Strategies for Success in the Shift from Undergraduate to Postgraduate Study at UCL

27 June 2024

Charlie Jenkins shares their experiences of transitioning from undergraduate to postgraduate studies and gives some advice to new students.

Many prospective postgraduate students fear the jump in difficulty from their undergraduate studies. Regardless of your route into postgrad study, you may experience unique anxieties relating to this jump. The anxiety attached with further study at university is a universal concern. However, in this article, I aim to reduce some of these fears by speaking from personal experience and the experiences of my peers here at UCL.

Much of the anxiety surrounding the jump between undergrad and postgrad comes down to your background. More specifically, your journey into postgrad study can impact your worries.

I started postgraduate study at UCL immediately after finishing my Bachelors. My immediate concerns were that I would be the 'small fish in a big pond.'

Likewise, many of my peers took time out between undergrad and postgrad to travel or work. They have told me they feared they would be 'rusty' and have lost their academic touch.

Whilst both of these concerns are understandable and valid, there is no reason to panic. UCL creates a welcoming and safe environment for all, regardless of background. Allow me to address both of these contexts and concerns in turn.

First, if you are coming straight from undergraduate study, you will not be dropped straight in the deep end. New content is introduced with you in mind. You will not be expected to know everything immediately. Your course leaders understand the nuance of everybody's individual backgrounds. Therefore they will tailor the course accordingly, to ease you into it. Most courses introduce new material in a variety of ways. Pre-recorded lectures, in person classes & seminars, and work to complete independently, are all used to help you learn in a way that suits you. This will allow you to find out what events take place during welcome week and throughout the term, to get to know your peers.

Returning to education after time out to work or study is more common than you might think. If you have significant experience travelling or in the world of work, your skills will put you at a unique advantage. Your peers may wish to call upon your knowledge throughout your course. From personal experience, having a diverse group of mature postgrad peers was beneficial. The career and life advice I got from them has been priceless throughout my studies.

Postgraduate study at UCL can be seen as an opportunity to network with a diverse range of people. Lecturers appreciate others' backgrounds, and they will be conscious to not throw you in at the deep end with tricky content from the offset.

I can personally attest to the anxiety I felt coming to UCL after studying a Bachelor's in history at another university. The course I applied for was not similar to my Bachelors degree subject. Despite having some volunteering experience in my new chosen field, I felt inexperienced. The assumptions I made when beginning my studies at UCL were that everyone else would be superior to me in this field. I was worried that I would be at an immediate disadvantage. I can guarantee that many others in my position felt the same.

However, it is worth noting that postgraduate study is where many come to specialise and find their passion. You can use the knowledge of others through their varied experiences as a resource to gain unique insights.

Inevitably, the main difference between undergraduate and postgraduate study will be the difficulty of the content. Additionally, the workload you will face, whether that be the difficulty of content in class or the coursework and additional readings you will contend with at home, will be greater than at undergraduate level. You will be eased into this during the first few weeks of your course. This means you will have time to adapt to your new learning environment here at UCL. Moreover, you will have time to attend societies and social events, allowing you to build your network.

At the start of your studies, you will be assigned an advisor who can assist you with academic and pastoral issues. I would thoroughly recommend using the services of your advisor. The academics who run your modules will also be valuable sources of information and advice. UCL also has a wide variety of support to ensure your mental health is well looked after. Most importantly, keeping in touch with the rest of your classmates will help you overcome challenges together. You never know, you might have some valuable advice to help with someone else's struggles!

A sense of ‘impostor syndrome’ might seem inevitable, but this sense of worry is totally normal. UCL is a friendly and welcoming place. Your peers and academics will be mindful of everyone's background and situations. You have what it takes, and you deserve to be here!

Key points

  • Worrying is normal, and totally understandable.
  • Your lecturers will make the transition into postgraduate study as easy as possible.
  • Your unique experiences can benefit you and others during your time at UCL.
  • Staff and students are mindful of everybody’s unique backgrounds and circumstances.
  • You have what it takes, and you deserve to be here!