Amid all the discussion about Results Day and the pressures on our students heading for exciting Higher Education opportunities, Bablake's Careers Department has canvassed a few careers professionals and some of our former pupils on the transition from school to university.
From discussion, it was soon apparent that new undergraduates would benefit from advice in three particular areas: a) how to adapt socially, b) how to meet new academic challenges and c) how to help future career progression. With this in mind, over the next three days, we will offer advice on each of these areas, starting today with how to overcome new social pressures.
So how might our pupils move from the fantastic camaraderie conveyed in photographs from their final day in the U6th to a successful first few weeks at university with new friends?
‘Students need to be resilient’, according to Simon Bason, careers adviser at Warwick Business School. ‘It’s useful for students to understand that sometimes there may be setbacks along the way to their goals. Not everything turns out as you want first time.’
This is crucial advice since, up to now, for the majority of ‘millennials’, with glowing reports and impressive public examination results, every piece of the school jigsaw has fitted with relative ease and immense support from school, friends and family. The feeling of being the smallest person in a massive secondary school at the start of Y7 has been long forgotten.
Former Wheatleyan editor and Bablake School captain Millie Ross immediately makes the point that prospective new students should not believe everything they see on social media, saying: ‘Don't believe the hype of other people's seemingly amazing experiences of their first few weeks of university. Contrary to what it seems like on Facebook and other platforms, most people feel lost and lonely at the start of that first term, especially if they've left behind really strong friendships that form at somewhere like Bablake. The impression from social media isn't always exactly how it is!’
When you start university or a new job, you are the new kid on the block again. Friendships developed at secondary school over 7 years cannot be made instantly. Antony Adams from The Student World sensibly suggests everyone should reflect on exactly what they want to gain from the student experience. Having those specific goals or targets is easier to monitor than a general expectation that this new life is going to be amazing regardless.
Abigail Rewhorn says: ‘Don’t change yourself just to fit in, but make sure you don't restrict yourself socially. Join a society if you like, but don't restrict yourself to socialising with just those people. Remember that there are thousands, often tens of thousands of people at your university, so if you find that you're friends with people you don't feel comfortable with, there are plenty more fish in the sea. They're probably right in front of you on your course or in halls, so make sure you socialise with these people from the start as these are the people you'll be spending at least a year with, if not three or four.’
Sarah Brown suggests a great way of combining a social life and part-time work: ‘If you want a social life and need to earn some money, get a job in your halls of residence bar. There will be no journey to work, and you'll get paid to be in the social hub!’
Tom Hingston found taking advantage of the societies available helped him settle into his new surrounds: ‘Join at least one society – the Hockey and Poker societies have made me a lot of friends.’ Randomly talking to strangers in the first seminar was another of Tom’s tactics! Everyone’s open to conversations in the first few days as they are all in the same position of finding new friends, however much Facebook talk has happened in groups related to the halls or course, before leaving home.
Naveen Jaspal suggests expanding your social scope: ‘Challenge yourself to engage socially not just with your own peer group. Speak to those older and wiser than yourself.’
Genevieve Holmes initiated discussion about budgeting: ‘Don't spend all your money on beer and kebabs. Wish I'd known that one!’ In a discussion about the transition on LinkedIn, Nathan Marshall, while keen to say how university life is so exciting that anything is possible, also pointed out how crucial good budgeting was for a successful social transition. Student nights, finding out where the freebies are, knowing the supermarkets will reduce their food at the end of the day, using budget calculators should all register and many more tips like this will soon become second nature as students adapt to new surrounds.
Changing from the relative security of school and home to living totally independently is not easy. Amanda Woodfield, manager of Warwick Student Union Advice Centre reminds everyone: ‘Making sure students know about the support systems available at their university is really important: e.g. residential tutors, counselling services, student support disability services, mental health teams, personal tutors, the Students' Union, Nightline. I see so many students who find they struggle when they get to uni, and not being supported properly can lead to loads of long lasting problems. Knowing it is not always perfect at university is important too.’
Amanda also raised the issue concerning many universities currently about how to deal with initiations to some societies: ‘A large part of the transition is about the student knowing who they are and not being pushed into stuff they aren't comfortable with: e.g. drugs, sex etc.’ Bablake pupils have heard Laura Bates (Everyday Sexism founder) talk about the sexist culture that is very prevalent despite the efforts of almost every university to eradicate this. Amanda confirmed there is a big push on consent issues to help students say ‘no’, if they are asked to do something they don't want to.
Geoff Palmer, examined his experiences from the 70s, suggesting: ‘Initially, go with the flow. Don't allow a set of different circumstances to become overwhelming. Be open with regard to new friendships, but be ready to exercise discretion.’
Vicki Hoare advises getting involved wherever you can, while recognising that is not everyone’s personality: ‘Trying new things is important, but if you don’t like it then at least you have given it a go. Don’t look back thinking: "I wish I’d had a go at that."'
Everyone will surely be excited at taking advantage of a new independence, as the expectations of friends, family and school can finally be shaken off. You can finally be yourself. Robin Trewinnard-Boyle endorses this saying: ‘Don't be afraid to be yourself. A school environment can be restrictive and constrained but uni is a great melting pot of people.’ And we’d say that is the best advice: ‘be yourself’. There’s no need to be the person you think society, family or friends expect you to be, if you know that is not you. University is the most forgiving, tolerant and inspirational environment to live in. Every new undergraduate has so much to contribute and kindred spirits abound.
For the majority of people, university is a fantastic social experience, but, if it doesn’t feel a course or university is the place for you after a few weeks, there is no shame in stepping back. Debbie Ormond says: ‘Don’t beat yourself up if you need to take a year’s break or decide you want to change your course.’ It’s most definitely a case of make it work for you, and remember that as well as the professional services at your university, teachers at Bablake will also still be there for you if you need anyone to talk to about a new direction.