The five things you need to know before starting an Edinburgh Uni degree

Your questions answerEd


Starting university can be a daunting experience, and there’s a lot that nobody tells you. From referencing to student support, here’s some of the things that I wish I could have known before starting at Edinburgh.

1. Don’t buy textbooks

When logging onto Learn for the first time and coming across your course information, the organiser will usually have left a list of recommended reading (usually contains one of their books for self-promo). Upon a visit to Blackwell’s you realise that the only way to fund these purchases is to pray that alcohol can be effectively filtered through only one kidney – because you’ll need to sell the other to pay for the textbook. But fear not, for there’s no reason to have to part with a small fortune for your reading material.

The university’s online library service, DiscoverEd, will usually offer the full online version of your textbook for free! If they don’t provide it, then other copies can usually be found by a simple google search. Now you’re free to spend all that extra money on skittle bombs in Hive!

2. Referencing

Ah yes, referencing. Just like essays the university very conveniently often decides to just let you figure it out by yourself. And there are so many different types, Harvard, Chicago, APA, MLA, and MHRA. This gets especially confusing trying to learn it for the first time, especially for first and second years when your elective usually has a different style than your main degree.

The first port of call should be consulting your course handbook. It is something that will be endlessly talked about from your lecturer’s, and as tempting as it may seem to ignore it completely, they can be a valuable source of information. It can be found by logging onto Learn, clicking on your module course and it should appear in the left-hand bar. The course handbook will provide information and examples on what type of referencing is required for that module. It will also include examples of how to structure your bibliography.

PS: please write your bibliography as you go along, trust me trying to find all the information after you’ve written an essay and are ready to cry is not worth it.

If, somehow, the handbook does not contain the relevant information then contact your course organiser for specific questions. There are also lots of helpful groups made up of third and fourth years (usually called PALS/peer assisted learning), who will be able to help you with referencing and essay writing. And remember, nobody expects you to be perfect straight away, there’s a reason the first (and second) years don’t count!

2. Ditch the coloured pens

I think it’s testament to the A-levels I took that I had time to use different coloured pens and highlighters for my notes. No matter what, I always had time to make legible notes, and make them look aesthetically pleasing.

Now forget that and leave it in the past. Whilst there may be some occasions when a lecture is a bit slower – chances are whether on paper or typing, your hand is going to moving so fast that it’s a surprise it doesn’t light on fire. Lecturers have huge amounts to cover each lecture, and they will not stop for anyone or anything. Seriously, the building could be on fire, and it would be highly likely that the lecturer would carry on and not let you leave.

The most important thing is that in a lecture, getting down the notes is crucial. If you’re worried about missing something important then you can always use your phone or laptop and take voice recordings of the lecture to listen to later. If you’re someone who needs to have pretty notes, you can still do that, just make them from the notes you took in the lecture to consolidate your learning. And don’t feel like you must take note of every little detail the lecturer says. As you develop in your learning, you’ll quickly learn what is and isn’t worth taking down.

3. The library

Find one of the ugliest buildings ever made. Congratulations, you’ve found the library.

Now whilst this building certainly does not give off ~Edi vibes~ it does give off major study vibes and honestly, I’m a bit obsessed with the library. I’ve perfected my procrastination skills and found the only way for me to work is through the judgement of others. Library seats can become a hot commodity, and if people see that you’re scrolling through TikTok then there’s a 98 per cent chance an Edifess will be written about you.

Fourth floor is top tier and that’s final. The basement and ground floor include some loud study spaces, with other floors only being quiet or silent spaces, so there’s something for everybody. The library also has a cafe for light lunches and snacks but it’s ridiculously overpriced.

To gain access to the library, you need your student ID card. However, when at some point you forget it, it’s okay, don’t turn around! Simply inform them at front desk and they’ll issue you a temporary pass until next time. In terms of opening hours, the library is open seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

4. Personal tutors and other support systems

Personal tutors can be a real hit or miss, either you will communicate with them once during welcome week and that will be it, or you might strike gold and get one that checks up on you. Whilst your personal tutor is supposed to be your first port of call for help, there are other options if you feel that you might get left on read.

The Advice Place, found in Potterow, can help you with any more general questions you might have about university life. For more specific queries, your course organiser, specific lecturer, or your school’s dedicated student support helplines should be contacted. From experience tutors, lecturers and staff are always really helpful and genuinely do care, so don’t feel bad if you’re calling them in tears, that’s what they’re there for!

5. Uni work

Now to the consequences of starting uni. Whilst at first it seems overwhelming, reading lists, tutorials, lectures, essays etc, it does get easier. Nobody will be expecting you to write amazing essays straight away, and it can take a good couple of years to get into the swing of things. Imposter syndrome is very much a thing but remember that you got into Edinburgh, and they wouldn’t have given you a place if you didn’t deserve it!

Prioritise going to lectures and doing tutorial work ahead of your tutorials. Reading lists can be good if you’re feeling unsure about a subject area, or for essays but don’t worry if you’re not feeling on top of your work all the time – I don’t think anybody does!

And keep in mind that you’re in an amazing city, with lots of things to do and new people to meet! There’s plenty of time to really focus on your work when you’re in later years but for now enjoy Welcome Week and throw yourself into as much as you can!

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