Michael Quinn studied Philosophy at Bristol UWE, graduating in 2015. With many people, including his three younger brothers, going through various stages of the uni decision-making process and uni experience, he decided to share some of his thoughts on the choices he made.
Q What are the pros and cons of taking a gap year before uni?
A Pros: A gap year will give you a year to mature, many people (myself included) didn’t feel they were ready for independent living straight after college and a gap year give you time to think about what you want to do. If you’re going to take a gap year, it’s important to use it constructively. Most people work and/or go traveling and these things will teach you a lot about independence and managing your finances which are vital skills at uni (and afterwards).
Cons: The obvious drawback to taking a year out is you will be finishing uni a year late, so your peers will be one year ahead of you when it comes to a career. Having a year out of education might also dull your academic edge a little bit – going straight to uni after college will mean you’re still in the mindset to learn.
Q How to choose the degree and university that’s right for you? How important is it to visit the university first? Is it important to go to the same university as your friends?
A The most important thing is that you choose a degree that you are interested in. Many people feel they need to do a generic course because they think it will give them a better chance at getting a job but this is generally not the case. Firstly, it’s important to remember that a degree isn’t all about getting a job, it’s also something you want to learn because it interests you. Secondly If you pick something you like you are far more likely to succeed. This will play a lot better with a future employer rather than a mediocre grade for a degree that appears to lend itself to the working world.
Visiting your uni before enrolling is always going to be a good idea. If you’re going to be spending three years there you will want to know what it’s like. Going to see your prospective campus and halls is one thing, but make sure you give yourself a whole day to see the town and get a feel for it. If you know anyone who’s at that uni or recently been there, talk to them, but be sure to weigh their opinions against the other things about the place you’ve seen and heard.
Although many people want to stay close to their home friends, uni is a time of branching out and meeting new people. If you choose to stick with your old friends, you run the risk of not leaving your comfort zone which is part of the whole experience.
Q Any advice on money – handling student loan, paying bills etc?
A Try and set a budget, although this is difficult in what can be hectic times. Monitoring what you’ve spent and how much you need for necessities such as rent, food and bills can be the difference between pasta and super noodles for the rest of the term (you may not see a big difference between the two but trust me after the fifth day in a row you’ll want pasta). Your student loan can seem ominous: however you needn’t worry about it. You only start paying it back when you earn more than £25,000 a year and then only a small amount of your earnings will go towards it.
Q Finding accommodation – best to be on campus or off? Advice on finding somewhere to live and choosing housemates
A For your first year, halls are really the only option. You will meet loads of people and these act as a halfway house, easing you into the transition of living independently. When choosing a location to live there is no right on wrong answer. Near campus and in town both have their ups and downs. Most importantly is that you pick your housemates well. Don’t necessarily sign up with the first people you meet. If you don’t get on with your housemates it can cause unnecessary stress and affect your studies. One great way to see if people are right to live with is to book a weekend away with you and your prospective housemates. A few days stress-free isn’t necessarily a foolproof indicator of a happy yearlong tenancy but if you argue after a couple days you may have your answer.
Q Food – what’s the easiest and cheapest way to eat?
A Pasta, rice and noodles will be your friends at uni. Best way to save money is to make sure that that you chip in with all your housemates and do a big shop. If you can share food then less will go to waste. Next thing is to try and cook big batches of something you can store or freeze. Thirdly be savvy, make sure you keep your eye out for when your nearest supermarket discounts items that are about to go out of date and get down there early. Pre-chopped cabbage may not seem appealing but at 10p a kilo you have no right to turn it down. Finally, remember that supermarket ready meals are not only expensive but also often not that nutritious – your trading these things for speed and convenience. It’s as well not to get into the habit of relying on them.
Q How to handle weekly academic workload?
A Everyone has different methods of handling their work. The most important thing is to stay organised, type up your notes after lectures so that you have it in a permanent and, most important, legible format. Too many times my notes made perfect sense at the time but when I came to revise from it months later it felt like I was deciphering a code.
Secondly you want to make sure the workload doesn’t pile up. Having too many essays to write or exams to cram for will make you feel overwhelmed and you won’t know where to start. Just do a little bit each day even when you don’t have a lot of pressure. This will help to make sure the information is stored in your mind so that when it comes to crunch time you don’t crumble.
Q How many lectures should you go to?
A You want to go to as many as possible. Lectures will provide you with the basic knowledge with your subject, although many are also online being in the lecture hall will provide you with the best way to get to know your subject. Towards exam time, however, many students find that they work more effectively on the library tackling their revision notes. There is a balance to be found but when it comes to exams you need to work in a way that is going to get the most out of your time.
Q How to handle exams – what is the best place and time to revise?
A As a general rule you will want to begin revision around a month or two before your exams. If you have a lot in a short period of time you might want to give it a little longer. If you start too early you run the risk of overwhelming yourself and burning out, which will make your studies almost impossible. Some people say they work better at home when revising but, for me, the library was the only way to do it – minimal distractions and all the facilities you need. Revising in groups also works for certain individuals. Having a different perspective on a problem and bouncing ideas around can help you see something in a whole new light as well as making the process less mind-numbing.
Q Is it good to get a part-time job while you’re at uni?
A These days a maintenance loan doesn’t even cover rent in a lot of cases, so if you’re not lucky enough to be supported by mum and dad then you are left with little choice. I would recommend everyone trying to work at least at some point during uni, as it will give you the financial stability you need as well as preparing you for that horrific moment when you realise you need to get a full-time job. The one important thing is to make sure your employer knows you will have to either quit, or tone down your hours during crunch time. Uni always comes first!
Q Is it important to get involved in extra curricular activities? Clubs, societies etc?
A If there is something you are interested in, a society is the best way to not only learn more about it but also to meet like-minded people. If you always wanted to go rock climbing but none of your friends from home were interested this is your chance. Many societies also provide subsidised activities to go to, so you can do things you wouldn’t normally be able to afford on a student budget.
Q Besides your academic studies what have you gained from going to university? Life experience? New friends? More independence? More confidence? Better employment prospects?
A My degree gave me a different outlook on life and a way of thinking that has shaped the kind of person I am today. I learnt things about living independently that I had never otherwise considered and made a group of friends whom I would otherwise never have met.
Q What does it feel like when you leave university?
A It’s strange. Three years is a very long time in your life but when you finally move out it feels like it’s all gone so quickly. Many people stick it out in their uni town as they feel that that has become their home. What’s important to remember is that it does end and that it’s important to make sure you take something valuable from the whole experience
Q How does your student loan make you feel about getting work now?
A It’s made no difference. You pay back a fairly small amount each month, so it doesn’t really affect your livelihood. Just make sure that you keep the Student Loan Company up to date if you go travelling or are unemployed for a significant amount of time unless you want an angry letter threatening you with penalties.