Looking ahead to the new academic year

21 September 2021

UCL student Maya is looking ahead to the new academic year with advice she's learned along the way. Read on to find out her realistic list of important things to remember this academic year.

Before you make a decision

Just like that, September has rolled around again. As the late summer sun gives us one last burst of warmth, the days are slowly becoming shorter, and the leaves are hinting at their golden autumnal transition. For those of us in education, the turn of the season ushers in the start of a new academic year. Just like a new calendar year, the new academic year represents a time for us to reflect and instigate positive changes in our approach to university life. So, if you’re seeking practical and pragmatic advice – look no further! Below is advice that differs from the usual ‘buy a planner and a fresher’s wristband’, or ‘join a society’. My aim is to remind returning students of the information perhaps forgotten when we are dazzled by the big city lights of London, and to give freshers the information I wish I had when starting university.

Without further ado, here is my realistic list of important things to remember this academic year.

1. Establish a routine that suits you

With the constant changes thrown up by the pandemic, it’s vitally important to establish some sense of stability. With face-to-face teaching returning, establishing a healthy routine will be much easier than it has been over the past 18 months. However, the thing to remember is not to overwhelm yourself with a packed schedule. A routine doesn’t mean you must go to the gym at 6 every morning or eat at the same time every evening. While that might work for some, we are not all the same, so take time to build a routine that is reflective of your priorities and goals (which should include relaxation and rest!). A routine can be as simple as dedicating every Thursday to doing that pub quiz with your friends; going for a run every Wednesday and Friday evening; or doing your weekly food shop every Sunday afternoon. Having even the simplest of routines will significantly reduce the number of minor decisions you make daily, freeing up more headspace for you to focus on your degree and hobbies. It isn’t the end of the world if you break it, but knowing you have a structure will provide piece of mind.

2. It’s ok to say no

The start of term brings countless new opportunities – you could learn a martial art or a language; stay out until morning after morning at a reggaeton, grime, or DnB night; or spend every waking hour at the library having not had the space or time to study over the summer. However, trying to do everything, no matter how determined you are, will only lead to burnout. Although doing 101 activities may initially feel productive, the long-terms effects of burnout mean hyper-activity is in fact counter-productive, and the fatigue you will inevitably feel will endanger your ability to focus on your degree. So, I want to remind you not to be afraid of setting boundaries and saying no, in whatever setting. Only you know your boundaries, and these are important to respect.

3. Exercise!

If you are not invested in your gym gains or were not a dedicated member of your school hockey team, it can be easy to dismiss exercise as something that isn’t for you. However, it’s possible for it to be fun! Take advantage of what London life has to offer – if you need a high-energy stress release, a fast-paced dance class at Pineapple Studios will make you think you’re the next Beyoncé. Want something more relaxing or invigorating as the weather turns colder? Get yourself to the Hampstead Heath Ponds. These tranquil bathing ponds never fail to provide a temporary escape from the bustle of city life, and a student rate is only £2.67 for a swim. Oh, and did I mention the ducks? The important thing is to do whatever you can. Even if it’s just walking to and from university – walking is a fantastic head clearer, and the energy of the London streets means no two walks will ever be the same.

4. Consider what self-care means to you

Since the start of the pandemic, looking after our mental and physical health has been highly prioritised, so ensure that you are continuing in this mindset as the academic year gets underway. It may be painting your nails, watching your favourite Netflix show or cooking yourself a nourishing dinner, even just making yourself a cup of tea. The important thing is to make sure that you are prioritising your health and doing what you can to ensure that your wellbeing is looked after. 

5. The most important thing

The most important thing to remember is that not every day will go according to plan, but that bad seminar or exam result does not define your intelligence or your worth. My greatest bit of advice for a post seminar pick me up? The Lidl on Tottenham Court Road – because you, (yes – you!) deserve that fresh, buttery lunchtime pain au chocolat.

Maya Sall, BA English