The end of the university academic year is upon us now. Even the medical students – some of the hardest-working students in the world – are beginning to wind down and enjoy some of the weather that has fallen upon us of late. All in all, not too bad. Personally, I take time to enjoy my summers off – though perhaps not too much in the sun; I just burn.
I also like to sit and take some time to think about my year at university – thinking about how it’s been, what happened, what I need to do now and in the future… that kind of thing.
It can be difficult to reflect at the end of the first semester, when you get back for your Christmas break – this year I was only back for two weeks and so my family commitments and spending time with my girlfriend all meant that I didn’t really have much time to think about my semester. You could say I was just enjoying what precious little time I had. Therefore, I’ve always preferred to reflect on my year at the end of it all – often with a nice cold drink in my back garden.
This year for me was rather different as I went to France for the year as part of the Erasmus programme – believe me when I say that this adds a whole new level to the thinking process. You have to think about it in terms of a life experience that you’re only getting once – there’s no real sense of ‘well, I can just go back and do it again.’ That, therefore, requires a somewhat different level of thinking.
For those of you who had a somewhat ‘normal’ year, it might be time to sit down and consider what happened and what will happen. Now, this isn’t a dictation of what you must do/think – it’s just a guide as to some of the things I think about and about where I can improve myself as a learner.
How did the studies go?
Clearly, the primary reason why you’ve been at university will be related in some way to studying for a degree. There are a lot of different areas to consider when you think about the studies:
- Lectures – Did I go to all my lectures? When I went, did I stay focused? Did I make sufficient notes for my seminars and other work related to that?
- Seminars/lab work etc – Think about how that went – did you contribute to group pieces and offer up suggestions to the rest of the seminar group?
- Independent learning – This can be difficult to gauge because I’m sure that everyone has their own ideas as to what would be considered ‘adequate’ or ‘enough.’ To define either of these terms, you really need to consider what you were trying to achieve through independent study and looking through your work each week. You really do have to consider your target in order to decide if you felt comfortable.
- Assignments/essays – The key question would be ‘did you achieve what you wanted to?’ Perhaps a little obvious, but it can be a revealing and eye-opening experience. If you got what you wanted or not, think about why that was. Often, if I underachieved in an essay, it’s probably because I left it too late… Might be the same with you.
- Exams and revision – Exams are a big part of certain modules throughout university so it’s important you’re well prepared. Did you get every topic thoroughly covered and ready? Did you feel confident? If not, did you find people to help you understand it better?
There’s always room for improvement, so hopefully you’ll find something that perhaps didn’t work so well and you’ll know where to improve. For example, if the assignment was a bit rushed, consider for next time effectively evaluating when you could have realistically made a start. This self-reflection and being honest with yourself are key to developing better habits for the next time you take to the university study rooms.
If you’ve just finished your final year, your self reflection will likely need to focus on what you got out of your entire experience and how it’s going to help you in the world of work. Again, developing habits and your own set of values and ideas of working are possibly to be the end result here.
Outside your education, there might be other things to think about:
- Sports and Activities – One of the interesting things to think about is how your sport and societies had an impact on you. For me, playing American Football for three years so far as been a great highpoint in my time at university. Personally, I found it highly enriching and has always helped me make friends and improve my fitness.
- However, you don’t want them to detract from your studies – the best coaches and presidents of teams will tell you that the team comes second to your studies and course.
- Your life in the flat/house – if you lived in student accommodation, think about how you kept things organised and your relationship with your house-mates etc. Some of the best friends you can have are those you live with – for me it’s no different. If there were tensions, think about what went wrong and why – and be honest with yourself.
- A relationship – If you had a relationship with someone at university, consider how that’s going and how it impacted you at university. Did it serve as motivation to succeed or was it a distraction that you didn’t need. Be careful and sensitive to different feelings, but make sure that you do what’s right in general.
- Your later options – Everything here – from your academics to your sporting interests – are all things that will help shape you as a person. Employers will look at these things, I can promise you that. Consider what you’re doing later on and if you’ve made the right sort of plans for afterwards. This is especially true if you’re entering that important final year.
As I say, this isn’t some sort of tick sheet that you have to consider each time – some bits are more relevant than others for you. However, there’s always something to take away from a year at university. The key is being honest with yourself and what you can do in the future to improve. It all ties together.