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Reflecting on my first year of university


Written by
Kyle J.

Reflection is a great tool, not only to see what can be improved, but also to celebrate what went well. In this blog, Computer Science student Kyle reflects on his first year as a University of London student. 

Yellow light-up sign with arrow and writing 'go up and never stop'

Being at University of London for nearly a year now, I thought it would be a good idea to look back at what my first year was like as an online student, some of the things I did well, some of the things I could do better in the years to come, and my thoughts on my experience so far.

The good

  • I approached my studies by doing everything that was required, and a little bit more. At the time it felt like it was further knowledge that I wouldn’t need, but actually, I did need it later. Doing that little bit more not only solidified my knowledge on the topics, but made understanding more complex topics that little bit easier. It also improved my grades, as some of the grading criteria required us to show evidence of further knowledge, and without realizing in the beginning, doing that little bit extra was helping me in the long run.
  • I used a timetable. I planned a very loose timetable of how much work I would like to do within that week, not only allowing time for extra knowledge but time to relax as well. My timetable always ran from 7am to 5pm; anything after 5pm would be time to relax. In those hours of work my schedule was flexible, I allowed myself to do the module I felt I wanted to do rather than stick to a fixed plan. I was in control of my timetable rather than it being in control of me, which made me work more efficiently.
  • I was strict with being ahead of the course and more specifically being two weeks ahead  . I didn’t want to finish my course content as soon as possible, I wanted to allow myself time to digest and really internalize what I was learning and I felt two weeks was the perfect balance of being ahead without overdoing it. The idea of being ahead is that you always have time to fall back on if you don’t really understand something. I used this as a way to verify my knowledge with tutors and it was a good test to see if I truly understood the topic.

The bad

  • I always fall behind during assessment periods. I normally put a ridiculous amount of effort (often more than needed) into assessments meaning that I’m burnt out for the next couple of weeks. This obsession of making my assessed work the best it can be is possibly good in theory, but it’s draining, and I end up in a cycle of large workloads and late nights, with the timetable being thrown out the window.
  • This follows on from my previous point, the second I enter these late-night cycles I lose my times of levity. I don’t have time to relax or socialise. Taking breaks is important, it helps alleviate feelings of anxiety and keeps you well rested. Without them my work becomes sloppy, and I lose my fun time, which is unacceptable .
  • Imposter syndrome. I didn’t expect to be around so many talented students. Universities foster some of the most creative and talented minds and at times I felt my work or knowledge was nothing in comparison to the other students. I felt I was lying to myself and everyone else about my capabilities especially when the topics got harder, and other students clicked with them faster than I did. Overcoming imposter syndrome and keeping that belief in myself is important.

And my not so ugly experience

  • The flexibility of studying online means you can take the course at a pace that best fits you. In many cases I didn’t feel like doing any work, or I just didn’t have the time to work and that was perfectly fine.
  • I didn’t find it too stressful. Up to this point all my assessments have been online. I think this helped me to feel calmer and I performed well.
  • My course is fun and challenging, I’ve committed myself to it and I’m throwing my best work at it, and it’s paying off. Not only am I having a lot of fun, I can genuinely see the improvement I’m making, and that’s reassuring if you’re committing to something for at least three years.

Reflection is a very useful tool. Putting words to the page reinforced the fact that I did a lot of things well and I’m happy with how I’m progressing. Before using reflection, I was focused on all the things I did wrong but now that I’ve had to list the good and the bad, I’m happier with the things I did right. You can always improve but reminding yourself of your successes is equally, if not just as important. Besides, I did really enjoy my first year, and I wouldn’t change anything about it even if I could.

Kyle studies BSc Computer Science in Malawi.