Deciding to apply to university always has a story behind it.
Doesn’t matter who you are.
“My parents wanted me to go.”
“I really want to be the best Photographer I can.”
“Without university, I cannot be the registered health professional I want to be.”
Yet if you ask a mature student, the answer will often be from a totally different place.
For me, after a painful break up and subsequently realizing I wasn’t now likely to have enough children to start my own Vontrapp family, something needed to distract me. Couple this up with a lifelong dream to help others into health through nutrition, I decided to study to be a dietitian.
Wow. What a ride!
As a recent graduate I feel I would like to share what I have learnt about life on the way. The science of nutrition was just a small part of what I have taken away from my university experience.
Who would have thought a 40 something single parent to twins would be saying, “I’ve learnt so much about myself.”? Let’s face it, at 18 years old, I would have laughed at my 40 year old me for not having it already figured out.
My advice and tips:
If you are a parent or juggling some other challenge such as being a carer or indeed having health struggles, dealing with mental health and anxiety, dyslexia or simply finding you sometimes get in your own way no matter how hard you try not to, you will be finding different coping mechanisms.
Learn to listen to yourself and your gut. The gut feeling has never been wrong in my life this far. If something feels off, it generally is. Sometimes it might be the student who takes too much but never gives, or the lecturer who fills you with fear. Learn to tap into what works for you. This might sound selfish but remember that old analogy of fitting your own oxygen mask before you can help others? There are times to give, yet there are times to be totally selfish.
Find others who are more on your wavelength. They will be there and their support will help you through.
Study at a time that is best for all of you.
Family needs are important. Yet so are your studies. Shortly after learning about chemistry, I knew I needed to be in total silence when I was trying to learn about all of this. I was often unable to sleep much past 4.30am as I was always worried about missing my train! So I decided to get up at this time of the morning and start watching Youtube videos on my subject. It really helped me to understand what I was supposed to be doing. The darkness of those winter months saw me make a fluffy coffee and lighting myself some candles and I began to really enjoy my early morning study.
Ask for help
There will be extended family members who might help walk the dog, pick the children up from school etc. If your children are old enough to run a cloth around the bathroom, offer some of your student loan to them for helping! They will love the odd £2 here and there. Don’t offer a weekly amount as you might find this costing you money with no return. Instead give them some money for each chore.
Within the university there will be wellbeing advisors, counselling and needs assessors to help you with any overwhelm, special assistance, extra time in exams or even software which might help you. This list goes on. Try typing into the University search bar “Wellbeing” and see what is on offer.
Some universities use Peer Mentoring services. Use this! To ask a student how they log into a portal or who to go to in the library for your specific subject is more valuable than you can imagine!
Find a way that works for you
Studying is going to be so different for each individual. We mentioned earlier you need to find a time to study when you will be at your most productive. This is ideal for those times you need to focus hard. Yet the actual studying is something that will vary from person to person. If I tell you what worked for me, it might give you some ideas on different things to try.
As a science student, we were warned not to rely on Wikipedia. I agree. This isn’t to be used for referencing into science papers and likely any other subject papers too! That said, I struggled when I tried to dive straight into scientific journals on a subject I had yet to understand.
Instead, I would search in Wiki for the basics. Read that.
Then I would also try to read about whatever it was on websites such as NHS or World Heath Organisation (very dependant on the topic).
Typing into Youtube was incredible. I am a very visual learner and love being able to listen and see at the same time. You’ll be amazed what you find on this platform.
After getting a basic understanding under my belt I would start to delve deeper and eventually end up using a software programme which was life changing called Mendeley where I could search for academic research papers on my topic.
If only I had known all this at the start!
One other footnote. I expected to goto class and come out crystal clear on what I had just learnt. However, I am not the only one who expected that and ended up disappointed and frustrated.
Going to university is a journey of learning and self directed study. They do tell you this. Yet most new students will hear their timetabled hours and plan life around that. Don’t! Unless you are happy to just pass. Put in the work. Expect to come out of class with some material to base your learning on. Teach yourself as much as you can. Relying totally on the lecture will see you struggle unless you are nothing short of genius.
All the tough love out of the way, I’ll now say this: enjoy yourself!
Embrace the journey. The good and the bad. You will likely come out of university a different person to the one you started as. Even if you really like yourself at the beginning, I can promise you will be chuffed to bits with yourself the day you hear them call out your name at graduation and receive that handshake!