Alright. I’m back. The last month has been full of deadlines, field trips, and admin, and we all know that uni has to come first. Regular posting schedule is now resumed, and I offer a longer post as an apology for the absence.
This week’s post is a mix of two older tags: ‘What’s in my Uni Bag?’ and ‘Uni Essentials’. My first essential is the bag itself. In my first year, I used a Cath Kidston carryall bag that could be worn on the shoulder or across the body. As it turned out, it didn’t matter how I wore it. With everything I needed to take to class, it always dug into my shoulder and made me dread carrying anything more than a notepad. A Norton Anthology is considerably heavier than you might expect.
I’d learned my lesson by the start of second year – I needed a backpack. I considered Kipling and Fjällraven, but settled on this bag by Leaper on Amazon, which is, sadly, no longer available. (Leaper now sell different styles that you can find here.) I paid £18 for this backpack, making this the safer, considerably cheaper option for somebody whose tastes change as quickly as mine.
That said, I’m still using it seven months on and have no intention of buying a new one! Pick something with pockets and a zip – it doesn’t have to cost upwards of £100.
My other essentials can be found in my backpack:
- Laptop/iPad: The best way to take notes is a much-debated issue, but I’m a strong advocate for laptops in lectures. There’s not much more to it than the fact that I can type ten times faster than I can write. I focus on taking down as much information as possible and thank myself for it when deadlines and revision periods come around.
- Pencil case: Though I take my notes electronically, I always carry a pencil case. The general contents are standard, but I also recommend carrying the following:
- Whiteboard pen: Our library has whiteboards dotted around its study areas, and I’ve often had course leaders unable to find a marker in a seminar room. Being helpful never hurts.
- Page markers: Literature seminars usually focus on close readings, and a tutor won’t point you to something without reason. If I haven’t bookmarked the passage already, I’ll use these in class. The alternative is dog-earing the page. (Ouch.)
- Sticky notes: Either to use as a reminder of why I’ve bookmarked a passage or to jot down a date to add to a calendar app later.
- ID: Now that I live in private accommodation, I only need my uni ID when I’m on campus. It lives permanently in my backpack.
- Cash: A good precaution to take as a lost debit card is all too common. £10 is more than enough.
- Headphones: Not an unusual thing to carry. The journey to and from uni can be otherwise hellish, especially if you commute… or if you have a 9am.
- Hand sanitiser: If you do any work on a library computer, the keyboard might be visibly dirty. If it’s not, don’t be fooled. Fresher’s flu is real, people.
- Water bottle: Preferably a refillable one. This will save you more money than you might think if your campus shop is as expensive as mine!
- Gum/mints: Meal deal.
- Shopping bag: Other than the obvious, carrying a foldaway shopping bag is great for carrying library books to and from campus.
- Portable charger: Even if your phone is perpetually in Low Power Mode, a day packed full of contact hours is bound to drain your battery.
What are your uni essentials? Let me know over on Instagram!
When I first moved into halls, I arrived with enough trinkets, cushions, and storage solutions to cover every surface. Twice. The longer the year went on, the more objects I’d try to hide in the wardrobes. Trying to find space for a notepad and laptop on an over-cluttered desk proved incredibly difficult, and who really has the time to arrange seven throw cushions? This year, I’ve come to accept the fact that I will inevitably reorganise my room once every fortnight. However, no matter how much rearranging I do, some things always remain. Here’s my top tips for accessorising your uni room:
- Clear space. Upon moving into your new room, you’ll be tempted to do everything you can think of to make it ‘yours’. While it’s important to make sure you feel at home, try to keep it practical. This applies to desk space in particular. A lamp, pencil pot, and your computer or laptop are the only essentials, in this case. Outside of this, a couple of photos or trinkets is probably enough. You’ll thank yourself when you sit down to write an essay!
- Photo grids. Photo grids are a great, minimalistic alternative to notice boards or photo frames and prevent you from having to put holes through anything you want to hang up. They can be a little difficult to get to grips with, but the final look is worth it! I opted for mini-prints to allow me to hang more photos but maintain the minimalistic vibe I was looking for.
- Leave room. The more you do at uni, the more you’ll collect. Any ball you go to could have a photo booth, and if you’re like me you’ll be collecting tickets and trinkets at any opportunity. Try to account for this when you’re packing and leave room to acquire new things.
- Fairy lights. This can be a risky game. Fairy lights seem like the perfect solution to create some warm, subtle lighting. However, it’s very easy to go overboard – one or two sets is probably enough! They look great on bedframes or hung around a photo grid. If they have battery packs, hang them somewhere that this can be hidden.
- Rugs. Carpets in halls and student housing will ordinarily be threadbare, and a colour that won’t match the bed linen you’ve chosen. (To be honest, it might not even match the walls.) If you’ve got the floor space, I definitely recommend a rug. A rug will help to tie the whole room together in terms of colours and is far more effective in achieving the feeling of home than over-cluttering your desk with houseplants you’ll forget to water.
Make it yours but keep it simple.
The past few weeks have been… a little stressful. January, at my university, comprises the publication of Christmas assignment grades, and the release of the next set of question papers. Stressful as it may be, it’s also a great time to consider how to make progress as the academic year continues. As I was drawing up my own plan of action, I settled on four tools for staying organised and focussed. Here are my top tips:
- Your timetable. Yes, of course, your academic timetable, but more so the gaps that it leaves you with. If you don’t have contact hours on particular days, don’t consider them as days ‘off’. (Take it from somebody who has made this mistake!) Look at them as days for you to spend as you choose, but spend them wisely. What reading do you have for the coming week? Do you have any research to do? Now’s the time to do it.
- Syllabus and Reading List. Most universities release reading lists in the summer before the academic year begins. It would be unrealistic to expect to have powered through all of your texts by September, but being smart about your reading is essential. Consider which of the texts intrigue you, and try to identify those that you’d be happy to write on. This ensures that you’re not in a state of panic when question papers are released!
- Essay Feedback. Though at times it can be painful, reading the feedback on essays is the easiest way to figure out what’s going well and what’s going… not so well. While your essay may have focussed on texts you won’t be studying again, carry forward any comments on style, structure, referencing, or critical engagement.
- Grade tracking. Sometimes, numbers are just the clearest way to go. After receiving my results, I immediately drew up the above grade tracker. The format allows for the calculation of grades for single components, and entire modules. Having your progress displayed so visually can be an excellent motivator. You can also calculate how much of your overall grade each module or assignment is worth, which proves useful in restoring some rationality if you’re worrying about an upcoming assignment.
Fingers crossed that these tips help you (and me) to stay focussed this semester!
I am 100% happy to admit that my UCAS application was submitted two months late and that I hadn’t even considered applying until two weeks before that. After a disastrous AS Results Day, I had sworn off higher education. I shut myself off from any conversation about personal statements, references, and predicted grades, and let the deadline pass.
Over a month later, year 13 parents evening took place. The Director of Sixth Form took the opportunity to suggest that I submitted a late application in the interest of keeping my options open – there was always a possibility that I’d open my envelope in August and wish I’d applied. Even if I didn’t get any offers, having an open UCAS application would make a world of difference in trying to secure a place through clearing. I took the advice, and maintain that it is one of the best decisions I have made to date.
If you find yourself in this position, UCAS Extra is the best tool you’ll have at your disposal. Extra is aimed at applicants who have been rejected by or have declined all five universities on their original UCAS application, but it’s incredibly useful in this situation too. Once I’d decided on my course, I checked which universities were advertising on Extra – this usually indicates that they still have spaces that they are willing to allocate. To be certain, I contacted the admissions departments of my five choices, and all five confirmed that they would consider a late application.
With my choices settled, the hard work began. I’d already waited far too long, so the remainder of the process had to move as quickly as possible. I started working on my personal statement, and my Director of Sixth Form began writing a reference. A couple of friends and relatives let me have a look at their personal statements, allowing me to get a feel for what I should be including. I decided to take the opportunity to showcase my ability to think critically about texts from different periods, linking this to texts found on the A-Level syllabus. I had a total of five drafts – with feedback from two members of staff – and by the time I was happy with it, my Director of Sixth Form had completed my reference. All that was left to do was compile everything and finally submit on March 15th.
I had an offer a day later. I received all five offers, two of which were unconditional despite my late application.
It’s been just over a week since the 2018 deadline. If you’re wishing you’d applied, it’s not too late to give it a go.
Having just submitted all my assignments, I feel like I’ve learnt an awful lot about efficient essay writing. You’ve spent half of your Christmas break staring at blank Word documents and doing your best Ross Geller impression, then suddenly you’ve got thousands of words to write and not very long to write them in.
So – in the interest of efficiency – let’s keep this short and sweet. (And, let’s be honest, if you’re reading this in the middle of January deadlines, short and sweet is probably all you have time for…)
Here are my top five tips for a smooth essay writing process:
- Start working in the morning. You tell yourself you’ll start writing in the afternoon, and suddenly afternoon is evening. By that point, you might as well start tomorrow, right? Wrong. Start as early in the day as you can.
- Prepare. By prepare, I mean gather. Quotations, secondary reading, page numbers, the lot. If you’ve got them to hand from the off, you won’t waste time searching for them later.
- Always plan… Although it might be tempting, writing without a plan leaves you without a sense of where your argument is headed. By outlining what you want to say, your response will be much tighter.
- …But plan in stages. If you’re like me, then you find nothing more daunting than an empty page. Take your paragraphs one at a time and alternate with planning and writing: plan one, write one, and then plan the next. Make sure to note down point headers to keep your response seamless.
- Reference as you write. The last thing you want is to finish your essay and realise you haven’t finished at all. Your future self will thank you.
Happy writing! (And don’t forget to proofread!)