By Alex Butterworth
We all come to university a bit overwhelmed. For lots of us, it’s one of the biggest changes in our lives thus far. It’s a completely different system and way of life to learn in a new city. The transition part can be quite difficult, so here are some pointers that can smooth the change, not only from pre-university life to first year, but from year to year while here.
At this stage in the year, the two main points for advice are on module selection and summer exams.
When choosing your modules, you have a few things to consider. You want the best degree classification possible, so you want to choose modules you can get high grades in. Some of these will be because you’re really interested in them, some will be because the lecturer is amazing at teaching that particular area, some will be because you naturally find that part of the course easier than others. All of these are perfectly valid reasons for choosing a module. But you also need to consider what employers might find attractive. I know it seems early on in your university career for this, but it could make a big difference. What skills will each module develop? Do third year modules depend on second year options? Have a look at the module guides the second years are getting and don’t be afraid to actually ask older students for their advice.
The one key point to put across about exams is: revise. I know that sounds obvious because you’ve been through the whole process of exams and essays before and you know how it works. I know you only need 40% to pass. But first year is a brilliant opportunity to see what amount of work will get you which grades. And do you really want to get the bare minimum and go into next year knowing you have to prove yourself to everyone because you only just scraped a pass? You will make it so much easier for yourself if you start with good, solid grades.
I would also highly recommend applying for a CUROP placement. The list of projects is up on the university website currently (just google “Cardiff CUROP”). If you haven’t heard of them, they’re paid research placements for undergraduates that will give you invaluable experience, give you a closer working relationship with the academics in your department, and look stunning on your CV.
So you’ve made it to second year. You might be doing more modules you’ve chosen for yourself and care more about. You might be feeling confident because you were hung over during 65% of your first year lectures but you’ve still made it this far. But don’t get too cocky. For lots of courses, Year two counts for 40% of your degree. The grades you get now matter. You need to start actually doing your readings before the seminar, and not just writing your lab report at one o’clock the night before. It’s time to get more serious about things.
The work from first to second year doesn’t necessarily get harder. The biggest difference between the years is the rise in pressure and expectations. In recent years, both The Guardian and BBC News have reported that over 3/4 of graduate jobs require applicants to have achieved at least a 2:1. Second year is an amazing opportunity to build up a high average, and the higher it is at the end of the year, the easier it will be to maintain; you’re used to the work level, and it can help offset the occasional low mark. This is also the time to make sure you learn from your mistakes, as every third year mark counts for more. You can also learn from your mistakes, and get to know exactly what specific lecturers want of you, if you haven’t managed this in first year.
Module selection is now more important than ever. Again, read the module guides, talk to older students, decide what you want to show employers. This is especially crucial for students choosing whether or not to do a dissertation. If you’ve got a solid 2:1, interested in a particular field of research, and want your degree transcript to look good to employers, then yes you should. They are a lot of work. They take up a lot of your time and sanity, but they are incredibly rewarding. your school will support you, and employers will see your ability to independently create high-quality work.
Second year is prime time to apply for summer internships. Many large firms offer summer placements for undergraduates with a view to offering them a job if they perform well. A good way of cutting out the final year stress of job hunting is getting on one of these schemes and showing the company first hand that they should want you back with them in a year’s time.
Final year brings the greatest increase in difficulty of work and of workload. Those looking for graduate jobs should start applying as soon as possible, and the most proactive will start applying before the workload begins to mount up. Careers and Employability are there for one-on-one meetings and job fairs, tutors will write wonderful references if you ask, and the Skills Development Service offers free classes to boost your CV throughout the year. The government is now offering loans of up to £10,000 for Masters degrees for English students, so postgraduate courses are now much more accessible.
This is the year to really give it your all, the final step before becoming a fully-fledged independent member of society. This is your final opportunity to make the most of everything Cardiff university, has to offer you, so make the most of it.