Three years sounds like a long time, doesn’t it? However, looking back now, the three years I spent at university were the quickest three years of my life. Honestly, they flew by.
For those of you who started uni last year, you are already over halfway through your first year. A year which for me, felt like an absolute blur. I spent ages trying to settle in and adjust and before I knew it, I was packing up my stuff to come home for the long summer holiday. It was in those summer months when I decided that on my return, I would really start making the most of my university experience. After all, I didn’t want to blink and miss second year.
So here are three things I did to enhance my uni experience:
1) Language Learning
I started by signing up to continue learning Spanish. Studying it at A-Level meant that I had a good foundation knowledge, but you know what they say, if you don’t use it you lose it. For two hours every Tuesday evening I went to the advanced class and chatted amongst others in Spanish about various topics, such as politics and current affairs. It was a really good way to boost my confidence! I was forced to speak and mingle with strangers in a different language. I had to let go of the fear of failing because let’s be honest, the likelihood getting my sentence structure or tense right every time was slim. Overall, it was a great way to challenge myself, stimulate different parts of my brain, and meet new people.
If you’re not entirely sure what you want to start, but you want to step outside of your comfort zone a little bit, I would definitely recommend learning/continuing a language. It will look great on your CV and is something you can do which isn’t too avante garde. Obviously, it could also be quite useful on your travels too.
I also decided to take up ballet and tap classes as part of Cardiff’s Broadway Dance Society. This, I would say, pushed me out of my comfort zone a lot more than learning Spanish. I had done a bit of dancing when I was little, but still was a complete novice. I felt a bit silly at first and tried my hardest to pick up the moves. I later realised that the key was not to overthink them. Soon, these Wednesday afternoon classes became a solace. It was a time where I couldn’t feel guilty about not reading texts or planning essays. My brain was able to ‘step ball change’ away from my studies for a couple of hours.
A few months in to the semester, we were asked if we wanted to be part of the end of year show. I decided to go for it. Over the next few months we learnt and perfected the routines and it wasn’t until about a week before the show that I fully realised what I’d signed up for. I don’t think I’d ever been that nervous before. I remember standing behind the curtain before we were due to perform, telling the others it was going to be great whilst trying with all my might to repress my internal trembles of fear. The performances went very quickly and gave me a one-of-a-kind adrenaline rush, one that you can’t really describe. Completing these dances infront of a large audience is probably one of my most recent proud moments. I am really grateful to the society for allowing dancers of all abilities in the show; performing in it really was a great personal achievement and goal to overcome.
Taking up something you know will be challenging and that will force you to break down new boundaries is always a good thing. At the end of the day, what’s the worst that can happen?
My university had a specific employability scheme called The Cardiff Award. I enrolled on the scheme at the beginning of second year. It required completing over 70 hours of extracurricular activities and attending employability talks and experiences with the aim of encouraging students to think seriously about their skills, attributes and how they might fit into a particular career post uni. For a long time, I thought I wanted to be a teacher so I volunteered at a local school for a little while. But, to my surprise, I found it wasn’t for me. I did some work experience at an estate agent, took part in a marketing activity and counted my part time job and Spanish classes towards the total.
As part of the scheme I was able to attend a mock interview and assessment centre and was encouraged to write reflective logs about all of my voluntary insights and experiences. It was a great thing to start thinking about my skills and the career avenues that would suit me. If your course allows, I would definitely recommend trying to fit in some voluntary or paid work experience. It will really help you to figure out your options, gain and evaluate some skills and also set you on the right path for the future.
From experience, I know that graduating with a good degree is no longer enough. Employers look for lots of work experience; that is what will make you stand out from the crowd. Getting work experience and getting involved in lots of extracurricular activities will not only enrich your time at uni, but will also give you loads to talk about in interviews.
Obviously, anything you take part in shouldn’t detract from your studies and remember not to put yourself under too much pressure!
Whilst at university I also had regular talks with my school specific careers adviser. This was really helpful in getting the ball rolling to think about careers. It also made me aware of all the different careers talks that were on offer: interview techniques, application form advice and assessment centre practice to name a few.
Even if you have no idea what you want to do, or you are dead set on a specific career, talking to the careers adviser will help you to narrow down your options and create a sort of pathway to follow.
What I have learnt since leaving uni is how lucky students are to have access to such a plethora of activities and services. This unfortunately cannot be said for post uni life where it is much harder to get in depth careers advice and work experience opportunities.
I hope this inspired you to get involved in lots of activities; remember, it’s never too late!