As my first year at the University of Aberdeen draws to a close, I thought I’d sort of recap the last year of my life here, as a sort of guide to those going into First Year, or considering uni in general. Is it as it’s always made out to be? No. Are my views on things representative of everyone? No. I do think, though, that it serves as a guide to how uni can go for some people.
Let’s start off with what you go to university for, the degree:
University courses are really good. I didn’t enjoy school terribly much, as well. I did okay at it, but courses seemed slightly boring, or irrelevant – and there wasn’t much that made them seem worthwhile. University courses are a lot better laid out, are pretty up to date in terms of content and actually make me feel as though I learned things that were worthwhile. Higher Physics, unless they’ve changed in the last year, still teaches about CRT TVs, if you can remember them. My International Relations course taught us about the Arab Spring, in a degree of depth, which had just happened the year before!
The system of lectures, practicals and tutorials is also much improved on the school classroom approach to teaching. Lectures give you the information you need to know, and practicals and tutorials is where you apply some of that knowledge and engage with what you learned. It’s simple, but something that separates the two ways you can learn very effectively. Particularly my Politics tutorials I found to be something I enjoyed going to every other week. Every tutorial was a debate about important issues, with people who know what they’re talking about, where multiple opinions can be, and are, correct. That’s the sort of thing that made me want to do Politics as a degree, and seeing it in action really makes me glad I did.
First Year, as well you may know, is easy. I almost overestimated it, to an extent. Yes, I put in a solid work ethic for lectures, read up on some things for tutorials, and completed assignments to a degree where I was happy with them – but the amount of legwork you need to put in is minimal. I bought textbooks that were described as ‘essential reading’ and did fine without using them. I only had an average of around 12 hours of classes per week, and didn’t do much independently other than type up my lecture notes and read for around an hour for each of my tutorials. First Year doesn’t require lots of work. And the idea that it doesn’t really count towards your final degree emphasises this. Don’t get overconfident; if you fail a course, you will have to re-sit the exam in the middle of summer or take another course in another year – not a hardship, but certainly not something you want to do. But the idea that first year is a big step up from secondary is not true. The exams themselves, with two diets each year, seemed less stressful and less intensive than those for Highers or Advanced Highers.
The more social side of university is arguably just as important, and probably takes up more of the focus of a First Year:
Living on your own, or should I say independently, is also something fantastic. Living at home is great and all, with plenty comforts and benefits to it, but the freedom to do what you want is better. Lie in until early afternoon; play Xbox until the early hours of the night, your only restrictions are space. Even then, my room in halls was rather spacious, and of all the university halls I’ve seen through visits, it’s quite small compared to some. My transition wasn’t perhaps as complete as it could be, living in catered halls meaning that my breakfast and dinners were cooked for me, so next year’s idea of fending for myself food-wise will be another step away from childhood. I think it was a good decision to opt for this island in the stream transition though. The food isn’t great, but it’s not bad either, after months of considering it, and the time saved on cooking and cleaning is worth it.
Living in halls is a great way to meet people, without a doubt. It’s just that not every person you meet is necessarily great. Most are very nice, don’t get me wrong, but not all are. Socially, the start of your year will generally set up how you mean to continue, but not always. Meeting new people in the first few weeks, going out, and getting to know them better is how it’s to be done. Old friends you have from secondary are just as important though, and really, are to be kept close and you should spend at least as much time with them. Uni is not all about change after all.
Going out, as a student, especially one coming from a more rural, remote part of the world, is definitely one of the perks. Not a stranger to a tipple, the variety of bars and clubs that cater to students is vast, and something that most would really enjoy. If you’re from a city that has a great nightlife, and then going to uni, the nightlife will be much the same, if not a little cheaper with the odd student discount thrown in. Those from small towns, like myself, will love it.
Money’s huge for a student, and keeping on top of it is important. Even with most food costs accounted for with rent money, you still spend a lot of money whether it is on going out, snacks, clothes, cinema trips etc. I didn’t budget very well, or keep track of money very well in the first few months, but it was a lesson swiftly learned. You can learn from my lesson! Keeping spending down on things you don’t really need, like the odd snack or walking instead of taking a bus, and shopping around for best deals on things you buy now and again like drinks and toiletries really saves extra pennies for things you want, like cinema trips or DVDs. Living independently needs that sort of discipline, to enjoy your freedom to its fullest.
I really love Aberdeen’s campus. Obviously, this isn’t something that is universal to all universities, but Aberdeen’s is a fantastic example of what a campus should be. The historic King’s College, built centuries ago, is a majestic sight, and is not two minutes’ walk away from my room. I can see it from my window. The cobbled streets and the ancient walls add to the feeling of history about the place. The open squares where people sit, and talk, or read gives a great sense of community to the place – even if I don’t really participate in it much apart from strolling between lectures. It’s a great thing to be enthused by the place where you learn, and if you’re at the stage of picking universities, definitely pick somewhere where you feel inspired to achieve.
I think that pretty much wraps up my whole First Year experiences into a neat description/essay. Writing long screeds of text certainly isn’t as daunting when your lecture notes take up pages of text on Word. If you’re going to uni this year, have fun, it’s certainly the most interesting year of your life yet, and could be the best! If you’re thinking about uni, definitely consider if it’s what you want to do, it’s not for everyone, but know that if you do go, you’ll likely come out of it more knowledgeable and with more life experience, however far you go with it.