From A Levels to undergraduate study, how hard is the transition…really?

This post is based on my experiences at Newcastle University so the links at the bottom are only applicable to prospective students there. However, in my experience I’ve found that most universities have similar provisions for their first-year students, go on their websites to find out more!

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From A Levels to undergraduate study, how hard is the transition…really?

At Newcastle’s undergraduate visit day this year, I was asked half a dozen times about how hard being a university student is compared to studying for your A levels. Google this question and you’ll find yourself in a sea of internet forums with complacent or panicked students bragging about how much easier it is or students stressing over how difficult the transition is.

The truth?

It’s incredibly subjective. University is going to be as difficult as you want to make it for yourself but you also have a lot to gain from putting in the extra effort. So essentially, the difficulty of the transition is, like most things at university, largely up to you. The hardest bit about coming to university (in my humble opinion) is how to live with your newfound independence but chances are, you’re going to have that challenge around this time in your life regardless of whether you choose to come to university or not.

But back to the studying.

I’m going to unashamedly hold my hands up here and admit that I’m a nerd – I love to learn. So imagine my surprise when I went from working hard and getting awesome grades in college to working hard and getting low-average grades in university. It was a shocker, for sure.

This wasn’t because the transition was too difficult or because I’d lost smart points over my blissfully long and wonderful gap year, this is because of a simple truth that will be repeated to you time and time again by your lecturers: you have to learn to work differently.

A brilliant thing about first stage (your first year) when you come to university is that it doesn’t count at all in your marks, you just have to pass it. One big important reason for this is that your lecturers want you to adapt your college habits to suit university – now, instead of writing to pass an exam, you’re writing to show that you really understand and can analyse the material and, most importantly, you can think for yourself. Weirdly, A levels don’t encourage this practice too much and instead, they opt for wanting you to say specific things (I remember spending far too much time memorising legislation dates on flashcards and looking at mark schemes), rather than your own ideas. You might already be doing this sort of thing, if that’s the case then great! Keep practising! But for those of you who aren’t – don’t worry. You’ll figure out how to express your thoughts and argue your point wonderfully soon enough and once you do, you’ll wonder how you ever did it differently.

 

It’s well worth mentioning that there’s loads of support available to you to help with the academic transition into university (the non-academic side is worth a whole other post of its own!). Here are a couple of pointers to give you an idea of the amount of people you can turn to:

 

  • Your lecturer
    Obvious, I know, but your first port of call if you get stuck about something specific to your module should be the person who’s leading it or who’s heading up your seminars
  • Your peer mentor
    Most first years will have a peer mentor who is a student in their 2nd or 3rd year who has been trained to point you in the right direction for help and to share their own experiences of university
  • Your personal tutor
    You’ll be allocated a personal tutor that you meet up with at least once a semester, you can talk to them about all things university – including how to make the transition from A level to university as smooth as possible
  • Your peers
    There’s a very good chance your degree has its own university society or at very least, a Facebook group for your course and/or year. Talk to other people and see how they’re getting on, quiz the 2nd and 3rd year students over what modules they picked and how they make referencing less boring (everyone has a tactic!)

 

There’s also university-wide support you can use too such as:

 

The transition from A Level to university can be really daunting and challenging but there’s loads of support you can access if you need a hand – plus you have all of your first year to figure it out before you really have to knuckle down when your grades start ‘counting’.

So try new things and have fun!

June 2016 Update – Welcome Back

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Thank you for returning back to my blog after such a long hiatus, it’s good to be back and writing again.
So why such a long break? Well the main reason is the stress and pressures of university and personal problems have caused some health issues for me recently. Alongside other projects I’ve been doing, this has left very little time to maintain my blog so, thanks to a kind notification from WordPress the other week celebrating my blog’s first anniversary, I’m now using The English Teacup as a hobby to help with recovery and as a way to kick my ass back into writing more.

To give this a boost, I’d like to introduce you to my new project, Photos and Words. This project is the simple idea of using photos I’ve taken to accompany flash fiction (something I’m very new to!). This project is in its very early stages and is basically one big experiment so please take a gander and leave me some feedback and thoughts on what you think – suggestions would also be appreciated! You can find out more about it by visiting this page: https://theenglishteacup.com/photosandwords/

You will also notice a few more changes that have appeared on my blog: a more streamlined banner, a couple of new pages and link to a PayPal donation button on my sidebar. Now, this last one I’d like to talk about in a little more detail. It costs me £22 per year to keep my domain name. Though this isn’t a huge expense, it mounts up quite rapidly when added onto my initial start-up cost. On top of this, there’s the time aspect – maintaining my blog involves hours of work and can be very time-consuming. This is the main reason it’s been at a standstill for so long, I simply don’t have the funds to do this in my leisure time at the expense of other (paid) projects. For this reason, I’ve decided to include the option of readers donating via PayPal to help go towards blog maintenance costs. Please don’t think this is going to my own purse – all donations will be kept aside to go towards the blog maintenance costs and to help reimburse the initial start-up costs. For this reason, if you enjoy reading my work and would like to see more of my content in the future, please consider donating if you are able to. Even donations the price of a coffee or a tabloid newspaper can go a long way in contributing to a much larger project. If you want any more information about this, please get in touch via my contact form page or by email (enyamarie227@gmail.com).

Thanks again for coming back to my dear little blog, I hope you enjoy having a browse around my latest posts.

– The English Teacup

15 Ways to Make the Most of Your Student Summer

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Volunteering at Newcastle’s Unity Festival

Summer becomes a glorious beacon of free time where we students dream of reinventing ourselves, travelling the world, writing books and doing everything that we don’t have the time to do when we’re studying.  Within a few weeks of freedom however, we will most likely find ourselves binge-watching Netflix (need I mention how excited I am for season three of Orange Is the New Black?) while it rains outside and staying up until 4am taking Buzzfeed quizzes named ‘Can We Guess Your Favourite Colour?” to compare results with your equally disillusioned pal.
The four months leading up to September that once felt full of opportunity and freedom have suddenly turned into a frequent dilemma over whether it’s worth putting on makeup that day and a newly found passion for watching Eastenders rather than reading Weber.
So how do we get out of this comfortable yet miserable rut and motivate ourselves to make this summer recognisable to the one we spent long hours stuffed in the library daydreaming about?
Read on…

  1. Plan, Plan, Plan
    The more realistically you plan your summer out, the more likely you are to actually go through with it. Try doing a week by week set of objectives to keep yourself on track – just make sure you treat yourself kindly, it is summer after all!
  2. Volunteer
    We’ve heard this time and time again about the benefits of volunteering: helping out your community, meeting new people, looks awesome on your CV, allows you to brag about what a giving person you are etc. etc. but guys, it is worth doing whatever your reasons and though you get some volunteering duds, you get a lot more that will give you brilliant experiences. Try it out!
  3. Work
    Okay, this isn’t the most exciting prospect but it will lead you to better things and part-time or full-time work can be an eye-opening break from the world of study. Just be sure to keep in mind that you have your entire life to work after university and this time is probably your best shot to branch out and focus your energies elsewhere.
  4. That thing you’ve always said you were going to do? Do it!
    Come up with an action plan to keep you on track and focused. It might feel daunting at the beginning but there’s always a way to make something happen.
  5. Broaden Your Mind
    Get a good understanding of something different or deepen what you already know by reading books, watching documentaries, attending classes, talking to other people etc. Not being bound by academia means you have no framework so you’ll have to come up with your own but the flipside of that is that you can take your learning in whatever direction you fancy.
  6. Travel
    “It’s too expensive” is the reason a lot of people give for putting off travelling but that’s only a limitation as much as you let it be and by no means am I saying that’s easy but it is possible to overcome. Whether you’re backpacking around Europe with a tent on your back or staying with your Aunt in Dorset for a few days, getting out in a different environment has great benefits.
  7. Explore New Hobbies
    If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at pottery or judo, now is the perfect time when you can really focus on learning the basics, plus, it means it’ll be far easier to keep up with in September when you’re back in education.
  8. Detox
    Okay, so maybe summer isn’t the best time to ditch drinking if that’s your thing but it might be easier to do it in June than during Fresher’s week. It’ll give your body a health boost and it might just change your perspective on your usual habits (a 6 month break from drinking did this to me and I’ve never looked back!).
  9. Visit Friends and Family
    Uni life can disconnect you from your family and friends quite easily, especially if you don’t live at home. Though you can’t remedy this entirely, you can make the most of your summer days by making up for lost time and catching up on what you’ve missed out on.
  10. Go on a Health Kick
    Whether you’re a dedicated gym-goer or you’re looking to escape a student-esque diet of leftover takeaways and flat beer, boosting the attention you pay to your health up a notch will make you feel better and fitter.
  11. Downsize
    Chances are, being at uni has made you realise how little material possessions you actually need, or at least, it’s made you realise that the DVD collection you had when you were 13 no longer has a place in your life. Go through your old belongings and streamline what you own by handing them down to younger family members, selling them on or donating them to charity.
  12. Make a Five Year Plan
    Okay, these are normally reserved for ‘national economic programs’, remember Stalin’s? Didn’t go so well. Anyway, spend some time figuring out where you want to be and how you plan on getting there, have back-up options in case something goes askew. Have a bit of fun with it and don’t limit yourself. Keeping the bigger picture in perspective really helps for motivation!
  13. Blog
    You don’t have to be able to write or know some topic through and through in order to share your thoughts/opinions/daily lifestyle with the world. You can start your own podcast, video blog or a more traditional blog – whatever format you prefer. It’ll help you develop your own style and can be a great portfolio to have handy.
  14. Explore Your City
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    Explore your city and go somewhere new

    Go on a wander, go on a few, take a friend, a book, bottles of wine or a picnic. Whatever you choose, exploring the city you’re in can give you a whole new appreciation for it plus it means when term-time comes back around, you’ll be in the know of the lesser-explored spots and can use them to your advantage!

  15. Relax
    Perhaps the most important thing you will do your entire summer is relax. This is your opportunity to take a break from the stresses of life, something you may not be able to do so easily in the future. Make the most of it and enjoy yourself!