Studying at university is about more than just receiving a degree, it’s your overall experience that really matters. In this post we outline 12 steps to a great university experience.
1. Make Sure It’s the Right Place
A great university experience starts with making the right choices about where and what you want to study. Think of it like this: your course choice will be a big step towards your future and your university is going to be ‘home’ for the length of your degree. Before making your choice take some time to answer these questions:
Is It the Right Course?
Does the course suit your qualifications, interests, goals and future plans? What will you study, how you will study, is the course more theory or practice based? Or both? And what does this course offer you that similar courses don’t?
Is It the Right University?
Some UK universities enrol more than 30,000 students, while others only accept a few hundred new students every year. Also, some universities will have at least one campus, others may have no campus at all. Do you have any preference? And are there any specific study, leisure and support facilities and services that could make a difference to your experience at your chosen university?
Is It the Right Location?
A university’s location may or may not be important to you, but it could make a significant difference to your experience as a student. Our students always tell us that with the location of the University of Dundee campus right in the middle of the city it means they can enjoy campus life as well as take advantage of everything the city has to offer, from culture, to activities and events, bars and restaurants, shops, transport links, the seaside and much more.
Is It a Place You Can Belong?
Imagine yourself studying at the university – do you feel you could belong there? Would you be proud to say you study there? As an international student you may not have the opportunity to visit your chosen university before you start the course. It’s important therefore that you take the time to find out what other students say about the university.
For example, our international applicants here at Dundee find our student video testimonials extremely helpful as they give potential students an idea of what it’s like to study with us along with providing a good idea of campus and city life.
2. Start in Freshers’ Week
When you first arrive at university, it’s normal to feel slightly nervous. But remember, you’re not alone as there’ll be many new students at the university who are probably feeling the same way. It’s a good idea to get into the habit of making contact with other students from the start. For example, when you’re standing in line, waiting to enroll, you could start chatting with other students – ask them where they’re from, what they’ll be studying and so on. Invite some of them to join you for a cup of coffee or suggest exploring the local area together.
The first week or two at the beginning of the academic year are known as Freshers’ Week. During this period, your university will offer a number of events and activities to make it easier for you to become familiar with the university and settle in as quickly as possible. For instance, here at Dundee we stage an ‘International Student Welcome Evening’, where new, existing, international and home students all have the chance to meet one another. If your university offers a similar event, make sure not to miss out.
3. Join the Students’ Union
Every university has its own Students’ Union, which is organised by students, for students and runs student events and activities throughout the year. Whatever may be your hobbies or interests, you are likely to find a society or club within your university’s Students’ Union that you will want to join. Or alternatively, your Student’s Union will be able to tell you how to set up a new club or society. Becoming involved with your Students’ Union will help you make the most of your university experience– and you’ll find it easier to make friends as you already share a hobby or interest.
Dundee University Students’ Association (DUSA) has been voted #1 in Scotland for the last four years mainly because of the activities and support they offer our students, from fun and entertainment, to a wide range of skills that can help prepare you for the future. Take a look at this short video from DUSA, which will give you an idea of how active and well organised university Students’ Unions can be.
4. Share a Flat with Other Students
If your university offers on-campus accommodation, you will find that this can be very convenient as well as a great way to make the most of your campus experience. Many students have their best university memories from the time spent living in student halls. Students who rent off-campus accommodation also often talk about the friendships they were able to form with their housemates during their time at university.
What we try to do at Dundee when a student applies for an on-campus room, is firstly find out about the things they like and what it is they don’t like so much. We always consider a student’s preferences when we go through the room allocation process, therefore students usually end up living with other students with similar habits and preferences.
5. Get Involved in Class
If you attend your classes but don’t get involved, you simply won’t enjoy them as much or get the most out of them. But if you feel enthusiastic and positive about your studies, you should end up feeling just as enthusiastic and positive about your university experience in general.
Becoming an active member of the class will not only help you to connect with your teachers and classmates, but will also make it easier to make friends with other students from your course.
If you’re not sure about the best way to get involved in your classes or you’re still shy about the whole idea, find out if your university has any type of student mentoring scheme. Here at Dundee we organise ‘Academic Family’ nights where new students can hang out with more experienced students. It is a great opportunity for our newest students to get some helpful advice and tips – from other students – on anything they’re not sure about.
6. Use the University’s Study Facilities
Independent study (and independent study skills) is an important feature of university life in the UK, however ‘independent’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘alone’. Try to avoid spending too much time studying in your room, instead use your university’s study spaces whenever possible. When walking across the main Dundee campus, you can see the motivation and hard work of hundreds of students as they take advantage of the library and other study spaces provided by the university – which really can motivate you to work harder.
7. Be ‘You’
British people are generally very accepting of diversity and differences. At university, you should never feel that you have to behave in a particular way or pretend to be someone you’re not. Being able to be yourself is the key to a great university experience.
UK university students and staff come from a wide range of different backgrounds, and everyone has their individual story, habits, traditions, political views and so on. In fact, respect for one another and the acceptance of cultural differences are strong aspects of university culture within the UK.
8. Make International & Local Friends
When it comes to making friends at university, there’s nothing wrong with making friends with students from your own country, but remember not to limit yourself to only this group. One of the biggest advantages of studying in the UK is that you have the chance to meet people from all over the world.
Making friends from different parts of the world is a very special and valuable opportunity. When our international students organise their national festivals using their international student societies here at Dundee, students from other nationalities are always interested and want to get involved in the sharing experience.
9. Balance Your Work & Free Time
Your time at university is about more than just studying. To make the most of your university experience, set yourself fixed working hours to study, prepare for class, complete research, write essays and plan presentations. This way, you avoid working all day every day and you can organise and enjoy the activities you want to participate in during your free time.
You will probably find that your university and local area offer a vast choice of things to do, from the theatre, to films, culture, dance, the arts, sports, cooking – the list goes on. I mentioned earlier how our own students here really enjoy everything Dundee has to offer as a city. In addition, they have countless activities to choose from on campus. For example, many love our evening lecture series – where they are able to listen to talks and participate in discussions on topics that may or may not be related to their course subject.
10. Be a Leader
Another feature of the university experience you should not miss out on is the opportunity to take the initiative and lead on activities or events. It could be something simple, like helping your department organise their end of term party, or arrange a special study group with your classmates.
We recommend that you check with your university as to whether they have an ‘International Student Ambassador’ programme or something similar. I know many international students here at Dundee that have become University Ambassadors. They take visitors on campus tours, meet with new applicants, and get to work with a team of other ambassadors from all over the world. They not only enjoy the experience, but it’s something that looks great on their CVs, too.
11. Get a Part-Time Job
A part-time job not only gives you some extra money to spend, but it will help you make the most out of your university experience. You can usually find job vacancies at your university by looking at the student notice boards or the ‘Student Message of the Day’ or similar.
Your Students’ Union will probably offer a number of part-time work opportunities. For example, the Dundee University Students’ Association employs more than 200 students every year – working in bars, cafes, the campus shop, providing the security at events, and so on. Or you can find work as a campus tour guide for our visitors.
12. Prepare for Your Future
This brings us to the last point – prepare for your future. Most of the time students will feel better about their degree if they’re successful after graduating. But on the other hand, student will feel worse if they believe that their degree didn’t help them get to where they wanted to go. Take advantage of the careers advice available at your university: Take part in presentations, sit mock interviews, research jobs in advance and allow the right people to check your CV and give you feedback and advice.
Your university may offer skills training, similar to the leadership and management skills training and projects on offer here at Dundee.
Your time on campus isn’t only about lectures, seminars and time spent in the library. It’s about the people you meet, the friends you make and the experiences you have whilst at university.
A great campus experience starts with choosing the right university and course for you. It is perfectly normal to feel shy or nervous at first, but remember you’re not alone. Remember to take advantage of the events, activities and support available within and around your university. And above all, try to become involved with your Students’ Union. Experiment with the different things on offer in order to find out what you like and don’t like, what you excel at and take the opportunity to meet new friends and develop a wider range of skills for life.
About the Author
This post was written by Doug Watters, Senior International Officer at the University of Dundee. Dundee University is ranked #1 in Scotland in a number of league tables and rankings, and has also been voted best university in Scotland in student surveys. The university is located in the centre of the historic port-city of Dundee – a location loved by its students and staff alike. The Students’ Union at Dundee, known as DUSA, has also been chosen as Scotland’s best students union – for the activities, events and support it provides to Dundee students.
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