26th Sep 2012
Gina Goes Pop: How To Be A First Year
I’m not a student any more. That’s the first time I’ve actually written that down, and its left me a bit choked up. But it’s true. The late nights, the pre-exam cramming, the last minute essays – it’s all behind me now.
But if you, dear reader, are embarking on the journey that is studying English at an undergraduate level, you’re going to need some advice. Take it from someone that’s been there.
Don’t buy all your books as soon as your loan comes in
As you’d expect from an English degree, there’s a lot of reading to do. There are some books you will have to buy, and these are usually the ones that will prove to be irreplaceable. I wouldn’t have got my degree without The Norton Anthology of English Literature. They’re expensive, but worth it.
When it comes to the other books, though, don’t just throw wads of cash around in an excited, bookish frenzy. If you want to buy, do some hunting around – usually you can find older students selling their books at half the price.
Charity shops in university cities are a goldmine for cheap course material, and the university library will keep a small number of course books there for limited loan period. You don’t need to spend hundreds to get through your degree.
Do get in to good habits from the beginning
It’s really easy for me to sit here and tell you this, and it’s even easier for you to sit there and think you will. Trying to find a balance between being studious and making friends is really bloody difficult. Most people don’t ever find that balance and simply scrape through the first year.
Setting aside time to do the reading, and spending a little extra time on your essays will make you entire degree go by so much easier. Don’t be smug when you spend an hour on an essay and get a 2:1.
I spent the beginning of my degree doing this and feeling like a master of the written word. When that stops working in the third year, it’s like a bucket of freezing cold water falling on you.
Good habits from the beginning will make your whole academic career a hell of a lot easier.
Don’t judge a book by its cover
Or a person by their favourite author. In your first week you will spend the time being forced to make awkward introductions to your class mates by talking about your favourite poem, novel, author, etc.
There will be someone there who likes someone you hate. Don’t make the same mistakes I did by assuming that they must have a character default. Variety is the spice of life, and you never know, they might just become your best friend in a year.
Also, when the inevitable “what was the last book you read?” question comes up; be honest. The Complete Works of a Dead White Guy sounds like a lie, and it probably is. If it was Fifty Shades, just admit it with a knowing ironic chuckle.
Do enjoy the easy lessons while they las
I went in to my degree with extremely high expectations of lofty discussions and obscure authors. When first year turned out to be about as challenging as reciting your ABCs, I was gutted. Then third year arrived…
Embrace the last period of your life that will go relatively smoothly. Before you know it you’re being asked to come up with 10,000 words on a subject you’ve never fully understood.
I still don’t completely understand what I wrote in my dissertation and I don’t think I ever will. However, I can come up with, ahem, ‘alternative’ metaphors thanks to a compulsory creative writing class, and that’s all thanks to the ease of first year. Oh god, it was wonderful.
Don’t be afraid to speak up in class
That goes for disagreeing with the tutors as well. All universities are internally moderated (unlike the external marking of GCSEs and A Levels) so you’re being taught the tutors opinions. Friendly debate is the best thing about seminars, so don’t be afraid to get involved.
Many people don’t speak up because they’re worried about sounding stupid. If you think that then you are stupid. You got on to the course, you know what you’re talking about, so just say it.
The worst thing that can happen is everyone in the room disagrees with you. Then you start writing for the internet and everyone in the world disagrees with you. It’s brilliant.
Do spend some time acting like the pretentious English student in the films
You know what I’m talking about. Cracking witty remarks about Shakespearian plays, sipping red wine, making observations about the falling of the autumn leaves…you can get away with acting like this for like a week. Some of us do it for a living now we’ve left university. It’s bloody fabulous, dahling.
Don’t expect a physical representation of how much you’re paying
Do you remember the open day tour being guided around a combination of intimidating, ultra modern buildings alongside stunningly preserved grade II stone houses? University looked pretty stunning from that angle, didn’t it?
Well don’t get used to it. As an English student, all you need in class is a book and a mouth (and sometimes you don’t even need the book).
This means you’ll be herded in to the building hidden at the back of the campus. The one with the flickering lights and cobwebs, sitting on chairs with three legs, with loads of posters from the 80s peeling off the walls. Usually the one with the “DO NOT ENTER” sign hanging off the door.
Do enjoy it
If you don’t enjoy your degree, you will do terribly. The only thing that got me through the sleepless nights and endless caffeine highs was the very fact that I adore literature.
Studying at university is a hugely independent way to learn. You have to have the desire to learn beyond the basics in order to push yourself to do well. If it’s not the thing you live and breathe for then it’s going to be a very painful three years.
Also, try and get some career plan in your head, at least so you have a response to “…and what are you going to do with that?” Everyone assumes you want to be a teacher. It’s a real pain in the ovaries.
Well that’s it. That’s my advice to anyone starting out as an English student. As I’m no longer a student, I have to start grumbling “bloody students” if we’re ever on the bus together. We’ll talk again when you’re a pessimistic, poverty stricken graduate entering the job market. It’s a great party, with a hangover to match.
What advice would you give to freshers starting an English degree? If you’re just starting your course, what are you most excited for?
Image via Lethaargic