University Post
University of Copenhagen
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Student life

Eight tips for insecure new students

When you start at university you start to question your identity, your future, and even your own intelligence. The University Post’s student reporter, who is about to finish her bachelor's degree, shares a few tips: This is what she wished she knew when she started at uni.

1. You are (probably) not the most stupid person on your study programme.

‘I don’t understand what the lecturer is talking about. How about you?’ — this was what my seatmate whispered to me during one of the first lectures of the semester. We were in an auditorium packed with highly motivated political science students, fingers tapping at keyboards non-stop for fear of missing out on some nugget of insight from the instructor. The Word document in front of me was revealing: It was empty.

This seatmate is one of my closest friends today, and this is partly because she was the first honest person I met at the university.

Talk openly about things, be honest and be human! Help to break down the culture of perfection and performance, because sooner or later you will see that everyone doesn’t know everything about everything. Most people fail at some point, so speak out about your uncertainties and come to grips with them immediately.

2. Remember your old life

‘I am a university student!’ I argued stubbornly to my parents when I for the tenth time didn’t show up to a family birthday. It’s easy to feel like a completely new person and bury yourself in the university world when you’ve just started. Of course, you need to do your studies, and you are entitled to let these take up a large part of your time.

Remember, however, that old friendships are very valuable, and that it is healthy to be forced to talk about something other than your study programme, for example over coffee at a confirmation party. It’s a good idea to encounter the opinions of other people than those who circulate on campus. You are still your old self, even though you can flash a student ID card.

3. There is no ‘right’ method to study

Reading the syllabus is the definition of a toil of Sisyphus, frustrating and unrewarding. The mountain of research articles only gets larger, and the more you read, the less you understand. This struck me when, in the middle of the first semester, at two in the morning. I realised that I had not been outside a door all day, had not read half of the syllabus, and that I could only remember ten per cent of what I had actually read. Something had to change.

My study group and I have benefited greatly from the 9 to 5 method. You read, go to lectures, and do assignments all weekdays, and only in the time period of that Dolly Parton song. Apart from that, stop completely, and have all nights and weekends off – no matter how far you have got. Others thrive on doing their reading at night, while others only take a deep dive into the texts during the exam period. There is no ‘right’ study method, and as long as you are happy, you do the right thing.

4. You can help shape your own study programme, and your future

My first and biggest life crisis – apart from an unrequited crush I had in secondary school – occurred in the first semester. Should I really have studied something completely different? Was I even academic enough for the University of Copenhagen? Why did other people’s dream jobs sound so horrible to me? There must be something wrong with me, I thought. And then, maybe not!

It is important to remember how much you yourself can shape your degree programme and your working life. The sheer diversity in student jobs is huge, and you can add on a lot of useful and CV-flashy skills through volunteer work. If you do not want to switch study programmes, but are uncertain as to whether you are the right fit, then life around your programme can be put together in so many different ways that you will probably end up in the right place anyway. In this way, the time when you are studying is the obvious time to choose, and then to change direction.

5. Be critical of the syllabus

As mentioned above, it is almost impossible to read the entire syllabus of a typical course. When I started my study programme, I tried in vain to read as much as possible, because I was sure that when the professors had chosen the texts, it was probably for the best. The truth is that many syllabus texts are outdated, and the same text can be useful for one person, but not for someone else. Read what you find exciting, particularly difficult to understand, or which seems relevant in a broader sense, and accept that the longer you go through the programme, the less of the syllabus you will actually read.

6. Use your study group

When I look back on my bachelor’s, there is one thing I will always remember: my study group. I don’t know how I could have got through morning lectures, rainy afternoons in the reading room, or exam periods without it. No matter whether you find your best friends in your study group, or just get the academic benefits from it, remember to use it! There is absolutely no reason you should take on all of this on your own.

7. Drink a lot – whatever

There is no place in the world like a bar to quickly make new friends with new people. Set money aside in your budget to visit a tavern or university Friday bar to get to know your fellow students outside the lecture halls. Drink a beer, a cup of coffee, or even a glass of water, just to talk about something different from the syllabus. This money is well spent, and you can always save a bit by buying used textbooks.

8. Don’t take yourself or your study programme too seriously

It may seem a bit overwhelming when the first exam period is suddenly upon you, and you have spent most of the semester learning how to find your way around campus instead of reading up on the syllabus. It may also seem incomprehensible that people around you just don’t understand why you have to bury yourself in books 24 hours a day up to an exam.

Of course, you need to take your exams seriously, but remember that neither you, nor your study programme, is the centre of the universe. Most people around you are quite indifferent to your grade in economics. To pass, or to fail, is actually not a matter of life or death. And no matter how much work you put into your assignment, you will later look back at it and think: What a Class A mess! And thank goodness for that. It just means you’ve got better over time. And isn’t that the whole point of the university?