The honours high jump: why moving between second and third year is harder than it looks

Raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimised by third year

When I started uni, it felt like there was an unending amount of support and patience. It was generally understood that this was a life-altering transition that was completely different to anything you’d have experienced before.

However, the quirks of the Edinburgh degrees are such that moving from school to uni isn’t the most difficult academic jump you’ll face in your time at Edi. Something that absolutely no one prepares you for is the gaping chasm between second and third year.

You blink and suddenly your essay word counts have doubled and your contact hours have halved. And this isn’t even taking into account the fact almost none of these contact hours are in person because, you know, there’s a global pandemic on.

Oh, and wait a second, this all now counts towards your final degree mark, what fun. And you have to magically have concrete ideas for your dissertation? If only they’d have told us this before the six month long summer rather than expecting us to do this in a week!

The honours high jump

I’m not sure if anyone else was forced to do athletics for PE during the summer at school, but the high jump is the perfect metaphor for describing the gap between second and third year.

You run at full speed towards a metal bar. You then have to hurl yourself over it in complete blind faith that you’ll clear it and land on the mat. You also have to hope that you don’t clip the bar and cause it to loudly clatter down. You also have no choice but to give it a go, running off in fear is not an option – trust me, I tried and got yelled at by my PE teacher.

But in reality, this year it’s more like if you had to do all of this blindfolded and with your legs tied.

And, this is because there’s this pretty big thing called a global pandemic happening in the background.

And so it begins


A step-up and a half

Ordinarily, it’s a big leap of faith. I was warned about the exponential growth in word counts and evaporation of contact hours by older uni pals. And the best way it was explained to me was that English uni degrees have a gradual step-up for each of your three years but that degrees at Edinburgh basically have two first years and two final years.

It didn’t seem ideal but everyone’s in the same boat so how hard can it be? But this year, we’re being expected to cope with this big step up with absolutely everything being online. So, it’s two pretty cataclysmic transitions in one go.

On top of this, the perfect storm of strikes and pandemics in semester two of last year means we weren’t even eased into this in the slightest. I had a grand total of four weeks of teaching last spring so it would make sense that the uni should be offering more support to bridge the gap a bit better.

So far, the most acknowledgement I’ve had of this from the uni is one tutor in one tutorial saying “so I know you’ve missed most of the usual prep course in semester two of second year but…”

To say this doesn’t cut it is an understatement.

Hardly surprising

Not only does this happen every year but like many aspects of how the uni has handled the pandemic this was an entirely foreseeable occurrence. Plans could have and should have been made to limit the impact on students.

A lot of the conversations recently around student mental health have focussed on freshers (especially those in halls) and for good reason too. Don’t get me wrong, I thank my lucky stars I’m not a fresher at the minute. But the uni needs to acknowledge the impact of the pandemic on all students and their mental health.

I very much count myself as lucky, mainly for having a solid support network of friends and family. But this is no thanks to the uni. The expectation of business as normal when everything around you is seemingly on fire is baffling. And the result is that seemingly routine stresses like this are blown up into monumental problems.

So, what to do?

If think you are struggling, here are some things you should always keep in mind:

  1. There’s nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed by everything. We’re in the middle of a literal pandemic and, no matter what, you’re doing amazing sweetie!
  2. You very much are not on your own and everyone is trying to muddle their way through the chaos too.
  3. Don’t be afraid to admit you’re struggling to other people. And just because you may think other people have it worse, you’re still allowed to be struggling.

After all, it’s much easier to jump and clear the bar if you’ve got people to help lift you over!

Related articles recommended by this writer:

• Here’s where you can find mental health support in Edinburgh this winter

• An Edi student has started a petition for a no detriment policy for fourth years

• Scotland to enter stay at home orders and a March-like lockdown