Getting ready for university: Reflect

PRA model

So having covered how to prepare for university, I move to the “reflect” part of the model.

As humans, we are driven to seek out meaning and purpose in life and your choice to go to university should be closely related to both of these. And I recommend you reflect on these before you even start.


What is it that you want to learn about the world while you are at University? Hopefully your answer will be linked to the programme you have chosen to study. I think you should be really specific about this. Saying “I am interested in people” is a good start but perhaps not enough to pull you through the challenges of learning about parts of the brain in psychology. Or “I am interested in what makes things work” is a good reason to study engineering but think about it further – why? What about it is interesting? If you don’t have a particular career in mind, that’s absolutely fine. Many people think they do but end up realising they were wrong. But really be honest with yourself. Knowing exactly what you are trying to find out about will really help you with choices during your course. It will also help you decide how to spend your time outside of studies – which clubs to join (and which not to!).


But you need to be clear what it is that you are trying to achieve. Perhaps your first response to that question is “graduate with a 2:1”. Most students I know would say that. And good on you! But more fundamentally, what are you trying to achieve? Think about your graduation day – yes I know it can seem impossibly far away. But really imagine it in detail. What you are wearing. Who is with you. What your conversations are. And what you are happy that you have achieved and experienced in the past years. And what you are about to do. I know one student who had a business card made up that said “Future CEO of JP Morgan”. And as he went through his course, he made sure he got lots of exposure to banking. And in his final year, he realised that he didn’t want anything like that. Last I heard he was making electronic dance music. Perhaps his purpose wasn’t what he thought it was – and it’s impressive to realise this and make changes. So your purpose might change, but you need to at least have it as a work in progress. Something like “to get to know people from many cultures and backgrounds” or “to see how far I can go with my creative writing” or “to learn as much as I can about physics whilst playing as much sport as I can”. Work on your own words. Write them down and come back to them from time to time.

For myself, I had an idea that perhaps a university education would help me decide what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t have any what that would be but was pretty sure the jobs I had done in the past (soldier, labourer, salesman, tour guide, market stall holder) were not right for me. I found university changed the way I thought about the world in a very fundamental way and I hope you have a similar experience. (I have written about my experience here) . So I recommend you think about these two crucial things before you actually start. You probably won’t come up with short, pithy statements and will find you are not at all clear what you do want. That is totally normal and an essential part of the university experience – realising that you don’t know and that there aren’t simple answers.

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