How to Prepare for your First Term at University
For many school leavers, the summer between school and university can seem a bit like an unreal bubble. The pressure valve of exam stress is released, and in the nice weather and long days, with no impending essays or coursework due, it can seem as though there is nothing to do but party and wait for exam results, and then, hopefully, for the autumn to arrive with its promise of a new start at a university somewhere. Even teenagers committed to gap years often see the post-exam summer as a kind of hiatus, when nothing really can happen, and where they deserve a break from ‘real’ life.
Of course, this is an illusion … ‘real life’ is what we do every day, and this applies equally to teenagers in their pre-university months. No matter how taxing the examinations have been, they are behind them now, and it would be a waste of a summer simply to do nothing. It is wise for school leavers to work to earn money, partly to ease the burden of debt which is about to hit them, and partly because … well, working is a essentially good habit to develop, and the experience will help shape their ideas about what they want to do in the future. Beyond this, taking time to prepare for university can only be a good thing; university is too expensive an investment now for teenagers not to want to do all they can to make it a success.
So, a few top tips for prospective students preparing to go to university in the autumn:
Read everything you can about your chosen university, so that you are well-prepared for what to expect in practical terms. Think about what it will feel like living there, and start planning what you need to take with you. Remember – it takes longer to pack in a minimalist way than it does to throw everything together at the last minute, so it is worth planning.
Do some pre-course reading. Remind yourself why you chose your subject(s) and why you are looking forward to studying it/them over the next few years. Start to take responsibility for your own learning – you will be expected to do this at university, after all, so start seeing your learning as a choice, rather than an imposition.
Don’t mess up your life. Seriously. Every summer there are horrific stories in the press of school leavers who are fatally injured on holiday because they made foolish choices, or were carried away. Beware drugs and alcohol – you are an adult now, and the last thing you want to take to university and into your career is a criminal record that came from a moment of madness … Choose not to be a statistic.
Finally, make sure you are well-versed in what to do if your exam results aren’t quite what you expected. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help and guidance, because there will be a place for you somewhere – you just need to find it.
And remember: you will gain satisfaction from having a productive summer. It may not feel like it now, but life is too short to waste. Enjoy doing something that matters.
Dr Helen Wright is a former Head of a leading UK public school and is part of the William Clarence Education Advisory Board