Reflecting on my UK University Experience : 13 Things I’ve Learned

After being in education for the last 17 years, I have finally finished the last academic hurdle of post-graduate study.

Here is a list of the things that I have learned:

1. You will meet some amazing people

This speaks for itself, but it’s true what they say you will meet a few of your life-long friends here. You will meet people that you connect to on a deeper level with common interests and life goals. You will feel cared for, loved and supported by these people – so important during those particularly stressful late-night revision sessions and essay submissions. You will meet people who are at similar points in their lives, going through the transitions into adulthood. I know a few of the friendships I have made are for life. <3

2014-10-23 13.29.28
Some interesting illustrations by some very talented ex-Queen Mary University students. – Mile End Campus.

2. Keeping in Touch Can be Hard

You will soon come to realise that it appeared to be easier to keep in touch with friends from school rather than friends from university. However, this was only because you’d see friends every day in school. As you get older it gets harder and harder to maintain contact since we have many more commitments. University timetables may clash, your interests may change, you may have to work part-time. At the same time, however, balance is key. Overworking can often make you feel really lonely and isolated especially in university. Balance is key.

3. It’s okay to feel stressed

I know for me jumping from A-Levels to a university degree was a huge shock for me. Especially when it came to the first term of my degree. I remember speaking to my therapist during that time in absolute shock at how she wanted me to stay studying and push through. I was really out of my comfort zone.

Having a support network around you is incredibly important during university especially if you are living away from home. Your room-mates or neighbours will become your family for the next three months and it’s important to take care of your mind as well as your body. Eat well, stay on top of your work, take time out and if it gets too much, then let someone know. Be it a family member or if you do not want them to know, then every university will have professionals who are willing to listen to you and offer support.

Do NOT suffer in silence!

Sad orange

4. Work hard, play harder!

This is something I wish I had done. Throughout my undergraduate degree, I was known for always working in the library, not really willing to go out and enjoy or celebrate. Not because I could not afford to, but more because I was too afraid to let my hair (or hijab, LOL) down and actually reward myself. Losing control was my biggest fear. But not giving myself time out was actually making me feel worse as it added on to my feelings of stress and anxiety due to the isolation.

As a post-graduate student studying for my Master’s qualification, I knew all too well not to make the same mistake again and really take time out for myself and spend time with my loved ones. I found that I was better able to work and felt much more energised once I took a break from all my revision and could remember information much easier for my exams!

For all psychology students reading this, you would know of the great effects that positive reinforcements have on behaviour. This is when a desirable behaviour is more likely to be replicated once a reward has been given. Therefore, rewarding yourself for all your hard work will make you want to continue working harder in order to feel the immense happiness from the rewards.

Whether it be going out with your friends, watching a film or even joining a class at the gym it is really important to take time out for yourself!

5. 1% can make all the difference

I’m sure many graduates will be able to understand this. It is so important to work really hard so you do not end up sitting on the fence with grades that between a 2:2 or a 2:1. I was so close to a 1st class degree, I believe about 1.5% away. However, it is also important to not get caught up with your grades as they are not what employers will solely focus on.

6. You will spend too much money on food

If your university is situated within close proximity to a Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons or ASDA then you will undoubtedly be going there regularly. One thing I realised once I began going to university is that you will always end up being hungry. Whether it be after a 1 and a half-hour-long lecture, having a meeting with your supervisor or even a group revision session with some of your mates. My uni was at the heart of all halal food places (Mile End/Whitechapel) so you can imagine where I ended up going every other day. I was treating myself… perhaps a bit too much. But hey, there is always room for more food – thank goodness for Student Finance!


7. Living in hoodies is your God-given right

I found a trend where the dress code during the first term of uni consisted of the perfect winged eyeliner, the trendiest of bags, smiles all round and the brightest of cardigans.

The last semester, on the other hand, consisted of thesis deadlines and module exams. You would find the same people walking around like they just rolled off their beds. You would find cornflakes stuck to their pyjamas, the hugest hoodie you would have ever seen and a designer bag exchanged with either a can of Red Bull/a shot of espresso as an accessory. You do you boo xx

8. Societies are the best

From Cheese Societies to Harry Potter Fandom Societies there are hundreds and hundreds of societies that you can be a part of! Also, a great way to meet up people who have similar interests as you and take part in exciting events on campus.

During Fresher’s Week, I probably signed up to around a dozen societies. However only 5 of which I was actively a member of including the Mental Health Awareness Society (obvs), The Psychology Society and others.

9. Handwritten notes are better than typing them up

I learned this when I used to type up my lecture notes, only to write them down again. The most time-consuming way of revising! Do not repeat this mistake of mine. Science has suggested that putting pen to paper creates better notes rather than using a laptop to type. This is because there is a risk of writing exactly what your lecturer says, word for word as you are typing. When you are writing you are forced to summarise what the lecturer says into your own words, meaning that you are able to process the information once before you go over the notes later on! Revision before you begin revising, what more could you ask for?

10. Don’t be Afraid to Sit at the Front

One thing I realised was that the front rows of a lot of my lecture theatres were nearly always empty. I mean I get it. Sitting right close to where the lecturer stood, meaning that you had to stay awake all the time and look like you were paying attention, and even harder to not make eye contact with the lecturer as they asked the hall a question. Scary AF. As daunting as that may sound, sitting at the front eliminated some of my distractions. I was less focused on what others were doing in the lecture hall that I was when I sat at the back.

*Just a side note, if you feel the need to nap, do not do it during your lecture. Some lecturers are savage and will expose you (LOL) especially if you are a loud snorer (this actually happened).

11. Buying Books is a Pain in The @$$

So you probably have been given a list of articles or book chapters to read before the next lecture. In my experience, I found that asking lecturers which articles were the most important really helped. Especially since every other lecturer also had a reading list. It is very tempting to order all your books off Amazon Prime. But there are a lot of free PDF versions online so have a look online first and save yourself a bit of cash! I also found that some of the books could be bought second hand at a reasonable price online.

If you managed to acquaint yourself with students a year ahead of you then it is always worth asking them if they are selling their old books. I remember for my course there was a Facebook page set up for anyone to sell their old books. This was a lifesaver.

12. Work Experience is Important

You might be thinking, why on earth would someone want to work when you have a degree to complete? But honestly, this is one of the best things you can do. You will gain a bit of pocket money, meet some great people and also have a bit of time away from studying which as I mentioned before is incredibly important.

In the current political climate where the graduate job market is incredibly saturated, gaining experience whether it be through internships or volunteering is invaluable. Working with firms or companies that carry out work similar to the career you aspire to have will really make you stand out from other applicants when you begin applying for jobs in your penultimate year. You will thank yourself for it in the future.

13. Honestly, it’ll all be worth it in the end

You have probably heard this before from your old neighbour or your cousins and you will now hear it from me, university IS the best time of your life. When you stand on that stage in your robe and have your name called out in front of all your friends and family during your graduation you will realise how the last few years passed in a flash. It really makes the entire experience worth the hard work. And like me, you might be tempted to ahead and complete a master’s if you’re not yet ready to leave the student life!




Leave a Reply