For students with a place at one of the countless universities in the UK, this week is arguably the most exciting. It’s Fresher’s Week, and after the formality of the enrolment process to get through, the fun starts. Not only do you get to meet your tutors and classmates but you then get bombarded with free stuff before making new friends at one of the many social events and parties.
Having studied at undergraduate and postgraduate level at university, as well as working in one for several years, I have experienced and observed the student journey from both sides. Today, I would like to share some of my observations, experiences and advice in the hope that it might provide some value to those embarking on, or continuing, this exciting chapter in their lives.
University, for many, is a first real taste of independence. You have the freedom to express yourself and be whatever you want to be. Moreover, you have the freedom and responsibility to manage your time and workload. Turning up to lectures, seminars and workshops on time is your responsibility. Completing any reading or assignments is again your responsibility. Universities have plenty of support and guidance available to help students with any challenges which they may face, but each student’s journey is ultimately their own responsibility. It really is up to you what you make of it.
University is not for everyone, and a lot of people will opt instead for a job or an apprenticeship. Degree courses are not free, either, with a year of undergraduate study in the UK costing a little over £9000. With that in mind, I would recommend that you strive to find balance in your student life. Enjoy the social and recreational aspects of university life, but please do not neglect your studies or overlook any opportunities which may present themselves for personal development.
While at university, you have the perfect opportunity to hustle for a headstart on your peers. There is no guarantee of a job after graduation, and the job market is very competitive, so it stands to reason that you should look for and take advantage of any opportunities to develop your knowledge, skills, abilities and network. This will place you in a stronger position than many other job applicants later.
Aside from the standard libraries and online resources which all universities have in common, the resources and opportunities available to you will vary depending on your faculty and course of study. As an example, I will share what was available to myself while studying for a Master’s in Human Resource Management at Middlesex University in London.
- Membership of professional organisations. As a student, I was supplied with memberships to the CIPD (Chartered Institute fo Personnel and Development) and the CMI (Chartered Management Institute). The membership fees were paid by the university, and I gained access to countless online resources and support.
- Journals. As with other subject areas, mine gave me access to the latest professional journals which offered the opportunity to stay up to date with the latest research and developments within the industry.
- Visiting lecturers and networking. Throughout the course, there were a number of lectures and workshops led by experienced professionals within the field of Human Resources. Alongside this, there were countless opportunities to network with people working in the industry as well as fellow students.
The above is just a glimpse of what was made available to myself and my fellow students on this course. There were ample opportunities to gain knowledge and, even though the course was largely based in theory and research, there were plenty of opportunities to develop skills and abilities. As with other courses of study, all the ingredients for success were provided. This then raises the question as to why, if every student has the same access to the same help and support, why are some more successful than others? The answer comes down to how much work they are prepared to put into their studies, how many opportunities they take advantage of and how hard they hustle.
While it may, at first glance, appear counter-intuitive to advise hustling while studying it actually makes perfect sense. The biggest challenges that you will face in this are in managing your time and being organised, but if you can master both, you will be able to work on your personal development while giving your all to your studies. As well as a small income from any work which you do on the side, you will gain valuable experience, and experience is essential.
When you graduate, and start looking for your first role, experience is a brick wall which you will continually come up against. This is a challenge because alongside strong educational backgrounds, an increasing number of employers also want at least 2 years’ experience. It is here that your extra work while studying will pay off. This is because you will be able to describe to an interview panel how, while studying, you also launched a side business (for example, reselling items on Ebay). With many other students working part-time to fund their studies, this is potentially nothing new. That is, until you are able to highlight the time management and marketing skills which you learned, stressing too the ability to prioritise tasks, organise your workload effectively and meet tight deadlines.
If you don’t feel that the entrepreneurial route is right for you, there are other ways in which you can help yourself. Take advantage of the professional networks which you are exposed to as a student. Offer your services for free in exchange for experience in your field of interest and study. This could take the form of an internship over the summer months, or volunteering. Whatever it is, if you are prepared to give up some of your time, you will gain experience and knowledge of your potential future career path. Furthermore ,you will discover bigger and better opportunities for networking which could be a great help at a later date.
Whether you choose to attempt a side business, an internship or perhaps a part-time job relevant to your studies, your time and effort will pay off massively when you graduate as you will likely have a strong network from which to draw advice and support, a good knowledge of the industry and plenty of relevant experience.
Good luck with your studies, and please don’t waste the opportunity which you have been given.