October. The days get increasingly shorter and for thousands of school leavers up and down the country, a cocktail of nervous tension, excitement and anticipation builds inside them as the day draws closer to pack their bags and head off to university. Awaiting them is the beautiful chaos that is Fresher’s Week; that bizarre blend of queuing for ID cards, poster sales, getting acquainted with housemates at the Union bar and integrating into life on campus.
The nature of my job means that my interaction with first year students is somewhat limited. I may get wheeled out to introductory lectures or given 5 minutes shout outs to extol the virtues of placements, but by and large the first time I engage in meaningful dialogue with my students is at the start of the second year of their studies. When going through the first drafts of CVs, it is pretty easy to identify the students who made the most of their first year. Believe it or not, the decisions taken in the first couple of weeks at university can have a big impact on your ability to secure a placement.
With that in mind, here is my strategic guide for Fresher’s.
Sign up – Fresher’s Fair is more than just a chance to acquire freebies. By all means get yourself bagfuls of gratis energy-saving light bulbs, sweets, pens and energy drinks, but also make sure that you get signed up to clubs or societies with one eye on how they can benefit your CV and future applications. If you’re looking to work in business, think about joining the Entrepreneur society. Sports teams can provide you with opportunities to develop teamwork and leadership. But beware of how some societies might look to an employer – there isn’t going to be much professional value, for example, in saying you’re an active member of a beer drinking society.
Power to the people – If there are opportunities to volunteer as a course or class rep, put yourself forward for the role. You’ll get to attend meetings with your department, giving the chance to develop your communication skills, particularly in liaising with Heads of Schools. You may get to pitch ideas, find solutions to problems or disseminate news to your classmates. Somebody will be able to put all of these down on their applications, so grab the opportunity should it arise.
Don’t drop the ball – In those first few weeks at university, it can be very easy to get dragged along to every single event. Night after night of excess is not only going to affect your bank balance but could be detrimental to your learning. Ignore any concept of taking the first year easy. When you apply for placements, you will find that most of the big companies only want to hear from students who are on course for a 2:1 or better. At the start of your second year, the only evidence you have to support you on this is the transcript of your first year grades, so put aside any notion of taking it easy and merely passing the course.
Fill in the blanks – If your CV is lacking in work experience, get yourself along to your JobShop and see what is available. There may be roles going on campus, either within catering, the Union, academic departments or the library. Student Ambassador roles for open days are a perfect opportunity to build your confidence in public speaking through giving campus tours to prospective students and their parents. Lots of universities now offer Employability Awards, helping their students to develop skills and experience to help them secure employment beyond graduation. Taking advantage of these opportunities will not only bolster your CV but also give you examples to use on placement application forms.
The opening weeks of your time at university will be a blur of emotions and experiences. In amongst the late nights, socialising and acclimatising to your new surroundings, don’t lose sight of the reasons why you are there; to develop your knowledge and learning, and to put yourself in the shop window for graduate employers.