My Top Tips for Freshers: If I’d known then what I know now …

A very warm WDC welcome to all of our brand new undergraduates! I hope you’re getting settled in and that you’ll enjoy your time in Newcastle. Your arrival had me casting my mind back to when I was a new undergraduate. In particular, I started thinking about the advice I wish I’d been given right at the beginning of my degree course.

After some thought, these are the three ‘pearls of wisdom’ I came up with. Everyone’s experience of starting university is different of course, but these are perhaps the three most common issues. Hopefully, this post will help you make the transition more easily than I did!

1/ Give yourself time to adjust: Fully expecting to get a First in my first assignment, since I’d done so well at school, I was rather stunned when I got a low 2:2 instead. Not only was this a dreadful shock, it seemed to transform my whole identity overnight: I was no longer the high achiever I had been at school, so who was I? I had been considered ‘clever’ once: what was I now? Perhaps some time over the long summer holidays I had lost whatever it was I had at GCSE and ‘A’ Level.

If I could go back in time and tell my younger self anything, it would be this: things have got harder, you haven’t suddenly become more stupid! You need to give yourself time to adjust to a new learning environment. The game looks similar – you still have to write essays, for instance, – but the rules and the expectations are different.

Another thing I might mention to that bewildered 18-year-old is this: you rarely learn when things are going well. Getting a lower mark than you expected is never pleasant, but it hopefully gives you an indication of where the problems lie and how you might set about fixing them.

2/ Know what you are aiming for: So there I was desperately trying to get a First without having a single clue what a First-class essay looked like. What do Firsts do that 2:2s don’t? What skills do you need to demonstrate in order to get the mark you want? I had no idea. I just presumed that, since I’d never had a problem writing a decent essay at school, I’d have no problem doing more of the same at university.

Again, if I could have a conversation with my younger self, I’d stress the naivety of this. How can you aim for a target if you don’t know what the target is? I would suggest that this early 00s version of me familiarised themselves with the marking criteria and looked at sample essays if they could. After all, it is useful to get a clearer sense of what your tutors expect from you. Another way of establishing this is by actually talking to tutors, of course – something the younger me was a little terrified of. I would encourage Younger Me to ask more questions, particularly if I wasn’t sure what a specific assignment required of me. Especially since experience has taught me that lecturers value initiative and engagement.

3/ Review your approach to learning: Another thing I didn’t realise when I arrived at university was that my approach to studying might need to be altered. As my lower-than-desired mark indicated, the ‘more of the same’ approach wasn’t really working. At school I had been able to dash an essay off the night before the deadline and still get a reasonable mark. On the opposite end of the scale, I had also been able to spend an inordinate amount of time painstakingly working on one piece because it was the only assignment I had been set over the holidays. Neither approach worked for me in the land of higher expectations and multiple deadlines. I wish I’d realised this earlier on so that I could have gone about reviewing and developing my study skills sooner rather than later.

If you want to avoid these pitfalls, why not book a one-to-one appointment with the WDC for further advice and more tips? You can find out more about what we do and book online at:

Best of luck in your studies!

Posted by Caroline

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