Remember when you got to the end of your degree and thought, “if only I had known that at the beginning of my degree”. Yes, that could be true of life in general too but at Uni, there are infinite guidebooks but little guidance.
Here are the top 5 skills you need to consider. So toss out those guidebooks and reflect on these:
- Consider the end at the beginning
It can be a pretty daunting place when you first get to university after leaving high school. From rooster to feather duster in 3 months. Where do you go? How does it work? Will you make friends? And so on…
So the real trick to this is to get ahead of the game. Most universities have Orientation Week (O Week) and are completely overrun with newbie students that week. How about instead of starting in O Week, you start the week before. While there are absolutely no students on campus, every other human being is there. Your lecturers, your administrators, your student representatives/union….all on campus. And no students.
This is your chance to plan the entire course – all 3, 4 or 5 years of it – right from the beginning. Go and meet the prof’s, question the admin staff and seek out your rights with your student reps.
In short, it’s all about planning. What if you could get your whole first year planned out before things even began? An understanding of where all of the amenities are, your timetable unveiled early, your classrooms familiar to you and most importantly of all – finding that tricky secret parking spot on a campus of thousands.
- Remember it is your principal social environment
This second tip is one I give with a little nervousness. Perhaps the number one reason for students dropping out of school in the 1st year is the balance between work/life. Too much life, not enough work.
Remember you are only on-campus for a little more than 6 months of the year and during those 6 months and depending on which courses you take, you may be in class for no more than 20 hours a week or so. In fact, many students have even less time in class than that.
So try and get the work/life balance correct. Just as it is important to be attending classes and handing in term papers it is also important to immerse yourself in the school social scene. Just remember, most others were just like you on the first day of school – alone.
Join clubs and only clubs whose activity you love. The choice of club doesn’t have to be something that marries up to your final choice of career but that would be useful if possible. Perhaps a better outcome is to go for clubs and societies that really excite you and excite you enough for you to reach a leadership position. Future employers love to read this on a CV.
- Have a study regime
Universities are very bad for giving you long periods of little work and then short bursts of too much work. Students tend not to study during the first type and drink too much coffee and ‘pull all-nighters’ during the second type. In short – universities destroy your time management skills.
From Week One, you have to spread the study load across the whole semester. I know that no-one reads much more in a course outline other than what the assessment is and when it is due but honestly – this needs to be read properly from Day 1.
If you can lay out your study efforts across a semester and allocate a little piece each week, you will be surprised at just how little you have to do at the end of semester.
Think about doing the reading for each week in the week in which it is required. This is perhaps the most fundamental mistake a student makes. As part of this reading, do a little due diligence around both the exam and the assignment – all in Week One.
With the assignment, underline all of the key elements and be sure to listen out for these comments in the forthcoming week’s lectures. There is no doubt that most good lecturers link their material to the assignment and no doubt give some pretty good tips along the way.
As for the exam – this one is easy. If it is the same examiner over a number of years, he/she is unlikely to change the exam much more than 20 or 30%. If that’s the case, then you can be preparing for the exam from the first week by reading the previous 3 year’s exam papers, which you can find in the library.
- It doesn’t have to be all about study
We already covered the work/life balance but there is another dimension to consider. If a prospective employer sees just university life over your time at uni – no matter how good the grades – he/she won’t rate you. It is as simple as that.
The toughest thing as an employer is not hiring the staff member with 2 or 5 years’ experience. It is hiring the the student who has no experience on their CV. Don’t think for a minute that the 2 weeks’ internship you did in a clothing salon counts for anything either. It is all about relevant experience. It is about experience you choose and not internships that are forced on your through the school curriculum.
This could be the summer job each year or a repetitive theme around your internships (eg. Internships always at ad agencies). Whatever it is, it needs to show the employer what kind of worker and leader you are – not what kind of student you are.
- Stay in touch
The workforce – whether it is medicine, engineering, business or another – is all about the network.
Many students reflect on what kind of network they are going to build once they graduate. Most forget that the network starts straight away.
We are inclined to be very social in a university environment and then let these social bonds we formed at uni slowly break apart over time. Don’t be one of these graduates. Be the kind of graduate who remembers how much fun it was to kick around with friends at uni and understands the same people can be a rich source of friendship and social network as you get older.
The best networks are the ones you don’t work at – the ones that come naturally. Nothing comes more naturally than networks formed under pressure. Like the pressure of all those years of struggle and fun at uni.