Speaking to my friends – those who have all recently gone from being seniors in secondary school or college, to being the youngest group at university – I have sensed that some of us are experiencing something of a culture shock. Some have found university culture more inspiring than they thought; some have found it academically challenging; in the worst cases, some have found it mundane.
We are all in the same boat in the sense that we are all reacting in some way to this new phase of education. It’s just that the emotions that we are experiencing individually are different. In choosing my degree, my main concerns were the required style of learning, closely followed by the content of the programme. By style of learning, I mean what the degree asks you to bring to the table. Is it – among other things – your adventurous spirit? Sociability? Discipline? A lot of time spent reading in the library? Or experimenting?
Consider if your nature fits well with that. For example, an active, outgoing learner should avoid heavy-reading subjects such as history, politics and English literature because they offer little contact-time (with teachers and students), little to no lab-work, and require a huge amount of independent, disciplined study. Therefore, these courses are better suited for those who are most productive when studying alone.
Secondly, by the content of the degree, I mean the course, units and themes that it will cover – which you should have researched before picking the programme. Many of us make the mistake of assuming the content of a degree is identical, or very similar, across all universities. This is wrong. In fact, they can differ enormously. For example, the sociology degree at the University of Bristol offers less (although satisfactory) content on American politics compared to the programme at the London School of Economics. Your choice of university should depend on what you want to focus on.
What if you are a sporty socialite, but still enjoy English literature? While who you are shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your dream degree, you must consider how you might balance work and life. A good balance will enable you to be yourself during your free time, while being motivated and focused during your studies – the ideal situation. However, if you are not confident that the requirements of an essay-based subject will allow you to design a perfect balance for yourself, or if your energetic lifestyle goes far beyond your love for the degree, then you should reconsider your choices.
Did I make it all sound fairly bleak? I didn’t mean to, but it’s better to understand now that the university culture can be demanding rather than come into the scene expecting everything to be effortlessly manageable, when it’s not.
I have been enjoying my degree so far, not because it’s exactly what I expected, but because the style of learning truly allows me to develop my personality, while the content of the course is close to my heart. I am motivated to improve my work-life balance, because I don’t want to sacrifice either.