10 tips for University Success
It’s the start of a new academic year, a good time to make a post about higher education. The vast majority of what you learn in your creative practice will be acquired independently; attending uni however can add to your skillset tremendously. The experience of working under pressure / deadlines and using new skills is a hugely beneficial experience. Read on for my advice on gaining the most value from your course..
Here’s a little exposition to put the article into context: For many years I never fully realised my potential, bouncing between minimum wage jobs (call-centres, toilet cleaning, you name it..) and doing small freelance design bits on the side. I was partying hard and having a fairly good time; until a day of realisation came upon me and I realised that I had a skill that should be capitalised on. I wanted to work in the creative industry full-time and put my menial-labour days behind me, I made the decision to go to university.
I attained a 1:1 and managed to achieve a very respectable grade average. Anybody can succeed if they want it bad enough, I’d like to share my experiences – I hope you find them useful!
As I had a fair amount of freelance experience behind me, I thought my presentation skills were top-tier. Some of my early assignments weren’t scoring as highly as I had liked, so I looked closely at the work of my peers during critique sessions to see where I was being ‘out-classed’. Presentation was where I was lacking so I made attempts to tighten up output: improve the quality of the printed media, branding and the overall punch of submitted work.
It makes sense really, packaging is a highly psychological ploy; but it sets the tone for the standard of your submissions. Dog-eared stapled sheets are out if you want to optimise your grades; for printed written assignments, spiral binding with a hard-back cover and acetate cover sheet works wonders for your overall ‘branding’. A simple tactic, however it worked wonders!
Every academic establishment has their own referencing systems for assuring all sources are cited in the correct manner. Even the naturally academic can struggle with the precise nature of accurate referencing; it was an aspect of writing that I needed a bit of help with myself. Being a visual person, sometimes I just need to see something in order to fully understand it; so I asked my lecturer for a written assignment that had perfect referencing. Looking through a ‘real-example’ of how it’s done helped me tremendously, from that point I didn’t lose marks for poor referencing.
Dependent on your lecturer, you may or may not be given a copy of anothers student assignment. Personally I think there’s no harm in it, but if you do run into issues; ask a friend on the course who scores well for referencing, and ask to check out their written assignments.
8. Learn from your Peers
Being in an environment where there are tonnes of creatives with their own specialised skills is a great thing, and can only benefit your own practice. In group tasks, try and align yourself with those who have skills outside of your remit – it’s a great opportunity to pick up new techniques. Sometimes you have to have a fair amount of bravado to approach someone you don’t know and ask to work with them; but Ive found it largely beneficial to do so.
By and large, most people are amiable and enjoy the fact that peers respect their work. Take in as much as you can from your fellow classmates and build up a network.
And now for the glaringly obvious! University is a time for intense study, and Im pretty much certain that the more you read – the more of an understanding you’ll have of your course content. Some people have an aversion to reading; if you are one of those folks you’ll have to bite the bullet and ingest as many books as you can tolerate. It may not seem like the information is being taken in at times, but it is a very worthwhile pursuit. The more exposure you have to the language of your course, the better you will develop your own academic writing style.
Aside from the reading angle, you’ll want to ensure you are planning your written assignments like a beast. The more you flesh out your ideas and brainstorm, the better your writing will flow once you undertake the essay.
6. Explore the Unknown
It can be really tempting to use your signature styles and use mediums that you are totally comfortable with when submitting assignments; but sometimes doing the opposite can be highly beneficial. For a graphic design assignment I had to produce some branding for a fictional company of my choice. Immediate thoughts would be to do something Drum n Bass oriented, but I wanted to try my hand at something completely different.. so I produced design for a women’s haute couture fashion label! The work still had the attitude, but used colours and tonal approaches I weren’t familiar with.
In year one, it’s definitely worth using the time to explore avenues outside of your experience. In creative industry, you’ll produce work for a massively diverse range of audiences, so getting in the practice of diversifying your styles can definitely help in the long run.
5. Time Management
This one is boring to write about, but it has to be noted.. If you are naturally ‘last-minute larry‘ like me, your going to have to create a system to manage your time. To make the time visual, I had a calendar on the wall and marked off the days as they passed in red marker. This way I could clearly see how many days there were until assignment deadlines and panic accordingly when the time came to stop putting it off!
If you are into the party scene / social life of uni and it starts eating into your study time, your going to have to make some tough choices. Ive seen too many buddies re-sit years because they became too enamoured with the social aspect. It’s only a couple of years of study; have fun but prioritise work over play.
4. All Modules are Equal
Naturally, you’ll have favourite modules that will appeal to your skillset and interests. There will be other modules however that you may look upon as a waste of your time; it is these modules that you must work hardest in. A lot of people will disregard these ‘less-important’ areas of study and submit half-baked assignments, so they can focus on the good stuff. Regardless of academic value, look at the credits that can be attained – all these little points add up toward your average, and ultimately your final grade.
Adapt a boring assignment by adding a spin to it; make work more personal by injecting your favourite pastimes. I found some of the business assignments very dry, but I made them fun by splicing my interests (horror movie production) into the case studies! The inclusion of inter-dimensional creatures made that business hand-in just a little bit more tolerable
3. Ask Questions
Asking questions doesn’t make you look dumb. If there is anything you don’t understand, ask for it to be explained more in-depth; if you’re shy, speak to the lecturer after the session. Get things clear, don’t be afraid to enquire further or ask for additional links / reading materials. A simple premise, but massively important when digesting huge amounts of information.
There is a direct correlation between attendance and academic achievement, it’s as simple as that. Considering the amount of learning hours you undertake in university, the actual teaching time is comparatively small. You’re paying for your time at university; get your goddamn moneys worth! If you are prone to constant hangovers or just don’t think a certain lecture is ‘worth’ the attendance, maybe you should reconsider your ambitions at university. Lecturers and course directors are taking note of who’s putting in the hours and turning up; psychologically this will have a bearing when they are marking your work.
Being present puts you in good stead in the minds of your assessors and also affords you the opportunity to get the maximum value from your time at university.
The number one on this list, and possibly one of the most important asset to have in the creative industry. When faced with impossible tasks, it’s tempting to just fold and say “I’ll get the marks back on my next assignment” – this isn’t an approach I’d recommend. There is usually a sticking point in most projects, a stage where you are not getting anywhere (particularly in web design!) – but the assignment must be handed in regardless. Ive found that gritting your teeth and just ploughing forward normally irons out 9 out of 10 problems.
Personally, Ive found that persistence out-ranks talent; and that the two are inextricably linked. Most people give up when things get hard – first-rate practitioners are those who weather the storm and get past the ‘sticking point’. You’ll regularly be faced with challenging assignments, maintaining momentum and being relatively consistent across modules will assist you in getting the most out of your time at university.
Have your own tips? Feel free to share in the comments section below.
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Image Credit: Mortar Board by Madame Min, SXC
Hmm, after having read what you said. I can relate to most of it, although, evidently while I have chosen graphic/web design as a career path for myself, I am not taking the regular plan of action to achieve that, as we don’t have colleges that explicitly teach graphic or web design where I live in Egypt.
So to cope I’ve joined up in MIS (Managerial Information System) for my college field whilst taking graphic/web design courses and depending largely on my own efforts to improve.
Now I can say I’ve amassed some “decent” experience in the practice, but I have to wonder if it’s actually good enough in the work field when I graduate in 2 years, or rather if I can compete with those who majored in this field from the get go.
Practical field-experience beats all in my opinion, however the university experience is excellent for building contacts and being presented with opportunity