I could absolutely start this post and write out every single political theory I learned, how the opinions that French historians had of The Resistance changed constantly over the last century, or why the left is failing in Irish politics.
I mean, I could. But I won’t.
These are things I learned in college, not things I learned from college. These aren’t facts I present to an employer in a bid to hire me.
I have a capacity to learn dates, to follow theory, but I hardly doubt my opinion on Joan Didion is going to bag me that internship (or perhaps it will, if I find another Didion-lover like myself).
University for me, like for a lot of people, was one massive, massive learning curve, particularly taking a 360 degree turn in final year. And even though I didn’t end up with the degree that I was hoping for, I don’t think I would change anything that got me to where I am today.
So, here are a few things I think just might help anyone who might be struggling with college. Brace yourselves, it’s a long one!
- Double check everything. Don’t get caught out if you accidentally mis-cited an essay and are called in for a plagiarism check (not fun). Don’t be lazy and don’t fact-check, it could cost you a few marks that may mean the difference between degrees next year. Just double check. If you have time to read the end of this sentence, you have time to double check.
- Regulate yourself. Doing your work all guns blazing will just lead to an epic burn out. Build it up week by week and give yourself time off. You’ll thank yourself later.
- Don’t take yourself so seriously. You’re young, life is long (as in, you have all the time in the world to get things right). Go make mistakes, kiss someone you shouldn’t, ask that stupid question in class, speak up and give an answer you aren’t sure is right, go for that position and not get it. Laugh at yourself once in a while. You’re human and being human is the most natural thing you can do. It breaks down barriers and can make you more approachable. And who doesn’t like that?
- Keep as organised as you can. This doesn’t mean having everything colour coded and highlighted – two things that did nothing for me – but it means being able to know where things are when you need them, keeping yourself well stocked with paper and pens, keeping any scraps of paper you have with notes on them in the one designated envelope folder and so on. Get a planner if you are having problems keeping up with classes and assignments and write in your deadlines, even write in a reminder on the pages of the week before it’s due. It’s simple and doesn’t take much extra time out of your day.
- Don’t beat yourself up for missing class. There was a certain guilt floating around in college that if you skipped class, you weren’t taking your degree seriously. Yet, for me, there was just some classes where I spent more time on Facebook than I did listening and that was simply because the class was not engaging. I learned more sitting down for the hour reading the chapter than I did sitting in a half empty lecture hall listening to someone try to make economic theory exciting, and failing. Massively.
- Find ways to keep your motivation going. It’s funny but what kept me going throughout exams this year was the ‘studyblr’ tag on Instagram and Tumblr. Seriously, go look at it. It’s reams of beautifully neat notes, how-tos, links to sources of more help with studying, etc. Definitely made me want to be a bit more creative with my notes and inspired me to keep pushing through the wall of tiredness that comes from doing six hours in the library. (side note: YouTube is a great resource of information whenever your brain turns to mush.)(side side note: I found going to breakfast with my friends first thing in the morning motivated me for studying for exams for the day.I started off 9am in the library wide awake from laughing and joking over for an hour over a cheap fry up. Plus, there’s rarely anyone around getting breakfast in university at that time, so you have the place to yourself! If you meet as a group later on it the day, get them to hold you accountable to your daily goals. It’s a good incentive.)
- Your lecturers do care. There’s this myth going around that lecturers do not care about what you do, whether or not you do your work or go to class, and to an extent, it’s true. They won’t chase you up for assignments, they won’t slap you on the wrist for not going to seminars. But. Ask and you shall receive. Lecturers are delighted when they are asked for help. Most will go to the moon and back so that you have all the information you need to understand the topic at hand. Don’t be afraid to ask for help or for more reading recommendations or simply to thank them for breaking down the information for you. They do care, and they do appreciate your input.
- GO AND DO SOMETHING (but start small). In the ever immortalised words of Shia LaBoeuf, just do it. Just go and do it. Yes, you’ll feel a little nervous walking into that society room for the first time, or going to that pub crawl or table quiz on your own but it pays off. Everyone was a stranger to the group at one point and if you think about it, you’re entering into a situation where there are people you know will share your interests. You don’t need to head to a party on your own first thing. Try and start small. If you’re waiting for your first class, strike up a conversation with the person next to you about what you’ve heard about the course, ask them what other modules they are doing, try to establish a link. Then gradually build on that. If someone is having a conversation, add in a quip or something you know (provided that it is not a private conversation! And I’m not advocating you to eavesdrop!).
- There is no one ‘better’ than you. What started off my journey through student journalism was that I went to a meeting one Thursday evening. I believed that everyone there would laugh at me for wanting to be as wonderful as them. I was terrified. But I told myself that the other people there probably wouldn’t know anyone else either and we obviously have the same passion, to write stories and break news. Once I realised that, I walked into the (fairly cramped) office and took my first article. Yes, there were some talented writers here, but there was no way with a bit of practice, hard work, and dedication that I couldn’t be as good. I began to use this ‘they are equal to me, not bigger than me’ mentality within the Student’s Union too and soon, I saw others doing it around me. And I realised just how wonderful it was to see someone new take an interest in something I was passionate about and how it felt to be able to help them with it (very awesome). At the end of the day, you’re both equals and sharing what you know is inherent to making sure the effort you put in stays. TL;DR? It is all mind over matter.
- Cliques don’t exist in the way you think they do. Sure, there are the arty ones, the international students, the zoology ones, but the lines of which we are bound are not as rigid as one may think. My primary group of friends are engineers, with a bit of physics and German thrown in. I have a core group of friends from my course with whom know my drama friends. I have friends from Theoretical Physics, Pharmacy, Irish Studies, English, and Computer Science. The list is mixed and endless. What you’re interested in and what you study does not dictate who you can and cannot be friends with. Embrace it, you will learn an awful lot.
- Your extra-curriculars matter just as much in your job hunt as your degree. Yes. Because your involvement in the paper, or in KnitSoc, or in Engsoc or Peer Mentoring, they all demonstrate that you have a talent. Whether it be a talent for working in a team, for leading a team, for keeping finances, for organising events, for solving issues, these outlets allow you to show these off. And these are just as important as that First in Module A.
- Your extra-curriculars are never more important than your degree. I fell down this hole a few times. Whilst I truly believe, to the contrary of many, that your degree is not the primary reason as to why you’re in college, you need to show that you can handle a proper balance. If employers see that you single-handedly brought back the former glory of a society at the expense of your degree, it’s not going to look that well. Then again, depends on the employer. But it is very easy to get sucked into the mini world of the Student’s Union or any other large society and be tricked into thinking this is the only thing that matters. No one really outside the walls of your university cares all that much about the politics inside it. Prove your understanding of that by cultivating a good balance.
- Don’t break friendships over stupid disputes. This is important. No society, event, job is more important than your friendship with someone.
- Titles don’t really matter (no matter how much you believe they do). At one of the final Student Union meetings of the year, one of the outgoing officers stated that “titles don’t matter”. He was totally right, even though no one in that hall believed him at the time. You’re not any less of a person if you didn’t get the role you want. Very often, and this was true for me, it’s a blessing in disguise. Too many titles and you can tip the work/life scale. People in difficulty remember those who were kind to them and helped them, not who was welfare officer or financial officer at a particular time.
- Politics exists but do not be intimidated by it. Politics is everywhere. It’s in every society, every department, and every union. People trade information, hold people to account, people spread nasty rumours about others because they were slighted by them. I’ve found myself in this area, where my side of the story was taken less seriously thanks to my ranking on the hierarchy. But there is absolutely no reason to get caught up in it. People remember the person who was mature enough to rise above it and realise that none. of. it. matters. Especially not after you get that white sheet of paper with your grade on it.
I’m sure more things will come to me as days go on but these are probably the most important things. Remember, college will probably be the best three or four years of your life but you get what you put in. What you pursue could inevitably shape your future, whether it be in your relationships or in your career.
Also, it’s never too late to start. I only got involved in third year. I saw and did amazing things by the time I was in fourth year. And by the end of it, I was ten times the person when I started.