The Terrible University Experience

If you’re not interested in these kinds of posts, skip over, normal service will resume tomorrow, if not grab a cuppa it’s a long’un…

I’ve seen lots of posts recently about going to University, my experience seemed to be not like everyone else’s. Most people who go will tell you it made up the best days of their life. I will tell you it made up the worst.

So the stats, I went to the University of Central Lancashire (aka UCLan) from 2008-2011, and left with a 2:1 honours degree in Web and Multimedia. All fine on paper.

I’ll start by saying that by no means do I regret going – it’s made me a stronger person now, and I’ve still walked away with lots of good life-long friends. It’s also mainly about the course side of things rather than ‘home life’ and the social aspect but can cover that if people are interested. This is also in no way meant to deter or scare, but hopefully someone may read this who will learn from my mistake. Plenty of people walk away from UCLan totally happy with their experience, I was just unlucky. For the course I wanted to specifically do, I had no choice but to move over 8 hours away from home, It wasn’t a big deal for me to start with, but it doesn’t give me the luxury of going home for a few days if you really need to (at least for me, I didn’t take my car with me).

First Year

First year was a walk in the park really, I was learning lots of things I had zero previous experience of before but I loved it. It kept my interest going, I knew I was on the right path for what I wanted to do and I achieved good grades throughout the year. I covered lots of different modules including graphics, coding, illustration, audio and TV production. Lots of courses shared the first year, and I could make the decision to switch courses into second year to TV production for example, which strangely was what I was best at, but had zero interest in continuing as a career path. I had a few course friends, but never really found any people on the web side of my course that I gelled with, moving into second year I felt pretty nervous about who I was going to sit with (what a playground drama).

Second Year

So moving into second year, a group of 4 guys and girls pretty much on the first day back, who called me over and sit with them. We instantly all got along, and before I knew it, they were the people I socialised with most, going on nights out and to gigs with weekly. Everything was going swimmingly up until the summer, after I had left Uni for the year.

I had a phone call from University, telling me I needed to come in, but they wouldn’t tell me for what, and to bring someone with me. They wouldn’t tell me what it was to do with, and I honestly couldn’t think what I’d done wrong.

I went their with my boyfriend (aka law student extraordinaire), thinking we’d go for a nice day out afterwards, and it wouldn’t be anything to serious. Turns out they had lost my work, both my memory stick with all the graphics files on, and physical print (A massive a2 laminated sized piece of paper – how could someone lose that). They had a recognition that I had handed it in, but just none of the work to mark. But it wouldn’t be a problem provided I could give it to them the files again. All sounds good in theory but my external hard-drive where my files were stored had corrupted, as my boyfriend (aka total dipstick), backed up his laptop, including OS, onto my drive, it corrupted and there was nothing I could do to get it back. I was simply capped at 40% for the whole year, not given the chance to redo the work, etc. Unfair given they had a record that I had handed it in, and it wasn’t never the kind of grade I’d achieved previously.

A week or so later I had a second phone call, telling me I would need to come up, for a different incident, and I had even less of an idea of what it was to do with. I also found out that one of my friends had to go up the same day. I went in, and found that my friend and I shared around 50% of the same essay as I did. They knew it was him that had copied, as mine made sense as a whole piece, his didn’t. But they wanted to know how it happened. I could have lied and said I didn’t know, but I didn’t see the point, and owned up realising the massive error I’d made. I had 2 assignments due, one was finished and handed in, but with the other I’d been trying to upload to the server which was imminently due, and I was having trouble to get it to connect and had been since the previous evening. My friend was finishing the assignment I had completed, but wanted to see what I had wrote to finish it off, I didn’t think anything of it and sent him it.

My tutor said that total paragraphs were copied and pasted, and he probably wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t marked them one after the other. It was my fault as I had sent him the work, and there was nothing I could or wanted to do to deny it. I said in the interview (or what felt like an interrogation) that I would have made the same mistake a thousand times over for any of my friends, I totally trusted that new group of friends who I had become incredibly close with in a year. I would have thought they wouldn’t have been stupid enough to put me in that position (I should say that everyone else was perfectly fine and supportive after). This time I went up with my Dad and I was in tears the whole way home.

My tutor described it as that I had taken the fall for an error that everyone else had made all year, he had constantly copied people’s ideas and work, and the tutors had been paying attention – it got to the point where they had to do something, and unfortunately, it was the final straw with what happened to me. I had to re-do the assignment from scratch, but was capped at 40%. I was really very angry. And surprisingly, he never came back, and he never apologised all he ever said was “I’m a dick” – a fact I already worked out.

Third Year

I almost didn’t go back in third year, as silly as it now sounds, I was heartbroken over what had happened, and didn’t think I could trust anyone at all in home or on my course. The third year was the hardest my far, I was so demotivated from the lack of support that the University had given me over them losing my project, and what had happened with my “friend”.

My other problems were that the amount of people that were left on the web course by third year there was only 6 students left. They didn’t have enough people to run the modules. I became the course representative in third year, and tried to organise us all choosing one module to take together – but the lecturers wouldn’t allow it, attempting to put us on a third year course for computer programming, which is totally different to web development – and not one of us could understand what they were talking about. In the end to make up the modules I had to do a double dissertation, but I felt like I was being cheated out of the course and learning that was described to me on the open days and prospectus, and the student union did nothing to help.

My tutor for my dissertation was the same person for the plagiarism incident and I should say. It acted as a constant reminder that I’d made a silly mistake and to not make it again, saying that he believed I could do it and pushed what I thought I could do.

I had to work so hard just to get by, and that was what was demotivating to me – I was getting good first and 2:1 grades through third year, but would never achieve that because of the shambles of the second year modules. Especially up until Christmas, I was in tears almost daily to my parents, at times I was so close to quitting and going home, but I was so close to the end at the same time that I didn’t want to give up. I had a great flatmate, who I lived with for 3 years, and another flatmate who I lived with in first year, and 2 good friends from my course (who really, it turned out to be, were true friends), and if it wasn’t for them, I really think I would have left.

At last minute the university changed the grading rules, which instead of taking an average of all second and third year modules, meant that that they put a higher weighting on third year modules, if you would have achieved a better grade from the new method, you would get the improved grade. So at last minute I was saved from what I thought I had been destined to get all year – a 2:2, and got a 2:1. This was what I was expecting to walk out with from the start, so I was happy that I had managed to achieve it, and I’m glad I did decide to work so hard all year, feeling like I had something to prove – otherwise I would never have got that grade.

But ultimately I left feeling un-prepared for the job I wanted to do, even though I was on the “perfect course” for it.

These would be the tips I would give myself, If I was ever going back again:

  1. Live as far away from town as possible – It might sound anti-social, but it will force you to stay in and buckle down, you’ll still go out but only when you want to. I found myself bored a lot (especially in first year), so that meant that I went into town and spent money, spent all my savings, and had nothing to show for it at the end.
  2. Watch your own back (especially on your own course) – It may again sound anti-social, but I think what I’ve said about what happened to me I think it’s clear why (make sure you read the second year section if you’re reading the points but haven’t read the full post).
  3.  Fight for it – Try and make a difference if you don’t believe in something, although it didn’t work and the bureaucracy of cost and money won over the university choosing to give students the degree they signed up for. I’m proud I stood up for myself and my class mates to try and try and get the degree I wanted.
  4. Do you need to go? If you want to go because you want to go – that’s absolutely fine, it’s an experience you’ll never forget. But if you’re on the fence about going, I would properly investigate what other routes you can take. I regretted going and I learnt far more in my first week of work in Web Design (Straight after graduation) than I did in my 3 years at University. I’m now in a good position and in a good place in my career, but I in no way attribute that to my degree, I think I could have got to a similar place now to if I had gone straight into the workplace. My degree to me is a piece of paper, due to go up in my hallway, which I’m not ever going to look at and be filled with pride.

I hope no one has the same experience that I did, and I don’t wish to put a downer on things – but thought an alternate post on, the normal fresher’s advice you’ll see, might be helpful to at least one person starting out…

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