My Degree: Expectations vs Reality

Now in my third year I can begin to reflect on my time at university, and how what I was proposed weighs up against what I have actually learned so far. This blog post will be a year by year breakdown of my expectations vs realities.

Finishing my A levels with grades just short of the entry requirements for Sussex was never a set back for me, as I had already been awarded a scholarship from the Royal Geographical Society, to travel South America for 9 months, so I wasn’t rushing into university yet anyway. When that came to an end I was offered a place at Sussex (the only university I actually wanted to go to) on a foundation year. At this point I had two options, 1) Spend a year trying to improve my A-level grades to maybe get into the university I want on the course I want, or 2) Spend a year in my first choice university, easing myself into degree level study which leads onto the course I want to do. Now if you’ve ever completed your A-levels, you know it’s not something you’d never want to unnecessarily put yourself through again, especially having been out of education and exploring the world for almost a year. So the choice for me was easy.

Foundation year (Year 0)

Before starting my foundation year I was expecting to be really into my subjects with so much to be learned.

Now I am going to be brutally honest here, studying Foundation Social Sciences felt like the most useless year ever. Now this is likely to be down to the fact that it was the first time they had ever run a course like this, but to my knowledge, nothing has changed. I felt the breakdown of the core modules covered was the main issue here; we studied Global Studies which encompassed Geography, Anthropology, International Relations and International Development, which is cool – there’s is clear overlap in all of these subjects so it’s understandable why we had to study all of them. However it was also obligatory that we studied Law, Politics and Sociology. Yes, they can be eventually related to global studies, but at the level of depth we were being taught this was rather irrelevant for someone with no interest in the subject. Personally would have preferred to have gone a bit further in depth in Global Studies, rather than skim the top off of everything.

Contrary to popular opinion there were aspects of the Academic development module I really enjoyed (the class was 3 hours long), specifically the referencing workshop there were aspects that genuinely helped prepare you for university level study.

My favourite aspect of foundation year was however the opportunity to study Mandarin, I didn’t know that I would enjoy learning a third language so much, and how useful it would be. Overall for foundation year, I still think it was an vital part of developing some key skills for degree study, aside from the academics it also helped to manage time and workload effectively.

First year

After a year of studying what felt like university rendition of GCSEs, I was ready to get down and in depth with my geography module. I also didn’t exactly know what to expect after being underwhelmed by foundation year so I just looked at it with fresh eyes.

I have to say first year geography did not disappoint, although I didn’t like every single module of that year, on a whole I learned a lot, and more importantly I identified what it is I enjoy most about geography. I’d say that is the real purpose of first year, you get to sample all of the aspects of your subject to really identify what you want to focus your interests on as your degree progresses.

Second year

I remember before I started, being told how flexible the courses at Sussex were and how as students we get a lot more choice in what we learn, which was one of the things that drew me in. 

I now feel as if that was somewhat of an exaggeration; in second year you get to choose 1 elective module each term, the choice is vast but it’s not quite the flexible paradise I was promised, but you get what you get I guess. Although to be fair, in third year you choose all your modules, there just aren’t many to actually chose from (so you still end up studying those you don’t like).

The big thing people always speak of when the topic of second year comes up is how big the jump is. Looking back I personally wouldn’t say the jump itself is so big, more how much it matters. Going from the year not counting, to it being 40% of your final year mark is a wake up call to every student. And that’s where the big jump actually lies.

Second term of second year was definitely the deciding factor of why Sussex was really the only university i was red to go to. This was because I had the opportunity to do a term abroad, and from the many destinations to choose from, I did mine I Hong Kong, and it was one of the most incredible experiences. It’s opportunities like this which set Sussex apart from the rest. All in all, second year, better than expected.

Third Year

Ah yes third year, the big 60%, the be all and end all. All I really have to say is it really is all it’s made out to be. It is a lot of work, there’s no denying that but you care so much more (i think) so you want to do well, you definitely don’t realise it until you hit third year, but as you near the end everything you’ve learned along the way (no matter how random it may seem) all tends to slip into place in the end.

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