Learning from the Mistakes of my Undergraduate Degree.

Reader, this is a completely random post to what I normally do but I felt compelled to write it. No one likes admitting they’re wrong and I’m not saying I’m wrong per se but do believe there is always a way to do things differently.

Today I was sitting in Starbucks trying to prepare for a information session on a course I’m applying for outwith my Master’s Degree to flesh out my CV. The course requires a fair amount of self reflection on skills I’ve accrued over my academic and professional career. So, it got me thinking:

‘There is no way in hell you’d see me doing this in my Undergrad!’ 

Don’t get me wrong, when I started my Politics & International Relations Degree some 8 years ago I was dealt a tricky hand to play which forced me to do things out with the so-called traditional student life. But sitting back and reflecting as I watched people go about their daily business made me think, ‘Could I have handled it better?’ ‘What can I do differently this time?’.

If I could go back in time, would I pick a different course? Definitely not! I enjoyed the topics covered in my undergraduate degree and would happily have done it all over again. I know it is overwhelming picking an undergraduate degree subject when you are in your final years of High School but I think I was smart in playing to my strengths at that time (English, History and having a lot of opinions).

When I graduated from my degree, I had never been so proud of myself coming out of the other side, waving my certificate and having a good job in Central London to jet back to. I guess I had this reaction because I was relieved that the chapter of stresses and turmoil I had been facing in my life had come some sort of an end and I was starting an exciting new beginning and facing a promotion at work now that I had no extra-curricular activities.

Getting a 2:2 has by no means affected my career prospects, I would actually say I have done reasonably well versus a collection of my peers with the same degree result or better. But going back to University recently to complete my Master’s degree really does show how much I missed out on the overall experience of University.

So, what went actually wrong in my eyes?

Not getting involved in the right Clubs & Societies
I was part a society at university and a sports team during first year. To be honest, I didn’t enjoy them all that much. I was pushed into them thanks to pressures from forces outside University and the culture of them wasn’t all that great. Downing dirty pints, performing ‘initiation ceremonies’ which caused utter humiliation and romping around town in fancy dress outfits on a regular basis was and still isn’t my thing. When trying to search for something more my speed, my personal life changed as I left home and had to start financing myself through my studies and it all got pushed to the wayside.

Not getting involved with my Peers enough
As a student studying in her hometown and living at that time with my parents, I always felt somewhat excluded from a lot of the University life. To the University’s credit, they had a private orientation for home students so we all could mix and see friendly faces in corridors. However I was reluctant to really branch out, especially from my negative experience with the clubs & societies. I spoke to very select few people and didn’t get particularly involved in group exercises, isolating myself in fear that they would effect my grade. I still have a few close friends that I made at University from my course that I speak to and hang out with but I could’ve made a much greater effort with other people.

On-top of that, I focussed on spending a large chunk of my spare time partying in Glasgow visiting my friends from Sixth Form College and they would take precedence over some of the people closer to home. You were definitely more likely to see me sipping cocktails in Ashton Lane than you would see me in my local Student’s Union.

Getting too involved in my Job and just Working in general
This is a big one. I started working full time in the summer of second year to help support myself through University. I conducted a month long internship in Beijing at the start of third year outwith my University course (which they were not happy about) on the hope that it would help with my job prospects. Upon returning, I picked up another 40 hour a week job and tried to juggle my studies with it. If there was a course available at work that clashed with a seminar? I would go to the course and miss school. I was permanently exhausted juggling work, studying and having a social life (because let’s face it, everyone needs to escape the mayhem every now and then and it kept me sane). There was a lot of late nights and strong coffee to get me through assessments.

I ended up getting promoted and relocated to London just before my degree finished so after I met my minimum mandatory requirements for attendance, I was in London 24 hours later unpacking my belongings to start a new life. I still had to complete 2 large essays and my dissertation whilst juggling a more demanding and new work schedule, grapple a new city and its culture. It was not easy!


So…. what has changed?

I have been smart picking a Master’s degree to ensure I get:
i) The best out of my course
ii) It’s going to point me towards a new career path and use the skills I have acquired over the last few years.

Having less pressure on me to have an imprint on my professional career has definitely relieved some stresses. I can sit back and work a part-time job with minimal hunger to ‘learn the trade’ and just about cover my caffeine and chocolate addition.

I have also been smarter in picking the extra-curricular activities I am involved with. I have opted down the short courses route, making sure I get the most bang for my buck out of the thousands I have spent on not only taking a year off professional work but also on the course itself. It lets me mix with a variety of disciplines and levels of study whilst picking up a tangible skill I can apply to my future work.

Let’s face it, i’m not 17 anymore. If I don’t want to do something, I won’t bloody do it! I’m too old and experienced to succumb to peer pressure. I have done the hard part and started a career from nothing and have reaped the awards and promotions from it. I don’t need to do it all over again unless it’s for the industry I want to work in until for the foreseeable future. Having these months to take a step back from the motions of working is the only time I will probably get of this nature. I’m going to bloody enjoy it and do it right!



I hope this gives people food for thought on their own experiences about University and potentially returning to study. Do you agree with what I said?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.


AJ x

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