Preparing for your first semester…

If you’re counting down to your first semester of university, whether you’re living on campus or at home, it may feel like you have a lot to do. You may even feel a little lost and unsure of what you should do. So, I’ve thought of some quick and easy things that you can get done in your first semester to make uni life smooth sailing.

  1. Sign up for the main discount schemes

Get your NUS card and sign up to UNiDAYS and Student Beans with your Edge Hill email address so that you don’t miss a thing. Everything from fast food and groceries to clothes and holidays will be discounted – sometimes even free!

2. Streamline your expenses

Now you’ve got your discount cards, it’s time to get savvy. Spotify Premium is only £4.99 for students and you can add Headspace Premium on for free. Stop shelling out big money for your music and get access to mental health boosting guides and meditations for no extra cost.

Amazon Prime is just £3.99 for students and includes Prime Video, the popular TV and film streaming service. This and Netflix will have you covered not only for those last minute text book and stationery deliveries but also all of your entertainment needs. Bargain! Amazon Prime also tend to offer discounts on text books for student members a few times a year.

Once you’ve done that, set up a spreadsheet of your monthly costs and when they need paying. Then work out what student finance you have left and what that is equivalent to monthly (plus any wages you earn). From there, you’ll know what you have to live off.

3. Get ORGANISED!

Gather all of your module handbooks and write down all the draft and submission deadlines in your diary or phone calendar with reminders beforehand. Start a document or sheet of paper for each assignment and add reading you have done or need to do and any other relevant guidance down as you proceed through the semester. This will make sitting down to plan and start your assignments SO much easier, trust me!

4. Book some UniSkills workshops or help from Student Services if needed If you’re struggling with Blackboard, academic reading or writing, referencing, budgeting or ANYTHING else – book in an appointment for some help. Edge Hill run workshops on most of these things and if they don’t there will be a service within Student Services that can help you. Don’t suffer in silence, get confident and comfortable now so that you can focus on enjoying uni life!

Good luck and, most of all, have fun!

Sam xo

A letter to my first year self…

Dear first year me,

In just a couple of weeks you will start your first year of university. And you’re scared. I want you to know that you really don’t have to worry about not coming from sixth form or being the ‘class granny’. You are about to join a group of fantastic future counsellors who come from all backgrounds, ages, career paths and walks of life. You are about to meet some incredible friends who will be with you throughout your studies (and hopefully beyond).

But I’m not just here to reassure you! You don’t need to be scared or feel lonely but you really could do with learning a few lessons. Get organised – an assignment 12 weeks away is really not that far away so start reading and researching. Those books you have piled up actually need reading, just having them in your house is not going to be enough. Whilst we’re learning lessons, stop wasting money on treats on campus! Read your money saving blog posts and be realistic with your budget. It’s going to be hard running a home and working multiple jobs whilst doing a full-time degree so don’t make it harder for yourself.

My final note to you…enjoy this journey. As I write this it’s nearly over. Our final year is about to start and in two short semesters this journey will end. Make every semester count, you’re very lucky to be a part of Edge Hill.

Sam xo

Ace Your Assignments: Undergraduate Essay Writing

Hello! I am back with another installment of my ‘Ace Your Assignments’ mini-series. Previously I have shared my top tips for presentations and handling assignment feedback, so today I will be revealing my advice for undergraduate essay writing. When I was waiting to start university, and during my first ever essay, I was really worried about how best to approach essays so here is what I wish I had known.

  1. Reference as you go
    PLEASE don’t worry about referencing, you will be shown what to do in your first semester and before long it will be second nature. However, get in the habit of referencing as you go or at least having your reference list ‘almost right’ as you go. Getting to the end of a 3,000 word essay and then realising you have a list of 20 articles and 10 books to go back and reference is soul-destroying.
  2. Make rough notes in another colour as you type
    As I start writing my essay based on my plan or draft, I will get new ideas or angles to use. I have learnt the hard way that you will not ‘remember that later’, so quickly switch to another colour and type your new idea next to the point it sparked from. Once you’ve typed the bulk of your essay, you can go back and add in those in.
  3. Get the nonsense out of the way first
    At college, I got away with never planning essays properly or doing drafts but my best work at university has stemmed from a solid plan that was talked through with a tutor followed by submitting a draft to check my style was a good fit for the assessment. Plans and drafts get the bad ideas out of your head and into the bin, leaving you with the good bits. Even after the drafting stage, I combat writer’s block by just typing all my thoughts onto a page and then deleting the nonsense.

If you have any pearls of wisdom to add, feel free to share them below!

Sam xo

Ace Your Assignments: How to Handle Feedback

Following on from my previous post, Ace Your Assignments: Tips for Presentations, I’m back with another installment! This time I will be giving my top tips on handling feedback, something I was really nervous about as a prospective student. This can be applied to assignments when you get to university but elements will also apply to feedback you might get on your personal statement, university applications, sixth form work etc. So, without further ado…

  1. Give it time to sink in
    Good or bad, when I check the marks for a piece of work at uni I always look at the marks/grade first and then lock my phone or laptop and go and process the news. I did the same at college. If I’m pleased, I take the time to be proud of myself and let my loved ones know. If I wish I had done better, I give myself a little bit of time to mope and maybe eat some comfort food. Once that is done, I settle in to read the notes/feedback that the assessor has left for me.
  2. Ask for a 1 to 1
    Once I have had time to process my grade and digest the feedback I was given, I prepare some notes of my own in response to the feedback and, if necessary, I book a 1 to 1 with the relevant tutor at uni to discuss the grade. I don’t do this every time, but if there are some elements of the feedback that I don’t understand or if I read the feedback a few times and still don’t grasp how I can implement it to do better next time, then I send the email and get a meeting booked.
  3. Comparison is the thief of joy! So…
    Don’t fall into the comparison trap! Congratulate your coursemates who are pleased with their grades and support those who are disappointed, but please don’t compare their grades to yours. We are all on our own university journeys and we all have different strengths, sit back, and focus on you.

What would you add to the list?

Sam xo

The Path Less Travelled

In one of my first blog posts for Inside Edge, ‘Am I too old to go to uni?’, I wrote a little about my decision to come to uni at the age of 23 in an attempt to reassure everyone that it is never too late (and you are never too old) to pursue your dreams. Today, I want to really drive that point home and shed some light on the rather twisty, hilly path I took from sixth form to university. I guess, compared to the majority, it’s the path less traveled.

For most of my time in sixth form, I was preparing to go to university. I didn’t particularly want to and I didn’t feel remotely excited like my peers did, but it seemed like the right and most obvious thing to do. I didn’t even question it. As the application process came to an end and I stared at a UCAS Track inbox full of offers from brilliant universities…I realised that I didn’t want to accept a single one of them. I yearned to be out in the world working and I was desperate to start a creative career. I knew from the research I had done for my personal statement that I didn’t actually need a degree for my chosen career if I could get a solid portfolio so I had a blog throughout college and eventually secured an incredibly prestigious and competitive apprenticeship in social media and digital marketing for businesses. I worked for a fabulous agency in Manchester and was kept on to look after some big household brands after qualifying, living the good life, and drinking free cocktails in fancy bars after work!

Fast forward slightly and my Dad passed away suddenly, leaving me feeling lost and desperate to be with my family more to support them. I gave up my role in digital marketing and spent nearly two years working in foreign currency retail so that I had flexible shifts and never had to take work home with me so that my time with my Mum was undistracted. After 18 months of this, I felt more like ‘me’, and that yearn to be creative was biting at my heels once more. I returned to digital marketing and was delighted to be creating once more, but something was missing.

I had been struggling with my own mental health for years and struggled to find any support in my local area due to huge waiting lists and funding issues. One day, after a truly life-changing phone call with an NHS Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner, I Googled his job title and added ‘how to qualify’. Straight away I came across my degree, Counselling and Psychotherapy, and fell in love with how Edge Hill in particular cover the subject in a person-centred way with a huge focus on professional practice and work experience. Throughout my first year and half of my second year, I continued working in my digital marketing role part-time to support myself before deciding to work as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities early in 2020.

As you can see, I’ve moved backwards and forwards through my digital marketing career with breaks to work in retail/foreign exchange in between before deciding to retrain as a psychotherapist by returning to full-time education as an adult. Even whilst studying I have moved jobs in order to better align with my long term goals and feel more fulfilled in my work. I came to Edge Hill aged 23 and will leave next summer at the age of 26 with a CV that would be about 5 pages long if I included everything! The message? Once again…it is NEVER too late and you are NEVER too old.

Sam xo

Ace Your Assignments: Tips for Presentations

I am back with another mini-series! Much like my money-saving tips series earlier this year, I have created a series of posts that will cover a range of tips to ‘Ace Your Assignments’. Many of you will be prospective students; these posts can be applied to your sixth form assignments or used as a handy guide to reassure you that university will be FINE! When I was choosing a course it was important to me that exams weren’t the only assessment method, but the thought of doing presentations did fill me with dread.

Whether you are already at university or currently finishing your qualifications in order to secure a place, you’re likely to find that presentations will come up at some point in your assignment or interview process. Without further ado, here are my top tips…

  1. Consider your timings

    At sixth form level, you may be given some lenience on the length of your presentation. However, if your presentation is for an interview or even a graded university assignment, you will be penalised for going under or over your allotted time. A lot of people make the mistake of guessing or basing their timing on how long it takes to read their presentation script…big mistake.

    You will read in your head at a different speed to reading aloud and you may also READREALLYFAST or stumble over words a lot if you are nervous! These factors will impact your time so at every stage of the writing process, stop, and time how long each section takes to actually present out loud. If possible, record yourself on your phone and play it back.
  2. Practice REALLY makes perfect!

    Properly timing and recording your presentation will serve as a wonderful opportunity to practice your presentation too. It is so important to practice your presentation out loud consistently! You will find certain sentences cause you to stumble and lose your flow, which will make you flustered and stressed when you are presenting. Save yourself the embarrassment and PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. Reading it a few times will not cut it.
  3. Pick the right prompts

    You’ve prepared, preened and practiced your presentation…you’re ready, right? Not so fast! If you feel confident going into your presentation with no notes/prompts, go for it. However, most people like some kind of cue card or notes sheet to prevent them from experiencing a total mind blank or being tempted to stare at the presentation slides and read off the screen. Make sure your notes are easily read (size 8 font is a no go) and well organised (no time for “one second…sorry…wrong page”).
  4. Keep the slides interesting where possible

    If you have practiced enough and your notes are well prepared, there is no need for your slides to be text-heavy. This will bore your audience and can make it look like you haven’t put much thought into your slides. Aim for a mixture of key points from what you are saying/reading, photos and relevant graphics such as charts and quotes.
  5. Have some water with you whilst you present

    Presentation rooms are often hot and bright and you are talking with no interruptions for a lot longer than the average day. Add to that a dose of nerves and you often get a very dry mouth that makes talking clearly difficult! Have a glass or bottle of water with you and don’t be afraid to pause and take a sip, it is often a good way to compose yourself if you can feel yourself becoming flustered.

That’s a wrap! Feel free to ask questions or share your own tips in the comments below, guys.

Sam x

Things Magazines Say You Need for University…That You Definitely Do Not (Part 2)

  1. Fancy Extra Tech

Sure, it might be handy sometimes to have an iPad for in lectures or for quickly jumping online around campus. Maybe even for Netflix sessions with pals. But, it’s definitely not essential! Don’t buy into the clever marketing or feel pressured by the odd student you see in the lecture hall. It’s nothing your average smartphone can’t manage!

2. Excessive stationery

Think about what you will actually be doing on your course. For me, that’s a lot of talking and listening, a small amount of notetaking and then a lot of reading in the library. So – some pens, some paper and plenty of highlighters! Some kind of organiser for my to-do lists and deadlines. Things like rulers, pencils etc? Not so much. 1 pencil case of essentials, a notebook and a folder to organise your notes is likely all you will need. As it runs out you can purchase more in small, affordable chunks.

3. A whole new wardrobe

Sure, you will want some comfy, warm clothes for campus days that make you feel good about yourself and some comfy trainers for getting from A to B. That being said, don’t feel pressured to revamp your entire wardrobe and jump at every 10% student discount. By week 3, I had stopped wearing makeup and was hunting for the comfiest skinny jeans on the market. By December, I was simply after the warmest coat and hottest travel mug that money could buy!

That concludes the second and final part of this mini money-saving series, feel free to add your ideas below and potentially save a new student some serious cash!

Sam x

The Best Things about Studying Counselling and Psychotherapy

I’ve written at length about my feelings around ending my second year at Edge Hill and moving into my third, but it has largely been very general around my academic experience as a whole. One thing I haven’t offered is my unique perspective as a Counselling and Psychotherapy student, so today I’m going to share my favourite things about my experience so far!

  1. Personal development. The change in myself as a person has been enormous, just by taking part in the course. This is different for everyone but I feel so much calmer, self-assured and confident in who I am. The process wasn’t easy, it took a lot of self-reflection and work on myself but the results are incredible.
  2. Professional placement. It feels really daunting to suddenly begin counselling real people in a real setting when you begin the second year of this course, but I am so grateful that it is a required aspect of my degree. Not only is it adding credibility to our qualification, but it also stands us in a brilliant position to gain employment when we graduate.
  3. Renewed sense of purpose. I am fairly confident in the generalisation that every student has moments where they wonder if they can carry on. Deadlines mount up, the work gets hard and life gets in the way sometimes. But, on my course, having that voice in the back of your head that reminds you that you are doing this to help people in need is so, so powerful. Especially when the media is full of stories about declining mental health resources etc.

If you ever have any questions about my specific course, please do feel free to ask! I could talk about it for hours.

Sam x

Staying Connected to your Subject over Summer

University summer breaks can be months long, a blessing in many ways but also a curse if you are studying something that you are passionate about or pursuing your dream career. Taking so long ‘out of the game’ if you are studying a subject where placements etc stop over summer can be incredibly difficult to deal with and can even leave you feeling like you have taken a step back when you return. This might also be true if you are about to start university in September and now have months of nothing after spending a year or maybe more applying and preparing.

So, how can you combat this and stay connected to your subject between years or before starting your course?

  1. Set a reading goal – whether it’s an hour a week or an hour a day, carve out some time to continue reading around your subject.
  2. Find a relevant volunteering role – this could even be online, perhaps a Facebook group linked to your subject requires new moderators?
  3. Start building your contacts – use this time to set up an excellent LinkedIn profile and reach out to some relevant industry professionals or research how people in aspirational positions within your industry got to where they are today.
  4. Research next steps – order some brochures for further postgraduate study, research potential future companies or job profiles, pick out some relevant CPD opportunities for the future…there are so many ways that you can be creating a plan for your future, even if that future is 3+ years away!

Don’t worry about disconnecting from your passion, use this time to explore all the other ways in which you can be growing and learning!

Sam x

Things Magazines Say You Need for University…That You Definitely Do Not (Part 1)

As we move closer to ‘back to school’ season each year, I see an influx of marketing to new students that tries to convince them of all the new and shiny things they will need to have with them when they start university. Some of these things are incredibly expensive and absolutely not necessary, which can put people off altogether. In this two-part series, I am busting some myths!

  1. State of the art computer

You will, of course, need access to a computer or laptop for your assignments but don’t be conned out of hundreds or thousands! Equally, if you are strapped for cash the Catalyst is packed with computers or even Laptop Loans to see you through. Don’t be deterred by financial difficulty and don’t get into debt for something you don’t need.

2. A printer

Similar to point one, you may find life a tad easier with your own printer but honestly? I don’t use mine. I realise what I need to print whilst on campus and pop over to The Hub or the Catalyst and have it in my hand minutes later. Nice to have, not need to have.

3. Expensive text books

The expense of university materials alone can genuinely stop people from applying, so please don’t be deterred. Hold on until you arrive and ask your lecturers which texts you will need constant access to, if any. Most books are only needed for one chapter or for a reference in a few essays. I own a couple that I scribble all over and the rest I borrow from the Catalyst or read online with my Edge Hill credentials!

Sam x