“The first shock of university is the chaos. So much happens so quickly and no matter how much you prepare, there is no easy way to settle down into being a university student.”
I have been a student at the University of Bath for two years now and trying to remember my expectations has been difficult. I never realised so much could happen in this seemingly short space of time. It would certainly be with great difficulty to explain my personal life, my education and my ambitions for the future to my eighteen-year-old self. The following passages have thus been devoted as a guide to a degree in economics for my younger self.
As the third and final child of my mother, I had always grown up knowing roughly what to expect. The Primary and Secondary school I attended were well trodden by the feet of several family members and provided no shock to my expectations. I then went on to sixth form college, where I fell once again into my brother’s shadow. In all truthfulness, my first year of university provided the first year of my life where teachers never mistook me for my brother.
I was always planning to attend university, inspired by the anecdotes of my brothers and the dream of freedom. I expected it to be similar to college in a way, with time spent either in lectures, the library or partying. Perhaps I focused on the social life a little too much but equipped with some A-levels and a desire to increase my earnings potential I knew I could get a good degree.
The first shock of university is the chaos. So much happens so quickly and no matter how much you prepare, there is no easy way to settle down into being a university student. For me, the most pressing issue was what was expected of me. Whilst nearly missing lectures due to a confusing timetable – which was not personalised for the first time in my life – I had only a vague idea of how much work I had to put in. After much discussion and debate with equally confused peers, it was discovered that the timetable said we only had twelve hours of lectures a week. This was highly misleading.
The work involved for an economics degree is wildly different to school. It is entirely up to the individual to motivate themselves to learn. Lectures must be followed by a mad dash for the library, where fights are likely to break-out over the scarce resource known as ‘essential reading for next lecture’. You have to fight a constant battle with your inner socialite self to succeed, a battle which I believe that I am only starting to win.
Probably the most difficult thing for me is essays. The only thing I have in common now with my former self is poor English skills. ‘Why is this important for an Economics degree?’ I would have obnoxiously replied back then. Writing skills are essential, with every economics essay involving a need to organise, structure and write a clear and concise literary masterpiece. Notes and planning are the answer to this personal nemesis of what I thought was a mathematical course. Begin with a hypothesis, get to the library to get whatever books are available, read and note the books, plan an essay and then the rest takes care of itself. I remember my first essay at university was done the other way around, beginning at my desk trying to write something off the top of my head and ending up at the library in a huge panic. Ideally, essays need at least a month to create to be of any decent standard.
Mathematics is the next major part of an economics degree. I place it behind English in terms of importance with good reason – you can always seem to get help with mathematics but it seems with English that only word processing computer tools can help. Mathematics is key to all economic modelling and most fundamental theories can be explained by a few equations. However, numbers seem to have been replaced, with letters, characters and other alien symbols. Whilst at first confusing, all becomes clear after several helpful tutorial sessions and a night in with a large and expensive textbook. My advice regarding mathematics is not to panic and that all those confusing equations are really simple mathematics in disguise.
The final thing I would like to mention is the job prospects that a degree in economics gives a person. My answer is that getting a degree in itself is only half of the way to securing a good job. The other half is made up of work experience, extra-curricular activities and transferable skills – the latter being a posh word for things like team working, networking, etc. Fortunately, the course offered at Bath gives students the option to undertake a twelve-month work placement to give you the skills and experience needed to beat off the competition from other graduates. Thankfully the University is approached by many large firms offering a decent placement such as investment banks and Government which makes things run smoothly. I am currently doing such a placement and have realised the additional value added by doing it is huge. I may even have a job secured for me when I have graduated! Whilst this is all funky dory on the surface, I have now actually realised that this is also a great way for people to exploit your cheap labour and make you do lots of low-level work, whilst giving you less respect than others. Concluding, a placement is a good thing to do if you are not doing well academically as it adds a lot of value to your CV. However, if you are doing fairly well with University work than you are better off graduating as soon as you can then getting a ‘real’ job and real experience.
Concluding on my first two years at University, it was unbeatably fantastic. However, my expectation of an extension to my school days was false. Every aspect of learning relies on the individual to get up and do it for themselves. Most annoyingly, Economics is not about learning how to make the economy work better – it’s about having good English and Maths skills. Disappointment, however, is not how I feel. My improved jobs prospects and work experience have made me able to compete for the best of jobs out there and this is a comfortably feeling. I hope I do not become too complacent!
Jonathan is studying Economics and Development at the University of Bath.