Friday, 28 June 2013

Five Thoughts From First Year

Hi, everyone. It's been a shamefully long time since my last update. Since then, I've navigated through exams, cramming, parties, more exams, procrastination, even more cramming, and even more more exams, and have somehow emerged none the worse for wear. I can say with complete confidence that I have just had the most challenging, and best, year of my life. I feel far more mature and happy than I did 9 months ago, waiting nervously to trundle down to uni and face up to the unknown. I've learnt so much, most of it away from work and essays and study. Therefore, here are the five things that I think have been the most useful for me to recognise during my time as a fresher.

1. The best thing about university is the people that you meet
I have met too many wonderful, amazing people over the last 9 months to count. I know I'm incredibly lucky to have done so - it's true that many people find it tough to settle in for a very long time. I definitely had moments of insecurity and loneliness in my first term, but after a while that fades away and most people develop a network of close friends who are as much a support group as everything else. Going to university, where people have specialised beyond A Levels, means it's an amazing opportunity to meet people with such deep diverse interests and learn from them. I've spent tutorials discussing aspects of my subject with my course mates and learnt as much from them as from the tutors. University life is so different from school life and as such you can do so many ridiculous things that are just amazing bonding experiences. I'm so excited to see everyone again in the Autumn - 3 months can't go by fast enough!

2. Unfortunately, don't expect too much in terms of academic support
I know what I thought about my particular university prior to starting; how organised it would be, how clear things like exams would be for students. I recognise that there is a lot of pastoral support there if necessary. However, university is not like school. Tutors do not spend their time helping us - they spend their time on their own academic work and we, unfortunate though it may be to admit it, are (rightfully) left to fend for ourselves. This sometimes means that things that would be ridiculous at school (a large number of unmarked essays that, at this point, I don't expect to ever get back) just have to be accepted. Also, things we take for granted at A Level - the availability of mark schemes for past papers - just aren't even produced. I guess the fact that exams are now set by the university rather than nationally means that things like mark schemes and syllabuses are organised by a far smaller group of people, so they have less time, but in my view it means we are more at risk of never fully understanding a concept than we ever would have been regarding an A Level topic. At school, you get taught something, you do a piece of work, you get it corrected to plug any gaps in your understanding. At university, it's common to not be taught something at all, then to have to do a piece of work, find yourself completely lost, do terribly, and due to the small amount of feedback, never really understand it at all. For most degrees there is some degree of flexibility about what you choose to learn - for example, you can avoid a difficult topic for a paper if you've prepared for 6 topics and need to answer questions on 4 - but that isn't always the case, and it's a bit frustrating.

3. You will take a while to find your feet
Some people go from coasting at school to being way out of their depth at university because the expected standards are so different. I was never one of them, because I never coasted at school, but I did take a while to adjust to the 'university standard' of work expected. In my first term, I routinely struggled through problem sets that should have been completed over a few days in the few hours before dawn/the tutorial. Having a particularly bad first period of mock exams really changed my attitude and I spent probably about 5 times long on my work for the second term; I got much better results and I was so much happier. It really is worth the effort. Everyone takes time to adjust but I do wish I'd been sterner with myself sooner. Now I've finished my first year exams I'm excited to move on to preparing for Finals (which are the only exams that count towards our final degree classification) being more sure of myself and how I work best. Also, if your brain tries to convince you to work in your room instead of the library, don't listen to it. Your room has a bed in it. One thing leads to another, and you'll be working in bed, then napping, then oops the whole day is gone, and you are an idiot.

4. It's ok to need support
It's not abnormal to struggle. Everyone does at some point, whether socially or academically. I found that, particularly in the first term, it's really common to think that you are the only one who is feeling alone, or scared, or frustrated. Having your own room means you have your own space, but it's still different from living at home with your family where you can roam around as you like, and if it's early in the year and you don't know the people around you very well it's easy to feel boxed in. There were a few days over the year where I probably only saw one or two people. Shutting yourself in like this might be necessary because of upcoming deadlines occasionally, but it's so important to take a break. I spent the days before my first exams locked in my room eating ready meals and cramming desperately, but I eventually realised that hanging out with everyone else, and being mutually encouraging and motivating, is so much better and is a much healthier attitude to have around exams. Also, when you're in trouble, it's likely that everyone around you is feeling exactly the same way. At university, a problem shared is definitely a problem halved.

5. Enjoy it while you can
I can't believe it, but I am no longer a fresher. I am a third of the way to being a graduate. Next year, I start preparing for my final exams. Next autumn, I will be applying for the things I want to do after university. In a year and a half, I will finish learning for my degree. It has gone so, so unbearably fast! Yes, that's a good thing when considering all the tedious bits like essay writing and all nighters. However, it's such a bad thing when considering all the things that have become so important to me so quickly - like all the amazing silly things I've done with my friends this year, and all the challenges I've set myself and mostly managed to overcome. I moved back home a week ago and, in some ways, university feels more like home than my actual home (kidding, parents, if you're reading this). I've grown so much there as a person and I miss it loads already - and I bet graduation will be like this, times a thousand. That's definitely an intimidating prospect.

That's it from me! As always, if you have any questions or comments leave them below and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Have a great summer everyone!


Saturday, 23 March 2013

Philosophy and (Work) Ethics

So, term's over. Know how I feel? Gutted! I've had a really, really great time these last 9 weeks. They've been as intense as anything and on various occasions I've felt Atlas-esque when struggling with the workload, but it's all been worth it. Challenges have been overcome, new friends have been made, and I've enjoyed myself, again, so much more than I ever thought I would.

My last post was after the collections (mocks) that Oxford decide to foist on us whenever we return from vacation. I'd spent the winter holidays in a meandering funk and, as I detailed in the post, returning to uni to be greeted by the sight of two incomprehensible exam papers was a massive wakeup call. I can say now that I'm so, so glad that happened. The day after I finished the papers, I got up early and made my way to the fabled establishment known as the Social Sciences Library. In theory, this building should have been my second (or third) home. In theory.... and I'd probably been there twice during my first term?

As a result, the combination of constant academic pressure and actually physically placing myself in a vaguely public library with questionable WiFi set me back to doing something I hadn't done since Year 8 - actually doing the work when it was set. Totally foreign concept, right? I soon realised that the reputation for PPE students as 'lazy' is because, truth be told, we can probably get a low 2.1 comfortably without doing too much work. However, if we want to get beyond that, you need to do an unbelievable amount. It's hard; but it somehow clicked in my mind that this is university, and hard work is worth it. So, from the work-sleep-play triangle, I chose work for the first time in a while! No regrets yet.

What else? Well, I'm currently making plans for Freshers' Week 2013! I was elected Freshers' Week President for my college for 2013, which means I have the intimidating responsibility of trying to organise a week that ought to be at least as good as our amazing freshers' experience. Putting preliminary work in place has made me appreciate what they did for us even more; there are provisions for international students, stash, evening activities, college fairs, sponsorship; you need to attend a series of committee meetings and liaise with the college to ensure your visions for the week are aligned. If you're going to be a fresher in Autumn 2013, please hit the comments with some ideas about what you want from your freshers' experience - I'd love to hear from you!

Finally, now, I'm back home. There's a revision timetable all set up, which I stuck to pretty rigidly (still allowing for 11am lie ins, obviously) for the first 12 days or so before deciding it would be a good time to pause all that and just marathon old Skins episodes for a while. Good decision. I really miss all my uni friends! However, the holidays go way quicker than you'd think (especially as I have mock exams waiting for me as soon as I get back). It's good to catch up with everyone from home too, and it's so exciting to hear about what they've been up to. I can't wait to see what challenges are in store for the summer term.

As always if you have any comments or questions, let me know below!


Saturday, 26 January 2013

Exams at University

It is a very deliberate decision at Oxford to call the periods in between each 8-week term "vacations," rather than "holidays." The point being that you are 'vacating' the premises, but yet the work goes on. There are no holidays.

The most annoying part of this vacation was the fact that it was ruined by the looming prospect of whatever was coming afterwards. This Christmas I was procrastinating away, as I always do, when a little nagging voice surfaced and perpetuated in whining at me about how there really wasn't any time for fun, and I ought to be cocooned in a nest of thick dull textbooks and learning everything there is to learn about Logic, Utilitarianism, and the intricate workings of microeconomics.

The first exam session of my time at university was, to put it bluntly, grim. My university has an exam at the start of every term, except when you take Prelim exams at the end of the last term of your first year, and Finals at the end of the last term of your third year. These are 'mocks' officially, testing you on whatever you learnt over the last term, but they felt a lot more serious than that. If you don't get a 2.1 (over 60%) you have to retake them. If you don't get a 2.1 in the Prelim exams, you have to retake those too, and if you fail the retake, you'll be, quite simply, booted out. 

Having talked to the Second Years, people stop caring about Collections (the start of term mock exams) as much as time goes by, but for us they were also our first ever university exams of any sort, and given that I hadn't received any official marks during my first term, they were for me and for several others the first chance we had to see where we are. Here's some advice I would give to anyone wondering what uni exams are like (or to my past procrastinating self).

There's so much of the same stuff to say about how to prepare, but in essence it's everything you've ever been told about exam preparation... times 100. If you happen to be one of those lucky people who can skate through A Levels by cramming, that absolutely doesn't cut it here. Long term revision is the key. There's no set textbook, you can't just read that 100 times and know all you need to know. You need to really and truly explore outside the subject, know the core principles like the back of your hand, practice every single past paper you can. The work you've been set during the term is supposed to introduce you to what you need to know, and never does it ever cover everything. If you only read over past essays when revising, you won't be able to answer anything. 

I felt like I had done a lot of revision, but when it came to the actual exams I realised it absolutely wasn't enough. I guess an upside of making a really serious error in one of the questions is that you'll never forget what you got wrong (mixing up truth functionality in my case, oopsies). I was disappointed in myself. However, two weeks later, I realise that I've learnt from it and it was good for me. 

Whereas an essay might have been completed in the dead of night or a few minutes before the deadline, I'm making a major effort to get up early, stakeout the library, have time to truly think about the question and I'm enjoying myself so much more. When you have time to pause and reflect on what you're writing, instead of completing everything in a frenzy, it's so much easier to understand it all, relate it to other concepts with which you are familiar, and it pays off in your marks.

I was originally a little scared by being around people who are incredibly dedicated and brilliant and inspiring. Now, it's motivating. Everyone feels lazy and reluctant at some point, but I had a kind of bizarre realisation that I want to do well. That's hardly an uncontroversial thing to say, but I felt like it was never something I'd directly said to myself for various reasons - I felt like I couldn't, I wasn't sure how to go about it, I got distracted by other things. We've all worked so hard to get where we are and we don't want to look back in 10 years and be disappointed in ourselves for wasting this opportunity. Having difficult goals forces you to put in the hours, and that's what I intend to do, this term and for the rest of my degree.

As always if you have any comments or questions, I'll be happy to answer.


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Michaelmas Managed

Suddenly I am approximately one ninth of the way through my university education. That's a rather confusing realisation. I guess uni is supposed to make you feel older because you're an adult, doing adult things like actually studying - you have a loan to pay for your education! - and I guess I do feel older and more mature now.

However, I'm incapable of dealing with the fact that it's all gone so fast. It's been a really intense, really difficult and really amazing first term. I've made so many brilliant friends, met so many scarily intelligent people, and my abiding emotions are probably a cocktail of exhaustion and exhilaration.

My last post was a couple of weeks in, where I'd just got through my first few essays and was starting to settle into the routine of things. It was really busy with so many new experiences - meeting new tutors, going to new lectures - and I guess I expected things to relax a little bit once we got into the middle of term and there weren't so many freshers-related activities to engage in. Well, it didn't - it only got more intense, which explains why it has taken me so ridiculously long to update! The first couple of pieces of work you do might be relatively simple, leading off your A Level studies, but here's an example - in 6th Week for Microeconomics we were set, to do all together within 7 days - whine alert - an essay, 3 discussion questions, 5 problem sets, 3 Maths exercises, and one article analysis. On top of that I had work for an extracurricular French class, an essay and an insane amount of reading for our Moral Philosophy tutorial, and questions for our Logic class.

I don't know whether you will judge that to be a lot or not - it certainly felt like an annoyingly large amount at the time. Ironically PPE students at my college have the reputation of not doing much work anyway (which is definitely true in comparison to some subjects - you should hear how much the Med students have to do, shudder). The fact that we'd been used to being spoon fed at school just made it worse, because of the amount of self teaching you'd have to do - being set an essay is fine, but what if that essay title is totally incomprehensible until you've read about 3 books? It's not like at school, where you'd have the concepts explained in advance, you might run over an essay plan in class, you'd have written helpful notes already - you're totally on your own and it's a bit of a difficult adjustment.

This all escalated to the point where by the middle of term I was having a vague crisis and doubting whether I was good enough to study my subject. I think everyone goes through those moments - there's a phenomenon known as 'Fifth Week Blues' where, essentially, everyone is suddenly overcome by mid-term depression and so lots of colleges try to put on activities to cheer everyone up. I personally think Fifth Week Blues is a bit exaggerated - by that point we'd mostly all settled in and so had a support network of equally stressed friends for whenever we were finding things a bit tough. It is a little sad, though, when you're studying a subject in the middle of the night, and you've worked so hard over the last 2 years just to give yourself the opportunity to study it, and every week of Sixth Form you've been struggling on through various tedious pieces of homework just to get to this point - and you realise you're not really enjoying it in the moment.

I think I realised afterwards, however, that my own work patterns were working against me. My deadlines in Michaelmas (the name for the first term in the Oxford calendar) were all bunched up from between Tuesday evening, to Wednesday morning, to Wednesday evening, and so this short timeframe was conducive to... pretty poor work habits! There were a couple of weeks where I didn't start anything for that week until rather late on Monday night, and so I would barely emerge from my room as a result for the next two days. When you're stuck with a work schedule as stupid as that, it's not surprising I wouldn't be enjoying it, and so for next term I've promised to reorganise myself and basically be much more committed to having a good schedule. I've been given such an amazing opportunity to learn from such world experts and I definitely don't want to waste it.

Thankfully, there were an insane number of fun parts to the term too. I've mentioned already that I've loved being able to meet so many interesting and fun people, and the social aspect of uni is definitely amazing. For one, it's relatively hard to imagine yourself staying up until 5 in the morning completing Sporcle quizzes with a group of friends in the common room at school, but at university it's a perfectly reasonable way to spend your time! Things got especially fun in the last few weeks of term - because we finish term on the 1st of December, everyone celebrates the substitute-Christmas 'Oxmas', which is topped off by a massive dinner in halls which was amazing. Even the prospect of end of term reports and 'Warden's Collections' (basically a solo discussion with the headmaster-like figure in each college and one of your tutors about your academic progress... daunting) couldn't dampen the happy atmosphere.

During the first term I never actually went home, although some of my friends did, and you'd think after 9 weeks away I'd be eager to have a break and get back, but the opposite was actually the case. I can't say this enough - you develop such strong bonds with your friends at university so incredibly quickly, and it was really sad saying goodbye to everyone at the end of term. Lots of these people are going to be your friends for life, and it's easy to see why once you get here. To all the people currently applying through UCAS - you have so much to look forward to. I never expected to enjoy my first term as much as I did, and I'm really excited to come back next term, despite the prospect of exams in the first week (gulp).

After the end of term, I had an equally intense next couple of weeks. I spent the first week on the Oxbridge Varsity ski trip with some of my friends from college, which was a lovely experience; but the second week saw me back at my college helping at interviews! It was, to be honest, incredibly surreal. My memories of interviews last year were so clear, and it was really interesting to talk to all the applicants this time around. I remember being so scared before my first interview that I essentially didn't sleep; I obsessed and worried about not knowing enough about the books on my personal statement; but it all worked out in the end, I guess! I do definitely think that a large amount of success with the Oxbridge interview process comes down to luck - all the interviewees I talked to were so committed and interesting, having to sort through them all is a certainly unenviable task. Masses of luck to anyone waiting for responses.

That's it from me! As always if you have any questions or comments just leave them below and I'll get back to you as soon as possible. Happy holidays everyone!


Saturday, 20 October 2012

Apparently I'm an Oxford student

Several things have changed since my last post. Firstly, I'm married (I'll explain shortly). Secondly, I've had my first essay crisis. Thirdly, I'm actually feeling pretty settled in. Each of these will be explained in due course.

Freshers' week was an initially intimidating but ultimately lovely experience. Everyone being chucked into the same crazy world together means that everyone bonds so, so easily and by now (end of my third week) I feel like I know everyone in my year at least by sight. I've detailed my very first day in the previous post, but in the first few days after that you're kept busy even though work doesn't begin until the next Monday. Various activities included registering with a local GP, signing a ceremonial book that every student passing through the college in the last zillion years has written in, and meeting the college chaplain who is willing to look out for students' welfare whether or not they are religious.

There are loads of bonding activities in the evenings to look forward to; tickets were available for nights out, but if people fancied something quieter there were trips to G&D's (by far the best ice cream shop not only in Oxford but in the entire world), as well as midnight ice hockey and film nights. We also had casual meetings with our tutors in the first week. It feels slightly strange to call people who are largely world experts in their fields by their first names, but you get used to it quickly and it feels nice to be treated like an adult.

Freshers' week culminated with Freshers' Fair in town. Everyone was given wristbands and we snaked our way into a large elegant building before being bombarded by more societies and stalls than you'd believe could possibly exist. Before my scrawly email address became illegible as I jotted it down on signup sheets at various booths, I somehow signed up for Gliding Club, Alternative Ice Hockey, the International Relations Society, Mountain Climbing Society, and a host of others that I may or may not never become involved with beyond occasionally reading the society emails that hop into my inbox every half hour.

Monday morning, 1st week (Freshers' Week is known as 0th week) - that important bit known as 'studying' actually begins, and for me it's with three consecutive one hour lectures from 10am to 1pm. So far things have been great. Lectures vary in terms of their depth, but for most it's more of a general overview of a topic - the important work that will get you a good degree is done during private study, which is why the ability to motivate yourself to work is one of the most important skills (I'm pretty bad at it to be honest, but surviving so far!). Lectures are an easy way to learn things without having to stick your head in a book, and if you're lucky the lecturer makes handouts of printouts of slides; if not, prepare to practice your touch-typing skills for note-taking! I've got 9 per week, but they're all optional.

The Oxford Union is a world famous debating society and you'll always hear two sides about whether it's worth joining. As a PPE student I'm definitely interested in all that stuff, and my first taste of it was, quite frankly, amazing. On Wednesday I saw John McCain give a speech before being grilled by a bunch of budding politicians including, I am convinced, the next Boris Johnson; on Thursday it was the annual 'This House Has No Faith in Her Majesty's Government' debate, which was incredible. There were representative MPs from Labour, the Lib Dems and the Conservatives (lots of them from my own college weirdly enough, which resulted in a bit of good natured reminiscing between ideological opponents) and each gave a speech before taking questions. Just the fact that it's so easy to see such prestigious speakers and even, if you can pluck up the courage, engage with them, reaffirms the fact that I feel so incredibly grateful to be in the position that I am and have all these opportunities before me.

Of course, it's not all perfect. Having an essay crisis on your first essay is really not a good idea because then your brain convinces itself that staying up late (or early, or even not-that-early as was my case...) is now an option. I think I'll find it easier to manage in the future - we have our Moral Philosophy tutorial once every two weeks, and our Microeconomics tutorial every week as well as a logic class each week (we do other topics during the next two terms), so the workload is spread out. This is especially the case compared to other subjects and there's already been a bit of good natured joking about how PPE students never do any work (I'll withhold judgement on that one). Anyway, I handed in my essay an embarrassingly small number of hours after I'd finished it, but it's just a lesson to myself that it's easy to get distracted when there are so many opportunities here, and it's important to take time out and just go and do the necessary reading and research.

Matriculation was last weekend, and it was quite hilarious to see everyone buttoned up in suits and blouses with either ribbons for the girls or fancy white bow ties (fake or real) for the boys. The Oxford gown is a decidedly strange garment with strange long flaps that never seem to hang properly unless you have wide shoulders and a six pack, which sadly doesn't include me. I managed to find myself awkwardly turning my head in the middle of the matriculation photo and given that I was standing in the middle of the back row and am therefore noticeable to everyone who bothers to peruse the photo, it definitely ranks in the Top 10 most embarrassing moments of my life. We all filed down to the Sheldonian to listen to a bit of Latin and to be gawped at by tourists, before enjoying the rest of the day socialising.

If you've made it all this way - well done! I hope that gives you a bit of a flavour of my first couple of weeks. The final piece of news is that I am now happily married to an E&M student, and am very much looking forward to meeting our children next year... Don't worry, this isn't actual marriage - all the freshers pair up over the academic year and end up mentoring the 2013 freshers, our 'children,' next September.

Have a lovely week everyone! If you have comments or questions please do let me know below.


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Home sweet home away from home

Seeing all my friends go off to uni, one by one, should have meant that when the time finally came for me to make the *long* journey up to my new home, I was prepared. Naturally, I wasn’t. Last weekend was a hectic mix of shopping, salvaging and hair-pulling.

Packing to go and live somewhere else for the next 8 weeks straight was quite a strange experience. I kept finding odd items in my room, such as an old autograph book I'd forced my 10-year-old friends to sign, or fairy lights, and then deciding that they might possibly be vital. Universities have varyingly vague rules about what is appropriate to put in your room – for me, blu tack is banned, and any intriguing appliances like a sandwich maker aren’t allowed because of the fire risk. When it all came down to it on Monday afternoon, I had a suitcase, a soft suitcase, a big blue box, a small blue box, a cardboard box without a lid, two larger cardboard boxes with lids, and a slightly frowny expression on my face. I wasn't ready to move out and go to university. I felt (and still feel, 8 days later) about as mature as a little Year 7 who spends the entire lunch time playing 'running' in the playground. Doing serious work with people who are all really smart and articulate and confident? The only appropriate response is "pffft," really.

So, I rocked up to my college in Oxford feeling intimidated and unworthy. The sight of the beautiful building that would presumably be my home for the next three years (assuming I don't fail - oh yeah, you start worrying about that pretty soon) was alternately amazing and terrifying. As soon as you arrive, you are directed to collect bits and pieces of admin from the Freshers Week team (who rock, by the way!) before beginning the long laborious job of lugging your luggage up three flights of stairs. Having spent a summer largely loafing on the sofa and moaning whenever the remote naughtily removes itself to outside my 1m reach, I probably benefitted from this minimal exercise.

Then unpacking begins. My favourite feature of my room is definitely my gigantic pinboard which I immediately decorated with photos of my friends and family - I printed off 30-odd photos at Boots which was definitely a good investment. I did extremely well on the room front overall, as I got a bit of a say in where I would want to go, but really this varies by college and university. I also brought a Beatles poster, which makes it look as though I have a much better taste in music than I actually do. There are lots of miscellaneous bits of kit that I wouldn't have considered having to own and make me feel pretty domestic, such as a dishcloth, tumbler glasses and a healthy supply of Otrivine (Freshers' Flu has hit, by the way. Three days solid with a gravelly manly voice and forcing my poor friends to listen to me hack up a lung instead of being able to focus on a lecture on the joys of logic). 

After unpacking, I said goodbye to my mum, which was emotional for her and embarrassing for me (kidding, Mum, I'm kidding) and then twiddled my thumbs in my room for a while before summoning up the courage to throw myself into the sanctuary known as the Junior Common Room (JCR). It has not been a week and I cannot count how much money I have wasted playing pool and the Are You Smarter Than A 10 Year Old? arcade game (evidently, despite being 18+ years old, relatively capable university students, we are not). One of my biggest worries, and it remains a big worry, was that I would hop up to an unfamiliar person, throw out "HiI'mEmma-I'mdoingPPE-howaboutyou?" and they would look at me like a squashed pigeon before telling me "finalists don't mingle with freshers..." When I was interviewing, the older years helpfully wore pinks scarves to enable easy differentiation, but now we just have to trust fate and general common sense.

Thankfully, everyone has been lovely. I hopped into the JCR and it was stuffed with a load of happy, talkative freshers who are all just as eager to make friends as you are. One of the best things Oxford does is to organise college parents for freshers, which is actually quite a big deal - freshers of different subjects pair up rather soon after the start of term, necessitating full on proposals (I've already heard stories of a proposal involving a lift and a heart shaped flower arrangement) and by next September they are mentoring two new freshers who look to them for advice, subject-specific and not, throughout their first year. Mine are absolutely lovely and extremely kind which seems to be the general rule! We went out for drinks with them, before heading off to dinner with our subject reps and classmates. The evening ended with a trip out into town as a group, where everyone bonded over some very amazing bad dancing. I flopped into bed on Day 1 feeling overwhelmed, but a little bit more confident than ever before that I was going to fit in.

I hope that's given you a good overview of my first day, and I'll be posting soon with updates on the saner parts of freshers' week and, of course, my first proper pieces of work. I really want to use this blog to give good advice, now that I feel as though I have genuinely learned so much from my experiences ever since I started this blog a year ago; so if you feel as if I could help with anything, or you want me to point you to someone who can, please comment below and I will definitely get back to you.

Now it's bedtime for me. Up early tomorrow for a General Philosophy lecture!

Emma xxx

Friday, 21 September 2012

They think it's all over

Results day went by in a dizzying blur. My friends and I had solemnly sworn not to look at our results online, and instead we were planning on doing this extremely old fashioned thing where you actually bother to drag yourselves into school and laboriously tear open a big fat envelope to reveal your results and consequently, your fate (gulp). The best way to approach results day is as one massive party, whether in commiserations or congratulations, so we had a sleepover, woke up satisfyingly late, before lazily suggesting to each other that we might actually want to get up and find out if we were actually going to have somewhere to study for the next 3 to 4 years.

As we were getting ready, I heard a confused grunt from one of my friends. "Huh. Email from UCAS. That's weird. 'Congratulations, your place has been confirmed'...."

So, the celebrations started prematurely! In the end it was a nice way for all of us to find out - no confused fumbling through lots of pieces of paper from different exam boards, no endless refreshing online - just an email, bam, you made it, done - and once you've made it, the actual results don't really matter!

It feels extremely strange to have finished school. I've been on holiday so long I barely have any idea what day of the week it is (no, this is not a joke). Teasing my little sister (who is just starting Sixth Form and is already worrying way too much about applying to university) about the fact that she has to get up early and do homework and is tragically prevented from sleeping in until lunch time is pretty awesome. It feels like a minor injustice that they've decided to do up the Sixth Form common room as soon as we have vacated the premises, but I suppose I'll live with it.

I have a few pieces of advice for anyone lazing around and waiting for university to start, whether you've got a week and a bit to go like me, or whether you happen to be reading this in 12 months' time. Number one - don't find yourself lumbered with a load of leftover tasks related to school. I find myself partly in charge of organising the leavers' yearbook, which isn't done, and it is an absolute nightmare. The fact that everyone is being siphoned off to different corners of the country (or the globe) means it is pretty much impossible to get things you might need, such as money or plain old yearbook content, from them. Seriously, be organised! I am the Queen of Procrastination with a BA in Timewasting and a PhD in Laziness, which is why I didn't decide to get all this stuff done sooner. It's hindering my ability to keep up with uni things that ought to be the centre of my attention, which definitely isn't good. Get yourselves good teams to deal with this stuff and jointly share the pressure - ideally, waaaaay before exams are even on the horizon.

That point about being organised also applies to uni proper. As soon as you hear those good old magic words 'Congratulations! Your place to study [insert uni subject here] at [insert uni here] has been confirmed,' you will get inundated with a literal avalanche of forms, requests, letters and opportunities. I've lost track and have already begun to fear that I'll rock up on October 1st and be informed that I forgot to sign on the dotted line somewhere, and as a result have been relegated to spending another year flicking listlessly through A level revision guides - strangely enough, meeting my offer hasn't destroyed my paranoia that I didn't really get in after all. An example - I had to return a form for my university identity card that lets me into the libraries and other restricted places; I needed to attach a photo, and was sternly warned that if I did not do so, I may have to have one taken on site. Given the likelihood of such a photo ending up looking something like this, I hastily returned the documents.

It's not all doom and gloom - I've heard about accommodation too! Accommodation varies wildly from uni to uni and from this-part-of-the-uni to that-part-of-the-uni - you hear stories of palatial residences with widescreen televisions and free popcorn machines (possibly a small exaggeration), and also stories of leaky, dingy shack-like establishments. Some places (like my college, yippee) give you an element of choice, such as whether you want to shell out a few extra bucks to avoid having to share a bathroom with a corridor of mysterious neighbours. It's up to you whether you want to take up these opportunities, but one thing you absolutely don't want to do is return all the forms late and then end up with the worst room by default.

Currently, once yearbook related nightmares have sorted themselves out, I am supposedly getting on with my reading list. I've laid out a series of intriguing looking texts on the floor, as though looking at their uniformly grey covers is going to help me somehow absorb the secrets within. I've also surprisingly been set a series of pre-term Maths problems for Economics in that 'reading' list; as a creature who is not particularly mathematically minded but has somehow managed to hide that defect up to now, I'm feeling vaguely pessimistic, but I'll see how it goes.

A final piece of good news (although I can imagine some people going 'oh no, not more') - I'll be continuing blogging through my first year at uni! So all the embarrassing things I get up to over the next 12 months will now be recorded for me to look back on in shame at some point down the road.

Hope you all got what you wanted from results day! As always, any comments, questions, queries, rants - I'm happy to answer them in the comments below!

Emma xxx