5 ways to make the most of University
13 September 2016
Heading back to uni or starting your first year?…find out how to make the most of it
Wellbeing Specialist Katie Dodsworth, spends her days helping to make people happy in the work place and knows a thing or two about what recruitment specialists are looking for. Awesome credentials and someone who really knows her stuff.
In her latest post Katie offers 5 tips on how to make the most of University…
I graduated (gulp) 17 years ago. Back then I can honestly say I gave very little thought to what my university experience was doing for my employment prospects. I was fortunate (and I genuinely believe a generous amount of luck was involved here) to gain a 2:1, to fall into the first graduate programme I applied for and all relatively debt free as I was one of the last in-takes to get grants.
But times have changed. University is an enormous financial investment and competition for graduate jobs is high. Since my care-free university days, I have worked as a Business Psychologist and have spent a good proportion of my career working within graduate recruitment. So in a world where it pays to think ahead at least a bit more than I did, I want to share what I have discovered over the years about how to make the most of your university years.
1. Set yourself apart
So, you’re expecting to end up with a 2:1 in Business Studies (or whatever). Your parents will understandably hang your graduation photo with pride. Sadly though, you will not be alone. There will be A LOT of other 2:1s in Business Studies. How can you make yourself stand apart from all those others? There will be fewer 2:1s in Business Studies who were also President of the Student Union and have set up their own company or charity (online is fine – think about Facebook!) There may be even fewer who can speak another language or who studied at a Business School in America etc etc. So, be the one who has!
2. Think about your transferable skills
Your degree will hopefully open doors into opportunities you might not otherwise be eligible for (a surprising number of jobs specify “educated to degree level”). But, to actually get that job and to be a success at it, you are going to need skills. Skills such as time-keeping, team work, communication, problem solving, leadership, flexibility, decision making, organisation etc are all useful.
If you know the type of job/career you want, do your research into the specific skills you will need. Look at job adverts and role previews, speak to people who do those jobs or ask your careers service. Then think about how you can develop those skills through other experiences in a way which you can credibly display to potential employers on your CV and through interview examples etc.
If you aren’t sure what you want to do, that isn’t an excuse to skip this one. All the items I’ve listed above are commonly requested by most jobs, so use that as a starter list. Girl did Good have a free downloadable resource for you to do this with.
I would strongly recommend creating a diary for yourself where you have a couple of blank (for now) pages for each skill. Over your time at uni try to fill in examples for each skill of where you have developed or demonstrated that skill. For example team work comes from being part of the hockey team, from that group project you had to do and even from finding a collaborative way to harmoniously live with one fridge between 15 people!
Think about which skills are going to be harder to fill in based on your current activities and find ways to fill them. You will thank me for that diary when it comes to filling in application forms and preparing for interviews!
3. Minimise your debt
I know it is tempting to take out the full loan, plus every store card and credit card on offer to you and live for the moment. But, although student loans don’t need to be paid back until you are earning, the rest do and debt hanging over you is not good for your happiness and mental health.
Try to keep the debt to a minimum:
- Get a part-time job. A “full-time” course is not the same as full-time employment. Don’t work so much that you compromise your grades, but chances are you can definitely fit some part-time work into your week, and certainly your holidays. It keeps the debt down and also gives you experiences that help with tips 1 and 2. It will also make you more prepared for the reality that is full-time employment and the lack of free time that comes with it.
- Find grant and bursary opportunities. I had a friend at university who was brilliant at this. She got sponsored internships, grants to do her dissertation, all sorts of study bursaries I never even dreamed existed. And, that was before Google existed!!! Get online and do some digging as to what financial support might be out there. Particularly within the sciences, large organisations such as pharmaceuticals, oil and gas companies etc will offer awards, sponsorship etc to get to know the talent in their field. If you ever fancied a career in the armed forces consider applying to them to get your degree sponsored in return for signing up, usually at Officer level when you graduate.
- If you want to travel but can’t afford it without adding to the debt, consider working abroad for the summer. Teaching English and working at summer camps are popular choices. Also, explore whether your university has study-exchange schemes. Even if you don’t study a language or international-studies course, there may be opportunities to spend a semester or two at a university abroad. This is how I discovered Business Psychology, whilst on an exchange to a university in Canada for part of my final year. Ask your Course Director about whether there is anything you might be eligible for and if the answer is yes, then keep quiet about it to minimise competition. ;o)
4. Get the best grades you can
I am well aware this one sounds more than a little obvious and like something your mum would say. However, at university there all sorts of distractions which will divert you from this. Maybe you’ll simply want to embrace the nightlife on offer or perhaps you’ll be so concerned about debt that you’ll want to fill every spare hour with work.
Remember the primary reason you are there is to get a degree, and don’t waste those three or four years by getting a lesser degree than you are capable of. It’s all about balance and maturity. Skipping the odd lecture because you’re hungover won’t be the end of the world. Skipping every single Wednesday morning because Tuesday night is student night at your favourite club is a bit of a waste of your potential.
5. Have fun and make new friends
Above all else and despite how serious I have made that all sound, make sure you spend your university years having fun and making friends. Going to university straight or soon after school is a unique opportunity in your life. There will never be another time like it.
Keep all of the above in the back of your mind and do some sensible planning for the future but don’t obsess about it. Even more important than the experiences you are building to use in response to boring interview questions (I can say that, I used to write them!) are the experiences you want to be recalling in years to come. These will be relived over a glass of wine with a great friend, former room-mate and sharer of the fridge, who you suddenly realise you have known for 20 years.
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