What I Wasn’t Prepared For When I Started University in Scotland

Nov 2, 2016 1:40:38 PM

ATP Student Ambassador, Kelsey Austin having afternoon tea

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m a planner. Big time. The Oprah of travel planning: a level of organized that would make your mama proud. Spreadsheets on spreadsheets. Before returning to university, my career as a travel agent fed my addiction; I was paid to take blank calendars, and fill them to the enth degree with trip details: flight routes, hostel confirmations, day tours… the works. Needless to say, being this prepared transferred to other areas of my life.

Once that beautiful university acceptance letter landed in my inbox, you can bet your sweet passport I mapped out as much as I could. Before the move, I knew how much my bus pass would cost, the orientation schedule, directions to my student flat, and I joined multiple Facebook groups for new students. Not only did this research fuel my excitement for the adventure ahead, but gave me security – I felt that being pro-active ensured my success. While in many respects this is true, there is something to be said for life’s surprises. It’s impossible to be prepared for every last detail of a move, or a day at school. And overcoming those curveballs, my friends, is an empowering thing. With my first trimester of my Master’s degree in the books, here’s what I wasn’t prepared for:

The UK grading system

It’s apples and bananas – there’s no comparing the two, and it’s still tough to switch off the American part of my brain that wants the validation of an A grade. Grades, or marks, are on a scale from a D5 (high distinction) to F. Although the F is a common denominator, getting a distinction on an assessment is very difficult to achieve, and a P (passing grade) is more typical, and perfectly acceptable. My mentality had to change, as I equated an average grade with not-okay, and that is not the case here.

No office hours

This is not to say that my professors went MIA outside of class, but if you need one-on-one attention, it’s on you to reach out and ask for an appointment or feedback. And you WANT that feedback – it increases your likelihood of better marks, happiness, and self-actualization by 200%*.

*not a verified statistic

Minimal assignments

The pressure is on, team. Busywork is a thing of the past. While it’s a relief that time is not wasted, it means that your overall mark comes down to the work you submit in only two or three assessments, be it a group presentation, exam, or report. Game face on.

How to take notes

Despite how derp-y this sounds as a postgrad, hear me out. When classes began, I felt overwhelmed when it came to keeping track of class discussions and lectures. I retain information better when I physically write it down (like it’s 1999), but lectures go at a pace that my scribbly handwriting cannot keep up with. Some students print out the PowerPoint slides and write on them, others type notes on a Word doc, meanwhile, I test-drove every method under the sun. By week three I was officially frazzled, as I had written notes scattered in multiple notebooks, on PDFs, and typed up in various places. Pick your note-taking poison (an electronic option is the best bet) and stick with it, so you know you can find your theoretical framework of experience design quicker than you can say ‘theoretical framework of experience design.’

There will always be changes you don’t see coming and circumstances you aren’t prepared for, but Across The Pond can help ease the transition. If you would like to find out more about studying in the UK, please contact an Across The Pond Advisor.

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