Written by: Jyothsna Prakash
(Downing College, University of Cambridge)
When I first walked through the gates of Downing College, I was filled with both nervousness and excitement. The usual worries flitted through my mind: What if I don’t make any friends? What if the work is too hard and I fall behind? What if I don’t fit in here? But those thoughts soon evaporated as as I saw the Maitland Robinson library, a white structure with soaring pillars that looks as if it belongs in Ancient Greece, and beyond that, the main court with gravel pathways lined by trees full of green leaves. I still count myself lucky to be studying at the University of Cambridge.
Michaelmas (the first term at Cambridge) was a whirl of meeting new people, joining societies and trying to keep on top of the workload, while at the same time still settling in fully and getting used to being away from home. I won’t deny it – it’s a tough experience, but at the end of it very rewarding as well. Even though you’ll struggle to balance and make time for everything, you’ll soon realise that everyone is in the same boat and going through the same experience. Because of this, everyone is willing to help each other out, which makes it a lot easier to settle in. It may take a few weeks or a whole term, but eventually you will get used to university life and begin to enjoy it to the fullest.
In terms of the workload, it is tough. Not only are you expected to be much more independent in your studies than in school, but also the sheer volume of work to do and deadlines to meet makes it a huge step up from A-Levels or equivalent. I wasn’t the only one who struggled; in fact, I think everyone to some extent at least found it difficult. However, the only thing to do was to persevere and do my best to adapt to the new style of learning. Slowly, I became more effective in the way I approached essays and notes, which meant I was able to complete tasks more efficiently and to a higher standard as the year progressed. A key thing to remember and which I wish was emphasised to me more is that everyone peaks at their own time, so just because someone else seems to have worked out their best learning style before you does not mean you are lagging behind. I myself only felt confident of my learning style some way into exam term, which I found was not too late at all.
University is not only about work, even though you are here to study. Societies are in abundance and there will always be something for you. During the Freshers’ Fair, I signed up for about a dozen different societies, eager to become involved in as much as possible. Although I tried out many, in the end I only committed to a few because I simply could not find the time to be a part of everything. I think it’s important at the beginning to be willing to dabble in a range of societies, as only by trying them out can you judge what works for you and what doesn’t. Most people after the first couple of weeks end up only committing to a couple of societies that they enjoy being a part of the most. In my case, I primarily regularly attended events held by the various Indian cultural societies, while occasionally also events by other societies that I wasn’t as dedicated to. This meant that I made it onto the committee of Hindu Society because I had shown my commitment to it.
As well as societies, it is important to make time for friends too. You’ll meet so many people during Freshers’ Week that it’s impossible to regularly keep in contact with everyone, but the ones you do spend the most time with will become some of your closest friends. At the beginning, I found that, since I was so overwhelmed with work and settling in, I didn’t spend as much time with my friends as I could have. However, as I began to get used to being a university student, I was able to find more and more time for my social life. For other people, it was the other way around – they prioritised friends over work in the first term. The fact is, it’s difficult to strike the perfect balance right at the start, but as you grow more comfortable with one, more time becomes available for the other. In any case, it’s important to regularly spend time with your new friends as they are one of the best aspects of university life.
First year definitely had its ups and downs, but overall, I would class it as one of the best years of my life. Michaelmas especially (that first term) was about finding the balance between work and my social life, but as I became used to university, I found more time for both. The important thing to remember is that you’re never alone at university – there are always people around willing to help you, and eventually you will learn to become more independent. University is a daunting experience for everyone, but once you’re there it becomes one of the most enjoyable, and it will fly by, so cherish it!
* Fresher = first-year student at university in the UK
Wow – I got into Cambridge! What next…?