Three weeks ago I was lucky enough to discover that not only had I gained a first class honours degree in English Literature and History from the University of Glasgow, but also that I had secured an unconditional place on my first choice Masters programme. As of this September, I will be a MLitt Creative Writing student at Glasgow!
Although I am very excited about becoming a postgraduate student and taking the first (small) step to achieving my life-long dream of being a writer, it’s a bittersweet ending to an eventful four years as an undergraduate. And my experience hasn’t been perfect: the drawbacks of being a home student compounded by an initial reluctance to join societies left me feeling comparatively friendless in first year, and just when everything was getting better, an academically difficult second year left me questioning my decision to study English Literature into Honours. But two years later, and it all feels like ancient history. So here are my thoughts on my past four years as a student!
Get involved early!
In first year I was too shy and detached from uni life; in second year, I met with particularly indifferent responses from a couple of societies which shall remain nameless. At the beginning of third year, thankfully, I corralled my cousin into attending qmunicate’s Wednesday meetings regularly and what had always been a vague interest in writing for magazines blossomed into a genuine love of exploring Glasgow’s arts scene, expressing my opinion through the written word and, most heady of all, seeing my name in print. I’m now confident that I want to pursue writing as a career, something that I never would have embraced without qmunicate. Whether it’s student media or sport, feminism or cheese, there is a society out there that reflects your interests, a group of friends just waiting to be found and a whole world that will open up to you.
Speaking of… internships
I have to admit I was pretty forward-thinking on this one, and I cannot emphasise how much my internships have benefited me. A stint at the University archives, a few months as a museum volunteer and my invaluable experience at the Scottish Writers’ Centre – which has continued long beyond my original brief – have enabled me to discover different fields related to my degree, to learn more about my talents and goals, and to be entrusted with responsibilities in a real work environment. Simply put, I would have acquired none of this without my internships. Everything from my first foray into blogs to organising a national writing competition has increased my employability and will (hopefully) help when I finally get around to looking for a grad job.
Always try to love your degree
Yes, there are moments when you think you might scream if you have to redraft that essay one more time, or when your eyes glaze over in particularly boring poetry lectures (I just cannot summon up any interest for Paradise Lost, and I have accepted that I never will). But nothing can beat the moment when you find yourself immersed in a surprisingly fascinating lecture on science fiction, or incredibly invested in your essay on interwar Fascism. Despite all the little annoyances and frustrations, I love reading books and discovering persuasive critical arguments, and I love learning about previously unknown, but immensely intriguing, periods of history. Because if you don’t love your degree – or at least see it as a worthwhile pursuit – then what’s the point in doing it? Which leads me to…
It definitely gets better in Honours
I’m not sure exactly where I learned this in second year, but by the first week of Honours the university myth was confirmed: Honours is ten times better. It’s baffling why universities decide to offer such universally boring options as Scottish history and a whole semester of poetics, when there’s much more appealing courses in the university catalogue (women in American history, anyone?). Being able to choose the period you study doesn’t mean you automatically appreciate every part of the course, but it does mean that you’ll actually be absorbed in the vast majority of lectures, and it definitely lessens the inevitable time wasting that happens when you read terrible books like Geek Love.
I’m the sort of unashamed geek who will always read the books in advance, so maybe this advice doesn’t apply to the majority of (normal) students. But I would always recommend doing the reading, thinking about the questions the tutors set, and, most of important of all, planning your dissertation waaaay in advance. You do not want to be the person who has three days and 5000 words to go. Although it’s probably unusual that I managed to write my dissertation on a topic that I’ve been dying to write about since I was fourteen – Anne Boleyn you bae – it’s absolutely imperative to choose your dissertation based on a topic that actually interests you.
And for all the home students out there…
I get it. It can be difficult making friends when everyone seems to have bonded over their halls or sharing pre’s in dingy student flats, and home students are often neglected in the big build-up to Freshers’ Week. Unless you’re very confident, involved in student societies or on a course that encourages integration (unlike my two subjects, in which you could make a friend and go four years without ever seeing them again), it’s definitely a disadvantage living at home. I’m lucky enough to live only four miles away from my university, so I haven’t had to experience the annoyance of last trains home, but even that distance can seem endless when you’re having to hang out in the library between lectures or can’t be bothered waiting for extra-curricular events after an extremely long day. But just know that no one’s life is perfect, and that everything settles down eventually: the exclusivity of halls does not last and especially in the midst of fourth year stress, you’ll be thankful that you don’t have to fend for yourself entirely.