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Tips from a final year student – the dos and don’ts of surviving a university degree

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As I complete my final weeks as an undergraduate, I’ve come to realise my three years of experience at The University of Manchester have left me with a bunch of tips, tricks and wisdom bombs I only wish I had known as a wide-eyed fresher on Oxford Road. Whether you’re an undergrad, prospective student, or a fellow almost-graduate looking back on the “good ole’ days”, here are five things I wish I had known about surviving my university degree.  

1) Don’t make “all-nighters” a habit.

Listen, I’m not judging. We’ve all been there.

“Pshhh, I have two weeks” turns into “…Wait, I have two days?!” Soon enough, you’re cracking your knuckles, passing through the hilarious stages of 5 am delirium, submitting your essay thirty-eight seconds before the deadline, and you’ve still somehow landed a 2:1 at the end of it. Piece of cake!

… Right?

While all-nighters may seem like a university student’s rite-of-passage, take this small piece of advice from me, an all-nighter black belt and the former reigning Night-Goblin of the Ali G.

All-nighters are not sustainable.

Sleep is so important for your physical and mental health. If you’re not careful, the exhaustion of staying up all night will eventually catch up with you, especially by the time you reach your final year.  

This is something I only began taking seriously recently, and already I have seen a major improvement in my work rate and my stress levels. From someone who has experienced the dreaded all-nighter crash, do your future self a huge favour and find ways to use your time more efficiently in the day so you can get your much needed eight hours of sleep at night.

2) Learn to say “Yes!” … and “No.”

University is a place filled with chances. Take them!

Well, in moderation.

Many people will remember arriving at university in their first year and being bombarded with options: societies, placements, student elections, semesters abroad, free Domino’s pizzas! Often, we might feel tempted to say “yes” to everything so that we don’t feel like we’re missing out.

While the moments in which we say “yes” can often turn out to be the best decision we’ve ever made, looking back, there are many moments in which I wish I had learned to say “no” –  particularly as I reached my final year and the stakes of studying grew much, much higher.

I’m not saying you should become a complete library hermit in your final year, but by taking chances in moderation you will begin to learn how to strike that much-needed balance between engaging in your studies and truly enjoying your extra-curricular activities.

3) When help is offered, take it!

If there is one thing that I have learned as an undergrad, it is that you cannot get a university degree all on your own. If you need help, please take it.

Help can manifest itself in many ways at university. It might be a friend offering to go over that lecture you missed last week, an email from DASS or the Counselling Service checking in on how you’re doing lately, a professor adding extra office hours before your big exam, or your housemate (finally) offering to take the bins out for once.  

No matter how help may appear, please don’t feel too proud or embarrassed when it comes to accepting it. While it may not seem like it, university is a huge adjustment for eve­ryone, no matter how “cool” they may appear on the surface. Every year comes with new challenges to overcome and mountains to climb, be they academic or emotional ones. However, these challenges are made much more manageable when you have the right support systems in place.

If you feel that you may be missing out on some of the vital support that you need, take a look at the Manchester’s Student Support Services page.

4) Take time and space out for TLC

This is another one of those tips that requires some moderation. While I probably wouldn’t advise ditching your exams for a break in the Bahamas (though, each to their own right?), you might be surprised at how productive a little TLC can be.

Sometimes when we’re panicked about a deadline that’s a bit too close for comfort, the temptation can be to work non-stop until it’s finally over. However, this often leads to burnout or even more procrastination as we start dreading the work we have to face. By allocating certain times of your day for the “fun stuff”, you break up that stress and give yourself something positive to look forward to. For example, my mate Saira advises not working during mealtimes, allowing you to take a break and actually enjoy your food. I also try to avoid working in my bedroom when I can, just so I can clearly keep it as a relaxation space.

5) Take things one step at a time

Finally, if there was one piece of advice I could leave with you, it would be to take everything you do at university one step at a time. Not only is it easy to feel swamped with responsibilities, your time here will also fly by. Before you know it, you’ll be tripping up on the Whitworth Hall stage with your graduation cap on!  

Not only is it important to pace yourself by taking your challenges one by one, it’s important to take in every moment you have during your short time here. If you find yourself panicking about all those deadlines you have, why not try thinking solely about what you have to do first? If you find yourself frantically bouncing from commitment to commitment in the blink of an eye, stop and appreciate where you are. You’ll only get this experience once.

While for many people, university can resemble the best or worst years of their lives, after three years I truly believe that university is ultimately whatever you choose to make it.

So why not make it epic?

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