9 ESSENTIAL LESSONS I LEARNT AT THE UNIVERSITY

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On the day of my graduation, I met a university colleague just outside the compound while I was still in my gown. She congratulated me before asking what I had gotten in my results. The moment I told her it was a first class honors, she jumped with excitement and exclaimed, ‘eish!! First class na huringi?!!’ I laughed at this yet it made me wonder, what do people exactly expect from you after getting first class? Walk with head held very high and maybe start glaring at people from head to toe or write it on all walls, chant it like it is a magic spell, stop strangers on the road and tell them about my result or perhaps wear a placard that says ‘I have a first class’?? 😀
My classmate later on asked me what my feeling was for my achievement and I said, ‘I am just grateful and happy’ then when she realized how it wasn’t such a big deal for me she went on, ‘Ah you are a genius that’s why.’ Lol again, no, I was never a genius. I very well remember getting 7/30 in my CATS, getting a few C’s in my final exams, panicking like a freak just before ALL my exams for not having read enough, without forgetting those assignments I terribly failed and literally had to ask the lecturers to make me understand how they were awarding marks. And no, I never cheated in my exams to get my first class. Perhaps this is where we say, ‘where there is a will there is a way.’ Sometimes, no I mean always, all you gotta do is work hard and put your entire faith in God with the belief that He will never let you fail when you have done your very best.

So a pal who is still in university requested that I write about how one can work through challenges in university; both in academics and social life and the laziness, so as to get first class. Perhaps he too thought I am among the nerds who used to trans-night to study while my legs shoved in cold water and a very large cup of coffee beside me to keep me awake. Well, there is no single night I stayed awake throughout just to read nor was I in the library 24/7 exploring all the books in there. I believe so many factors are to be considered here; like what course you are taking, your IQ, your suitable studying technique and your social circle in university. As much as I made it through, there are a few things I wish I had been told, advised and warned about university life before hand that would have made it an easier path to walk through.

But even before we start on the topic, I’d like to re-tell what one of my lecturers said during his first class. ‘When you finish university, you leave with one of these four things: your certificate, real life-long friends, a spouse/partner or a baby/AIDS. Sometimes you leave with more than one and sometimes you leave with none. You decide what you want to have’ Perhaps this was the best advice we got as starters for we realized the importance of being focused from the very first time you join university.

1. There is difference between hard work and being a genius: Something very important for you as a student is to know where you lie in the IQ chart. Some people are geniuses, some are just hard working while some, are a powerful combination of the two. Well, unfortunately not all of us are born geniuses and we had to struggle to get to our goals. DO NOT compare yourself with someone else and DO NOT imitate their studying styles. I very well remember my only other mate who got a first class like me would not start a 10 paged assignment until the night before and he would still score very well or sometimes better than all of us mashallah while someone like me would start the same assignment two weeks ago and still get the same marks like him. To top it up, even while doing his work overnight, he would still do it comfortably with no fuss or worry while I would still be panicking to the very last second before submitting my work. SO do not look around and comfort your poor soul that so and so too hasn’t started his/her work. ‘I am not alone.’ No buddy, you are very much alone. You are on your own in this so know where you stand in the IQ list and how to do your work in the best way possible. And perhaps you already know that you are not a genius and need to work extra hard and just taking it easy. Well, you can forget about the first class then.
P.S. Even the geniuses have to put in effort to succeed, only that the amount of effort is what differs with each individual.

2. Studying style also differs with different people: Some students have to regularly re-read the same topics again and again before grasping it, some can just read a topic once and that is enough to make them get the A’s, some can just listen to the teacher keenly and that’s it, some need to listen to the teacher and also read a bit, some can stay without ever attending class but still study on their own and still succeed, some work best with cramming, some just have to trans-night before the exam day and they are good to go, some entirely depend on cheating while some have to do a combination of ALL the mentioned; read, re-read, listen to the teacher, cram, trans-night every night and cheat on top of it so as to succeed. Well cheating is really never going to get you anywhere because as far as you get in life, the effects of the cheating will appear in the shoddy work you will do in your job. So get to know what studying style suits your IQ and your course of course (as explained below).

3. Your studying style should consider your course: Of course the studying style for a medicine or architectural student can not be the same with the one for an art student. This is because the level of academic pressure differs to far extents. For other courses, theory is much more while in others, it is the practicals. Like for the journalism course that I was taking, our theory notes were just countable pages yet most units needed practical projects, assignments and exams. So you get to know where to put your greater focus on and as you’ve noticed all these 3 points inter-connect i.e. your IQ, your studying style and your course come hand in hand.

4. When the lecturer asks whether you want group work, be the first one to scream a ‘NO’ If possible, take a speaker and shout it out. Write it on the board in Red, Bold and Capital letters. Not unless you are one of those who like taking advantage of group work, you will totally agree with me that group work is annoying, irritating, time wasting and most of the time all the pile of work ends up being done by one or two people. To make it worse, sometimes you end up submitting very messy disorganized work done last minute. Well, sometimes you get lucky and get great partners to work with but still, it is very rare to get all your group mates being cooperative. You won’t miss one or two who will just mess all of you up. Another mistake most students do is getting into the same groups with their friends with the thought that they can work best together. Well, not unless your friends are very focused people, you guys might just end up chatting and laughing, everyone waiting for the other to start the work until it is too late and you just decide to write up anything for the lecturer. You need to know you are in university alone and you will leave alone and all these small works given to you matter in your end result so take everything seriously from the start.

5. Be part of the society but not necessarily part of the group: In universities we don’t miss to have groups in our classes. I don’t mean the red cross groups and religious groups or so, I mean ‘the birds of a feather flocking together’; the group of friends who hang out together of which most of the times they meet for less constructive issues or we can call them the informal groups. Well, it always feels nice to be part of a group but sometimes, peer pressure comes in. You start skiving classes, doing things you would never have thought of doing, not doing assignments etc. But there is also another problem of being part of a group. Usually social groups never miss to have opponents or rather, another group that just agree on how the other is. These differences usually lead to spoken and sometimes unspoken hot wind of hatred between the two or more groups. Differences could be of social class, academics performance, behavioural differences or even political. Trust me, in university, you don’t really want to be part of a particular group because if there is any place you need to have good connections with people, it is university. Especially if you are living far from home; in hostels, you need the strong network with different people including the non-staff; the gate man, the cook, the cleaners. You just never know when you will get into trouble and need someone to help you. And don’t say I can never get into trouble. Sometimes you just need assistance especially in our Kenyan universities, you struggle a lot if you don’t have connections in the administration offices i.e. the clerks, financial managers, PR etc You could need assistance in your projects and assignments from an IT guy or an engineering student or perhaps the graphic designer to design you a poster for the school elections; could be anything really. So be part of the general society; help others, laugh with all sorts of people, connect with people, appreciate them even when you have personal differences with them and hang out with them when you can but don’t directly associate yourself with one social group only. It usually has its consequences; could be positive but most of the times it is negative. Well, as for the introverts, you don’t really have to excessively connect with people. A simple hi with a smile every time you meet different people is enough.

6. Your assignments and projects are your trump card: Never underestimate the value of your CATS, assignments and projects. Not unless you are among the ones who just want a certificate doesn’t matter what grade it is so long as it’s not a fail, you need to take every of these seriously. Because in the very end of your study,all your points in every step of your academic life do count to make up the final result.

7. Discipline Well, who doesn’t know about discipline? We have been hearing about it our entire school lives. Remember the lecturers do consider your discipline even when awarding you with first class. Being arrogant just because you perform well won’t take you anywhere far. How many times have we heard of students failing just because they had an argument with a teacher and they ended up being in their bad books? Perhaps that is the bad thing about university, your entire career life is in their hands by how they award you marks. Some are fair, some just fail you the moment you step on their toe. So be careful; respect your lecturers, your mates, be timely and meet the deadlines as required. By doing this the lecturer doesn’t gain anything, you are the one gaining here.

8. Laziness and Procrastination: Ironically, we have been going to primary and secondary school as from 6 or 6:30 in the morning. We have been having more than 6 subjects per day with few minutes or an hour for a break, yet we are too lazy to wake up early for the university class that starts at 8 and ends at 11. Or too lazy to do an assignment that was given to you two weeks ago yet you previously used to do 3 assignments per day. I think this comes almost automatically to all university students. Wonder why? Nonetheless, this should give a reason to be more determined and focused, ‘if I could wake up so early for a full day in school then why not for just 3 hours or 6?’ Well, some courses are more demanding like medicine where they have to be in class full day but then still, you chose the course yourself; this is your goal and your dream so go for it. Getting A in secondary/High school doesn’t count anymore when you get to university. The challenges in university are many especially on the peer pressure. If you are not careful you can easily drop out. The tables do turn and your hard work is all that matters. Personally I had a B- in secondary school and still got first class. And I am not the first nor the last to have done that. The vice versa has also happened. Very bright students who unexpectedly failed their finals while some didn’t even get half -way through the years. So don’t be relaxed that you are a genius who got straight A’s in secondary, this is a totally different life and experience where you got to work hard to get to your goals. Stop procrastinating and start doing something now.

9. You have to be your own master: If you let friends divert you then you will definitely get distracted from what brought you to the university. You skive classes with someone who can very well succeed without the lecturer’s directions while you really need extra elaborations to understand the lesson, what are you doing to yourself friend? You waste your studying time with rich friends who can afford to join any other university or course when they fail, but are you sure your parents can do the same to you when you fail? Do you really want to put them through such trouble? You don’t do assignments because your friends didn’t and take CATS jokingly because your friends can depend on the exams only to pass? Again, remember each person has their own IQ and own studying style that suits them best. So instead of just blindly following the flock, know when is the right time to hang out with friends and the time to really get serious with your studies. You went there alone and will leave alone. This is your future entirely in your hands therefore be your own master.

Finally, I’d like to wish you well as you go through this rough, tough road of university life yet filled with so many beautiful memories. Set your goals and be focused. Know which of the 4 things you want to leave the university premises with. But again, remember, Nothing comes easy. Nothing comes on a silver platter.

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