As I prepare to go into my third and final year at Queen Mary UoL, I have done some serious reflecting over what exactly I will be taking away from my three years as an undergraduate, besides my degree. I’ve had a good experience academically (though not £9000 a year’s worth of good experiences) and I want to share some lessons for life that university has taught me.
1. Focus is the key to everything:
Perhaps the hardest but most rewarding thing I’ve learned is that focusing on what you want and working hard for it is the only way you will actually achieve anything; a cliché but true. I don’t mean you need to publish a world-renowned article or network with CEOs, but little things can be huge achievements when you put them in context. For example, I’ve wanted to start a blog for so many years, and finally focused myself enough to take the plunge and go for it. Already this has given me so much confidence and helped me secure the role as Sports Editor for my university’s newspaper – another thing I’ve wanted to be part of since my first year. I’m not saying everything will just fall into place straight away, but I think university is where you learn that only you can help yourself, whether that be with getting the grades you want, joining a society, and anything in-between!
2. Someone is always smarter than you:
And that’s ok! Regardless of what ranking university you go to, there will always be someone who knows the right answer before you, or has read every single book on the reading list (although I haven’t actually met anyone yet who has). I let this get to me in my first year and it was a big problem. If you spend your whole life comparing yourself to other people then you’ll never get anything done: everything YOU do has to be done in context to your own life. As we heard time and time again during the Rio 2016 Olympics, you have to run your own race. I’ve learnt that you could gain a lot from engaging with people who you think know more than you, because it’ll likely turn out that you can both learn from each other. Everyone has something to bring to the table, and some of the best discussions I’ve had (both in class and out) have been through listening to everyone, regardless of how much research they’ve done or how extravagant their vocabulary is. As Kenneth H. Blanchard said: “none of us is as smart as all of us”.
3. Only the right connections are important:
I think one of the biggest personal shocks of university for me was the fact that I maintained so few connections with friends. I’m not saying that if you have a lot of friends then you’re doing university wrong but personally I’ve learned that the only important connections are the ones that are effortless and enhance you as a person. It is natural that not all connections will be long term, but I think it is easy to hold onto people that are no longer having the same effect they once did – we all like comfort! It is also important to build connections outside of informal friendships, i.e. with lecturers and people established in the world of work. LinkedIn should become one of your most used apps while you’re at university; it might seem boring but trust me it’s powerful. It won’t be able to tell you about the football transfer rumours or the latest trending memes but it will get you in the habit of balancing professionalism and networking on social media. With record number of students attending and graduating university each year, you need to already be thinking about who and what will get you ahead.
4. Time goes too quickly:
Any undergraduate will tell you the same thing. You spend each lecture waiting for the end of the day, each semester waiting for deadlines to pass and each year waiting for your results. It’s an unavoidable cycle but I can’t stress enough how much I wish I had made more of my first two years at university; now I’m racing against the graduation clock to ensure that my final year makes up for it. While it’s important to stay focused on studying (and don’t listen to anyone who says that first year doesn’t count) don’t stop yourself from pursuing the things you love too. Going to Stamford Bridge has been one of the saviours of my university experience (although not so much last season) and pushed me into starting my blog, as I mentioned before. University life is all about balance, and if you try to create this balance then you will make your short time there as memorable as it can be. Seize new opportunities and bring along your comforts: it’s never too late to make memories and you’ll only truly regret the ones you didn’t give yourself the chance to.