with such an unpredictable economy.

I have done this cycle and received no thanks for all my extra efforts – always claim your time back – and now I choose not to do this. I will work extra, but always take the time back. Just because people are older and more experienced in whatever your field, it doesn’t mean they know more than you – they just know different stuff! You are coming into the industry with a more modern and younger viewpoint, you have a fresh take on old ideas, you have new knowledge of the digital world we now live in whereas the older generation in your office – or those more set in their ways – might struggle.

I actually run the website in my office and am the go-to person for all things digital. It is important to make yourself indispensable (even the editor comes to ask me questions) but don’t give them lots of extra because they will come to expect it – and trust me you will get no thanks!

The problem is that now I am finding, and friends of mine, that the reaction to this attitude and knowledge is sometimes that other members of the office become patronising towards me. They pass it off as a joke, but their comments are out of order and certainly not funny. To any other graduates out there experiencing the same thing – don’t put up with it, but certainly don’t cause a problem about it. Just continue being endlessly helpful and proving them wrong by showing them how they are failing at certain things you know more about.

Never doubt your abilities because you have as much knowledge and as many ideas as any other member of the office. It is easy to let things like this get to you, heaven knows I do, but hey, look at me – I’ve just been made an editor at 23-years-old! Look at your qualities and assess their worth before you let anyone else beat you down – your age doesn’t mean you are worth any less!