2009: it was mid-October, I was nineteen, fresh from Clearing and all kinds of debacles, and I’d arrived at my first attempt at a university degree. I had no idea what I was doing, what I should have been reading, or where I needed to go. I was completely clueless, and no one seemed forthcoming with help.
I didn’t even have housemates I could ask at that point, so I went to a student advice centre on campus and then had to sit there until someone was free. I told this tired-eyed woman about how overwhelmed I felt, and how I didn’t know what to do and I needed help. She called the head of my department, and set up a meeting for the next day.
All this time I was missing classes, obviously.
I got to the guy’s office (which was in this beautiful, old building), and I bumbled my way around until I found the department receptionist. She blinked at me a few times, and then she made a call. While she was telling the course leader that I was waiting, I saw a note on her desk:
Student has arrived late through Clearing. Wants to talk, but I don’t think we need to go to any special effort.
I still remember seeing that thing and it was seven years ago! I can’t even remember my mum’s birthday but I remember that note. Even if it was meant harmlessly — which I’m sure it was — I was already feeling pretty bewildered and it just made things worse. The best bit is the guy didn’t even show up. It was a nightmare. So I left this to be unnamed university.
You can imagine my relief when I started at Staffs on time, even though I came through Clearing. I didn’t miss Welcome Week, I didn’t miss classes, but I still have that crappy first experience seared in there. The good news is that I’ve seen plenty of people start on my course and others late, and the experience they’ve had is absolutely nothing like mine was that first time.
So let’s assume you’re somewhere in the middle. You’re starting late, but you’re not starting somewhere where they don’t go to any special effort for you. How do you catch up?
Don’t freak out. Panicking will make you feel worse, not better. Here’s the motto for First Year: Everything Is Fixable. Literally everything. There isn’t much that you could do or miss that you can’t make right, one way or another. I promise.
If you’ve missed classes, check the lecture notes online. You (should) have your login and links to things like e:vision and Blackboard fairly sharpish, and you can still access some things (timetables/handbooks etc) from the Staffs Uni website for current students. Familiarise yourself with the course material on Blackboard, and if you’re still perplexed . . .
Touch base with your course leader/lecturers. If you’re having a hard time adjusting, you’re struggling with some material, or you just need some reassurance, they’re going to be happy to talk to you, or they’ll get a Student Representative to help out. I’ve done that for late students before — it’s absolutely no trouble to show you the ropes.
You’re still going to make friends. This was my biggest worry the first time: Everyone knows each other by now! How can I possibly fit in? Well, Welcome Week is being extended some by the Students Union this year specifically so everyone gets to enjoy it, and trust me, no one’s going to be in hard and fast cliques by the time you join classes. Everyone is still new to everyone.
If you missed some classes, there’s no harm in asking classmates if you can look at their notes or if they can chat with you about specific lectures… over a pint. Or pool. Or lunch, if you’re sensible like that. Some students start courses having done an entire year somewhere else first — if they can make friends after missing a year, you can make friends after missing a couple of weeks.
Good luck, don’t panic, and have fun!