Why you should attend your lectures
In my first year of university, I did not attend many lectures. In my naive view, the hard work had been completed. I had coasted through the leaving certificate with relatively little stress and by some miracle had received just enough points to get into the only course I had put down on my CAO. As a result, I believed the hard work was over. I rewarded myself by prioritising the social aspect of college life. I met lots of new people, went to house parties, nightclubs, joined societies, attended college balls, campus fairs, and so on. Of course, these experiences are a luxury that many incoming first-years will not have – at least for the time being. But it is not just those straight out of leaving cert who will have a different experience to mine this year. For those who waited years to return to college, who made financial or familial adjustments to be in university this will also be a very different college year.
However, in living memory, there will never be a year where so many of us have so much in common. For this academic year, we are all just trying to adjust and make the best of things. And you should too! At the end of the day, you have done it! You are a university student. You are here. And despite the ongoing pandemic, it is still your time to make the absolute best of the opportunity you have successfully obtained. Global pandemic or not, studying at university is a different ball game to secondary school. Given the current social restrictions, take the opportunity to master the academic aspects of university life now so when the day comes that we are all able socialise more freely you can do so confident in your ability to balance all the various opportunities university life can offer. With that said, I am here to provide you with some unsolicited advice on the major thing I would have done differently if I only knew then, back in 2009, what I know now.
Attend your lectures! (Virtually or socially-distanced, of course)
It can be easy to become overwhelmed by everything going on. Timetables can be confusing, it feels as though you have barely sat down and suddenly you have a load of deadlines, you can’t suss out whether you have to do all the set reading and how you can get all of this done in addition to your other modules. All of the answers to these questions, I found out the hard way, are provided in the lectures. As an Arts student, I had four subjects which meant that I had a lot of reading to do. It seemed overwhelming and I had no idea of the order of what needed to be read by when and what essay might need to be prioritised before what presentation. So, what did I decide to do? Nothing. After all, it had worked in secondary school. But this is not a secondary school.
The key difference between university work and secondary school work is that you are no longer aiming to pass a subject you don’t like as a means to get your points so you can study a subject you like. This is that moment you were waiting for when you were cursing your geography homework or algebraic formulas. You’re studying the subject you like. You should find most of the reading interesting and you shouldn’t want to throw an essay together the night before. No one likes writing essays as such but if you know what you’re talking about you will learn to enjoy the process of examining arguments, comparing perspectives, and forming your own opinion. It can be hard to gain enjoyment from a course when you’re unprepared and your involvement in lectures are your best bet to ensure that you are prepared. So do your key reading before the lectures. If you become overwhelmed by the amount of reading, that’s completely normal! But don’t bow out. Read a summary or a review so that you can follow the lecture, take some notes, and then when you do get a chance to catch up on your reading you will have a great basis of understanding before you begin.
I did not attend many lectures in my first year of university, I did not do the readings, and I missed many deadlines. Consequently, I repeated six exams and eight assessments at the end of my first year. It was a hard-learned lesson in the importance of attending lectures. While that time of studying for repeats and writing assignments that had spanned eight months in the space of just three was tough, the real lesson came in my second year. Determined not to make the same mistakes, I went to all my lectures on the first week back. I sat in a second-year English module at 10.00 am on a Monday. I did not recognise any of my classmates and I am sure they had never seen me before either. But I had completed the reading and I was there which was what mattered. I left feeling disappointed. I had loved every minute of it. I understood it and it was interesting. I already knew what I was going to write on in our first assignment. And yet, as I mentioned, I was disappointed. This is because I realised that I had wasted a full year of college not doing what I was there to do. Take my advice and give yourself a real chance. Do not leave it too late to explore the potential you have, the new ideas, the different way of looking at your subject. Do the readings, attend the lectures and seminars, enter discussions with your classmates. Now, of all times, it is so important to feel like you are a part of it all and learning from home can make that hard. The lectures and doing your readings will be the best way to feel like you belong – because you do. If I knew then, what I know now, I would have attended every single lecture.