A Guide to University (First Year)

I thought something like this may be useful for anyone starting Uni this year – an honest account of what first year was like for me.

The past six weeks have been hectic to say the least. Assignments, deadlines, and exams. But that’s it. First year of University is completed!!!! 

…9 months ago I was starting out at Uni, not knowing whether I would be suited to the busy city of Leeds, not knowing how I would cope so far from home, not knowing whether I would have the confidence to pursue Journalism, and not knowing where I would fit in on such a busy campus.

9 months later, I couldn’t love the city more, I’ve grown to be independent, the course is exactly what I want to be doing, and I’m happy with the little stamp I’ve made on campus.

When I started in September, my mum told me “give it three months, and if you hate it by Christmas, then you can look at other options. Just make sure you give it your all.” And that’s when I came to realise that all of my doubts had been so pointless. I’m not going to lie, the first three weeks were tough, mainly because living away from home for the first time with 4 other people my own age whom I didn’t know was daunting. But I landed so lucky with my flatmates. From the start we got on so well, supporting each other, looking after each other during Fresher’s week, and really understanding how we were all feeling. Plunging into my degree was also tough to begin with, because although i’d studied History, Politics and English previously, Journalism was a completely different skill and required much more than just the ability to read and understand.

As a side note: I didn’t find Freshers’ week as hyped up as everyone said. Most of the ‘friends’ I made in freshers I never saw again, and everyone that I’ve spoken to felt the same. Freshers is a good way to navigate your way around campus and get to know your flat more by going out, but it’s not the week to make friends for life. 

I would say that after 3 weeks I had settled in very well. I was well into the swing of my course, I’d joined three societies, located the gym, and somewhat adjusted to the vibrant nightlife of Leeds.

Upon reflection, I think in those first few weeks you’ve either taken to Uni or you haven’t. I spoke to so many people who said that they hated their flat, or they disliked their course, and I think in those first few weeks it’s important to recognise that so that you can move accommodation, or change course if necessary.

Whether the course is right is the most important part of University, as ultimately you’re trying to get a degree in it. When you have to devote 3 years to studying one subject, it’s important that you enjoy it. For me, Journalism was the perfect balance of everything. I was learning history, politics, theory, writing essays, and also learning practical skills of filming, editing, interviewing and writing for online, social media etc.

Societies are hugely important to join as I found out. When choosing Unis, I was looking for the ones that offered me the widest opportunities. There were so so many that I wanted to join but I soon realised that I wouldn’t have time for everything! 😦 I joined Leeds Student Radio, a radio station run by students with a show for just about everything. I threw myself into Breakfast shows and haven’t looked back since, and I’m now on the committee for next year!! I joined the Student to start writing for a wider audience, and I joined the Student Television (although I didn’t get as involved with this one as I would like.) I already know for next year that I will be continuing these three, as well as joining Vertical Fitness. I go to the gym three times a week if I can manage it too. My point is: keep busy!! Sitting around in my room was never an option for me…I didn’t want to waste thee years at such an amazing Uni with so many opportunities being handed to me, by doing things I could do at home.

Societies are also the easiest way to make friends with people who aren’t on your course, which is really important to branch out your friendship circle. The best thing about Uni is that there are no cliques or labelled friendship groups: everyone is past that and it’s so positive to be in a place where everyone just wants to get along.

A balance between work and leisure is so important too. Although first year doesn’t count towards the degree (although this does depend on what you do) it is so important to set yourself up for second and third year. The way you work independently, the environment that you work best in, and the way that you revise are three things that you should spend first year figuring out, so that you can walk into second year prepared.

Go for every opportunity!! Honestly, everything you do at Uni will look so good on your CV, and don’t think that just because it’s first year you shouldn’t get involved. I’ve made some amazing friends in third and second year just through being a course rep, and they have given me some amazing advice too which I’ve been able to pass on to everyone else. Plus, being course rep means that in third year I can run for school rep.

Look for paid opportunities on campus too. I always wanted to get a job at Uni, so starting on campus is the best choice for me because it’s not too far, and they are more accepting in the way that they work around your timetable and other Uni commitments. They pay well too!! I became a Student Ambassador, which was also good for making friends with people within the media school.

I also learned to take other opportunities: after being approached by a Youth Power platform to guest write for them I grasped the opportunity, grabbing the chance to write for a wider audience and also use some of the skills from my course.

Uni is such an inspiring place to be. My course tutors and lecturers are still in the media industry, with many of them wok ring as freelancers of with the BBC, giving me the piece of mind that any advice I am given is current and from a  professional.

Many academic articles and journals I consult are actually written by the very people who teach me, which is so reassuring. Not only that but they are super helpful. One of the biggest difficulties with my course seems to be the need to justify why we study Journalism. One of our modules even looked at why it is important, due to preconceptions from many other schools of thought that Journalism is too creative or not as academically challenging. My personal opinion is that not only is it so important in today’s society to differentiate between fake news and reliable news stories, but also the amount of different studies that go into my subject.

A huge thing for me as finding a house. I’d house hunted with my parents before, but this felt very different. By Christmas, we had to think about who we were living with in second year: time to move out of halls and into a house. In the end we had 8 of us (apparently one of the most demanding numbers to find a house for) and in the space of a week we had viewed four properties and signed for one of them. I think that was the most adult thing I’ve ever done.

First year of Uni has been the best experience, and I’ve really found myself as a person. I know the next two years will be much harder and more serious, but I feel so ready now. I’ve been able to push myself out of my comfort zone so much this year, and quickly learnt to overcome any confidence barriers. My course means that I have to find a story and go and interview people, film people etc. and ask the right questions. I know that next year will be even more challenging, but I’m just relieved that I was able to go out and do that (for me its was so nerve-wracking).

First year has given me so much self-confidence and reliance on myself. I quickly learned that I had to be independent and self-dependant to survive first year. I’ve made sure to take actions and do things for the benefit of my own mental health, I’ve learned when to say yes and when to say no, and I’ve learned that being an adult is scarier than I thought.

But I’ve come home this summer realising I have new self-motivations and a different, more mature mindset towards everything. I’m so ready for whatever the next two years throw at me, and I’m determined to make the most of everything just as I have this year, before Uni is over and I have to start in the ‘real world’.

Sasha xx

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