Now that I have gone through the first semester without any hiccups, after passing all my exams with relatively good grades, I feel the need to write about the doubts and the wrong way of thinking of some freshmen in university (including myself).
I want to highlight some misconceptions which students have that tend to push them backwards, hindering their chances of a healthy and progressive journey throughout tertiary education.
When I first enrolled in university 10 years ago, I had the same erroneous thoughts and it was this negative way of going about my studies that led me to failure. Now, as a mature student, I know better and I strive (and struggle) to remain positive and level-headed at all times. Yet, it seems that crisis is always waiting for me around the corner, and this year was no different.
I am sure that many other university students go through such a phase, particularly during the first year as they are still transitioning from high school. Despite the universality of such a situation, while writing this, I am focusing on my own experience and on the words that I have heard uttered from classmates, most of them being 18-year-olds. Therefore, keep in mind that my classmates and I are Humanities students in Malta, where university education is free.
4 Misconceptions that Struggling University Students Have
1. I simply don’t have the time to read all the primary AND secondary texts!
This is the most common mistaken belief that has come up in conversations between my friends and me in class. I am reading a degree in English and Italian, which naturally involves a lot of literature (especially for English) so you can imagine how big the number of texts that I need to read is.
The problem arises from that delicate transitory phase of students going from high school – where they were still being spoon-fed by their teachers – to university. At this stage, students tend to be shocked by the workload and by the lack of interest and direction from their professors (not all of them, I have to say). Therefore, they struggle to keep up with the demands, leading them to study only the bare essential and consequently to get average results. This will only demotivate them further more.
But remember one thing, dear fellow student: if you are not finding the time to catch up with all the reading, probably the student sitting next to you in class is. And so no, it is not impossible to read all the main texts and literary criticism ahead of your exams. Just think about how you can improve your time management.
2. I can’t get past my high school level of writing and study.
While I was writing up my assignments, I started to panic: is my writing up to par with university standards? Being away from school for so long (though I studied and sat for exams sporadically) made me doubt my writing skills. While re-reading my work, I felt like headbanging my desk, asking “What have I done? Why did I choose such a burden?”, and I know that this has also happened to some of my classmates who, just a few months ago, were still writing simple essays in high school.
Just as the workload changes at the university level, so do the writing style and the study process. Students need to realise such differences and not avoid them. Remember that you’re reading for a degree, and maybe, in the future, you will do a Masters! By giving up on improving these elements, you are failing to evolve into mature students and, later on, you will fail to become professionals.
3. It is unfair – and useless – that my intelligence has to be measured by exams.
Here starts the real denial. This statement tends to be pronounced after a difficult examination. At this stage, students also start to question the use of particular classes which are more of a theoretical nature. Soon enough, they will start questioning the purpose of a university degree.
If you are not ready to be examined and if you are not willing to comply with the demands of your professors/examiners, then you should really reconsider your enrollment. When I started doubting the whole system 10 years ago, I realised that it was useless to waste my time and dropped from the course. Now I have clearer opinions and I accept the fact that I need to sit for exams with formats I might dislike. Yet they are still of use to me if through them I can prove that I’m able to manage my workload and rationalise the material I have learned.
No, it’s not a matter of measuring our intelligence; it is a question of self-regulation and maturity.
4. All I want is a job with a salary, anyway.
Nope. Okay, let me be clearer: there is nothing wrong with wanting a job and a salary after getting a degree. Hell, I am aware of the not-so-fortunate situation of many graduates all around the world, who struggle to find a job that measures up to their qualifications.
However, if you feel that university is just a means to an end and nothing more, if it is a burden that needs to be borne, then I think you are doing it wrong. Unless you are aiming for a profession which definitely requires a degree at all costs (doctor, lawyer, architect, etc.), you might as well drop your studies and look for a job – many positions only require a high school diploma. As I have already said, the university is not a matter of intelligence but of self-regulation and maturity. It is also about learning, broadening the mind, and following a passion.
How to Get Out of This Self-Defeating Rut
1. Remember where you are.
You are at university, the highest level of education. Depending on your country, you have probably enrolled at no cost, and maybe you are even receiving a grant. Therefore, it goes without saying that a certain level of mature thinking and behaviour are required. Forget about your high school shenanigans and start taking your studies seriously, before you end up regretting your failure.
2. Remember your objectives and your passions.
If you enrolled for a degree for the purpose of finding a good job, it’s fine. But think about the course you chose and be sure that you’re passionate about it. Do you really want to spend 3+ years of studies and your whole career in an area that you’re not so excited about? No, right? Passion will bring about motivation, which will then bring about skills that will lead you to success.
3. Learn time management. Now.
There is time for everything, no excuses. If you feel like binge-watching your favourite tv show or browsing your social media pages for an hour, think about the increasing workload and the approaching deadlines. Write up a schedule and follow it. Make good use of all the free time you have (commute, free hours on campus, evenings…). Somehow, in some way, you will manage to read all the texts and reorder all your notes. Like that, you will be well-prepared and confident.
I have written this post and this advice primarily for myself because I am really struggling to keep up with everything. Yet, I believe that I am aware of where I am and where I’m heading to, so I am definitely motivated to improve.
I hope that you, who have stumbled upon this post, will feel encouraged as well. Good luck, enjoy it and be passionate!