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Does the university promise match reality?

Final year BA (Hons) Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, Damalie Nanteza, guest posts for More Fire PR on her undergraduate experience and considers life, education, mental health and future prospects.

A lot of students are advised to make the most out of their university experience, but in reality what does this actually mean?

Are we talking regular lecture attendance, studious time in the library, building networks and planning out your post-graduate career options, social events and parties, or even – dare I say – drugs and alcohol?

Coming to university for the first time from a further education setting, you don’t really know what to expect in your opening year. It’s a roller-coaster of emotion and mixed expectations.

The thought and anticipation of beginning a pathway of independent learning, and for many living away from home for the first time, can be both exciting and scary at the same time. However, the experience is different for each and every one of us.

For starters, you’re attracted to all of the promotional images on the Internet and literature that often focus on gigantic institutions with spectacularly new and shiny facilities, outstanding teaching records and even better vaunted graduate employment prospects.

You then decide on which course(s) you think you want to study and sign up for an open day full of enthusiasm and ready to see if a tour of the institution matches your expectations. In the case of Nottingham Trent I have to say I was indeed suitably impressed.

In the first week of university, otherwise rather bizarrely known as ‘Fresher’s Week’ for all you newbies out there, you hope and expect to make a lot of friends through the various social events on offer.

Yes, you’ll make friends as promised, but finding like-minded people requires more effort than you might expect. It’s a bit like being put in a vast tank full of people from different cultures, ethnicities, and genders and then being shaken into a delicious cocktail. And this, I think, is a good thing.

The reality is that your fellow students are just as nervous as you, and similarly hoping to make a good impression, collect some interesting friends and contacts along the way, and successfully adapt to their new university environment. Oh, and make sure you join all of the most interesting (to you) university societies so you meet a wide variety of people, not just those who are on your course.

During lectures, you’re not spoon fed. Tutors and lecturers are very busy, so it’s your responsibility to attend classes, do the homework and navigate around the available university resources and facilities. Trust me, you’ll get lost a few times along the way but that’s okay.

Anyway, the good news is that the first year of university doesn’t really ‘count,’ in that it’s a time when you get your bearings, and have a chance to adapt to a very different culture of learning and living.

One thing that no one tells you before you start at university is that you’re likely to have a ‘mental meltdown’ at some point. This can range from feeling homesick through to succumbing to the somewhat heavy and consistent pressures of coursework.

No one warned me that I would likely have to deal with mental health challenges during my studies and yet I, and nearly all of my peers, fell victim to this to varying degrees. The pros are that universities are increasingly aware and provide mental health services and support. If you’re not feeling great please take my advice and speak to someone at the earliest opportunity. A problem shared is a problem halved and all that.

Ultimately the best part of going to university is that you’re going to pick up many key transferable skills through your course, networking, industry placements and during social events.

Honing your communications capabilities is a key part of this, especially on my course (Journalism). We are taught to communicate confidently and in an engaging manner. Other skills include being able to work as part of a team, meeting tight deadlines, working under pressure and effective time management.

All of these capabilities are – I hope – going to play an important part in my future career. There’s never been a higher demand for clear and concise communication through both the written and spoken work. As different media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, continue to flourish I very much hope to put my skills to good use and be a part this entrepreneurial sector.