The Bartlett


The 5 things I've learnt from being a first year UCL student

By Louise Oswald

illustration of notepad reading 'the 5 things I've learned from being a UCL student'

Being alone isn’t always lonely

It seems obvious in saying that when you first start at university, it is very likely that you won’t have a firm friendship group that you had at high school or secondary school right away and so, planning activities to do on days where you have less happening can seem intimidating. 

I found that the activities that many societies and clubs run in the first few weeks are great opportunities to get out of your room, enjoy some time doing something that isn’t academic and maybe meeting new people along the way. 

With this being said, there will be days where you have no plans to meet someone, or maybe your social battery is drained. On these days, I find it far too easy just to spend my day inside not doing much. However, you should try to leave your room and your flat at least once a day! 

I found the best way to get out of the flat is to take yourself on a date! For me, this would include doing some of my favourite things that I usually do with my friends, by myself. For example, Regents Park is very near to UCL’s main campus and thus is relatively close to most of the UCL accommodation but walks around Regent’s Park allow you to feel less lonely when being by yourself. You will find that there are many people walking around or sitting on benches by themselves. If it is a nice day, you could even bring a book to read (whether it’s from your reading lists or not!). 

Studying Independently 

From where I stand now, with only 3 weeks left of term 1, I have found that all my contact hours require some forward planning on my half. (From what I have heard from friends, this is the same across most if not all courses.) The ‘pre-readings’ vary from module to module. One of my modules requires me to watch videos introducing different filming techniques, another requires me to come prepared with sketches/ illustrations and the others have the typical readings and notes to make.

What I found hardest was establishing a routine in which I would complete the work as some aspects would be uploaded at different times. However, from experience, once you have a routine, it makes it so much easier to get your work done and in good time. 

The next step is being motivated. I think we can all agree that there are periods of feeling very motivated and then some days you just aren’t in the right headset. For the latter type of days, I like use the study facilities that UCL has to get me to be productive. It has worked very well so far!!

Studying doesn’t always have to be alone either! You can team up with a course mate and review a section of the syllabus or even just sit together with a friend and hold each other accountable to getting your work done. 

Maintaining a Routine

In my opinion, this is a non-negotiable for university as I work best when I know exactly what I am doing and when. The routine doesn’t have to be the same for every day of the week, let yourself hit that snooze a couple more times on a Saturday!

Having a routine will allow you to know when you are able to complete your work as well as making sure you are eating all your meals and not missing any lectures or classes. 

May I also suggest, within your routine, you include a day when you can work at a slower pace and take the afternoon off to meet with some friends or have a nice long walk. This will make your workload feel better as you are not consistently slouched over your computer in addition to helping to keep your mind happy and healthy! 

Dealing with Workloads 

As I mentioned in the section above, taking a day once a week to work at a slower pace and to allow yourself time to enjoy the things you love to do, will help make your workload feel less overwhelming. At university, it is inevitable that at some point in the year, your workload will be relatively high. This depends on the course you do. For me, I have coursework 'hand-in' dates throughout my year, but they are concentrated towards the end of each term. If you can maintain a good work routine and stay on top of your readings, these deadlines won’t feel as stressful... however, we have all been in the position where we maybe didn’t read that report or never got around to fully understanding a topic. So, you will not be alone with the stress around deadlines! 

I have fount it useful to consistently reassess my understanding of a module so that when things start to get a bit confusing I am abke to schedule a review session with a friend or dedicate an afternoon to really reading into and revising the topic. This could also help you as it makes you feel like you are ‘on top of’ all of your work and so you don't become too overwhelmed. 

It is easy to get lost in the mentality that “it’s only my first year I can take it a bit more slowly”. This is not necessarily a bad mentality, but you should understand that the first-year acts as a foundation for your later years. 

Overall, I find that if I stay on top of my work and do work in small but regular chunks, it will reduces my stress as the deadlines are approaching! 

It’s okay to heal the heart 

University can get tough – you're in a new city with new people studying a new course. So, you have to actively take the time to check in with yourself and make sure that you are feeling well and coping well! If you’re not 100%, that’s okay, most people will have felt as you have but you must ensure that you don’t neglect yourself. 

If you’ve had a particularly busy week or you just felt a little less yourself, give yourself the time to recharge. This could include asking a friend if they want to go for a walk with you, if they’d like to join you for a movie or a café date and it can also include spending some time alone, maybe baking some cookies or watching your comfort movie with your comfort food. 

I’ve found that if I schedule time out of my week to have time for myself or to spend with friends, it also increases my productivity. 

But if you feel like you are struggling for whatever reason whilst being at university, UCL has many resources that can be accessed through your department or through the 'support and wellbeing' page on their website. 

Overall, my first 9 weeks as a student at UCL have been filled with new experiences of living alone, studying and meeting new people. The vast majority of experiences have been positive and those that weren’t have provided lessons for me. UCL has become a familiar place to me very quickly and I have enjoyed the time I've spent here, and I really hope you do too, especially now that you’re equipped with five extra lessons!