Let life run its course, don't let the course run you.29 Awst 2013
From the age of 13 or 14 we begin to close some doors on our futures as you pick GCSE subjects and then at the young age of 16 you pick your A Levels. It’s crazy that at this point you’ve already begun to make decisions about your future. Before you know it, you’re starting Uni, on a course that is likely to involve a more eclectic mix of modules than you realised. Studying French? You’ll be studying borders and identities in post war Europe. Geography and Planning? There’s politics and law. Even mechanical engineers do some accountancy and economics. Your course will be more varied than you think and may not be exactly what you thought or expected it be. For some people, they thrive off the opportunity to study various things, for others, it’s easy to enter into a state of panic that you’ve come to Uni and you hate your course. Don’t panic, don’t drop out, all can be fixed.
Rewinding a bit to when you began to narrow down your subjects, there are two philosophies people normally adopt; either you pick the subjects you enjoy or subjects that are required for an end goal such as studying medicine. I was always told, study what you enjoy or you won’t enjoy what you study and that kept me on the straight and narrow as I bumbled along quite happily. I chose fairly science based subjects at GCSE with the exception of Dance (which in the end was my favourite class) and I chose Maths, Economics and Geography at A level and although I enjoyed all three, I was certainly better at Geography than the other two! None the less, the other two are highly marketable and valuable A levels to have in today’s competitive labour market so I was quite happy to knuckle down and give them my best. Looking back on it, probably the most ludicrous part is that you’re asked to think about a degree course when you’re only 17. There is no way at this age you’re ready to plan out your career. Sticking with my instinct, I picked a degree based on the subject I enjoyed the most and was best at – Geography. Realistically, unless I want to be a geography teacher or a town planner I’m not going to be able to use my content knowledge I will have learnt from a BSc in Human Geography and Planning. Just so we’re clear, I’ve set my sights on the dizzying heights of the PR industry! But what I will take away is a skill set that can be used and applied to numerous industries. Strong analytical and evaluation skills that are needed for any job involving strategy, the ability to communicate clearly and concisely through both a written and oral medium and many others. Having transferable skills leaves a crack of light to shine through those doors that were closed early on. So if you’re worried that your degree won’t lead to a career, that’s not a problem. Employers employ graduates for their skill set and it’s also widely known that university helps to make you a well rounded person and develop social skills that are essential in the work place.
What if you’re thinking you really are just not enjoying your course? The first year is really about getting everyone up to the same level so don’t be surprised if some modules seem like fast track A level courses and can be a bit boring. In all honesty, I really did not enjoy my first year of my course. I found I didn’t have much interest in many of the modules and struggled to apply myself. At the end of first year I went to a meeting with a director in the business school about moving departments to a degree which I thought would be more helpful, interesting and challenge me more. I opted not to follow it through though as I realised that I hadn’t put much into my work that year and that was probably why I had no interest in it. You get out what you put in. Don’t think you can decide whether you like your course within the first few weeks or months, if at the end of your first year you really are sure this isn’t for you, you can normally switch courses within a department relatively easily and although it’s a bit more difficult you can switch courses completely. If you switch to a similar subject you will often be allowed to carry on credits from modules you have successfully passed already so your year won’t go completely to waste.
Lastly, there is always the option that university just isn’t right for you, maybe because you weren’t really ready or you just don’t connect with the place, the people or the course. University isn’t for everyone and there are plenty shining examples of people who don’t have degrees and have gone on to achieve great things. I know people who have switched courses at the end of first year, people who have retaken their second and people who have left Uni after being there for over two years to go and explore other avenues.
Wrapping up this rather serious and long post so I can get back to preparing my body mentally and physically for the carnage of Freshers’ week, I have three key points to take away. Firstly that university isn’t just about the course or the people or the place, you may enjoy some aspects more than others and just because one aspect isn’t working out doesn’t mean you should throw in the towel. Secondly, communication is the key to success. If you’re not enjoying something about your course go and meet with your tutor and ask about what other modules you’ll be doing over the course of the year. Alternatively, if you’re not enjoying something, ask yourself whether it’s because you don’t understand it. Lecturers love when students come to discuss things with them because it means you’re actually engaging. They’d rather you ask because you don’t understand and want to understand than sit there on your phone and completely switch off. Finally, it’s ok to come to Uni and to realise you’re not doing the right course and that you’ve fallen off the bandwagon slightly. It’s not a mistake to have tried something and realised it’s not right for you, as long as you readjust accordingly and learn from your decisions!