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By Vlad Mackevic

Let me tell you one of the most guarded secrets of university life: the first year of university is one endless opportunity. It is an opportunity to develop skills that all employers are after; it is an opportunity to find your unique academic writing voice and working style; it is an opportunity to gain work experience and become successful.

On the other hand, your first year can be a total waste – especially if you are making those seven fatal mistakes that can ruin all chances of you succeeding. Let’s see that they are:

1. Thinking that the first year does not count


This is one of the biggest lies you will ever hear in your life. The first year is the most important year of university.

The most obvious reason why it counts is because it is your time. Imagine someone told you: one year of your time is worthless; the effort you make during that time also counts for nothing. How would this make you feel? The first year is the time to gain work experience, take control of your academic and professional life and develop valuable skills! How can that not count?

Moreover, the modules you will study in your second year will be based on your first year modules, and if you make effort now, you will have to work much less in the future. The second year will be very busy, believe me, and you will save yourself a lot of time by paying more attention to your studies.

2. Not taking it seriously

There are many critics who say that modern students go to university for experience, not for the course of study. That is partially true, but your experience of university is really what you make of it. You can spend all three years partying, and that will be an experience, but you can also get involved in a volunteering project, join a committee in the student union, have your academic work published, and do many other things that will help you become a professional from the first day of the first year. There will still be time for partying, be sure of that.

Why not take it seriously and prove to yourself that you can strike a balance between work and play?

3. Not joining any clubs or societies


Clubs and societies offer you enormous opportunities. First of all, you get to meet people whose interests and passions are similar to yours. This way, you can make friends more easily and expand the list of your contacts (sounds a bit formal, but knowing many people at university will prove extremely useful in the future). Secondly, you get a chance to get involved in the lives of all societies you join and gain work experience through active involvement.

4. Not getting any work experience

Here’s some good news for you: when you are at university, you don’t need a job to gain work experience. All you have to do is get involved in the social side of university life. Here are some ideas for a start:

  • Join a committee at the student union and help run your own university;
  • Join a society and start helping its executive committee. You don’t have to have a position of power to do it – just offer a helping hand in organising events, running everyday affairs or even managing the society’s Facebook page and watch as your schedule becomes busier and your organisational, teamwork and leadership skills become sharper. Click here to read an article about what you can do for a student society.
  • Volunteer. Employers always look favourably at those who are willing to give their time an effort for a cause – so check out volunteering opportunities in your university and your town (city);

5. Not making the most out of your academic work

There are quite a few reasons to take your studies seriously. First of all, it will result in higher grades (duh!). Secondly, if your future employer sees that you’ve made effort for your degree, they will think that you are much more likely to make effort for the job (even if the job is not related to your degree subject). Thirdly, as I’ve said before, if you make more effort in your first year, it will be much easier later. Finally, taking your academic work seriously can be a great way to develop transferrable skills for work.

6. Not making friends with your lecturers

Your lecturers are there not only to talk loud and proud about what they know from behind the pulpit. They are there to help you – it is their job, and it’s not their fault that so few students are actually coming to see them. Do not come to see your lecturer only when the essay deadline or an exam is nigh – see them before, talk to them about your plans for the future (if not for your professional life, then at least about your plans for your time at university).

Your relationship with your lecturer has to remain professional (going to a party with the academic staff is only allowed at conferences and summer schools) but it must in no way be cold and formal. Show your lecturer you care about their lectures and they will show you they care about you. Lecturers are among the first people you will ask for a reference, they can give you advice regarding your studies and future plans – in short, it’s worth establishing good professional relations with them.

7. Not having fun

We all know about all work and no play. So, do not be a sourpuss grumpy-face, stop obsessing only about getting a first and becoming a professional, and have some fun. Go bowling with your society, go for a walk (do not take any books with you!), visit a different city, and do not forget to exercise your body as well as your mind – practise sports that you like, go cycling, go to the pool.

Fun also has its benefits, not only hard work!

Good luck!

Vlad Mackevic


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