I recently graduated with a first class degree in Public Relations and Communication from Southampton Solent University. I’d like to share my advice on how to bag a first for yourself. Everyone’s different, but these ten rules describe what worked for me.
- You have to WANT it. Badly. Being motivated to achieve is important because it helps you to quiet the demons in your head telling you to miss a lecture, or party with your friends instead of doing your assignment. If you don’t already have that drive, think of where you want to be after you graduate. Think about how disappointed you would be if you looked back knowing you weren’t the best you could be.
- Read the books. When you get your reading list and borrow from the library, actually read the book! Texts books can be daunting, and I’m not suggesting you read every book cover to cover or you’d be there ‘til graduation. I used to read a few pages every day that related to the lectures I was having, because it makes it easier to digest. Don’t open a book for the first time to pull out quotes that will fit in your literature review. It shows. If you’ve already read it and understood it, your writing will be ten times better.
- Study with your classmates. I was lucky because I made friends with four of my classmates who were talented and driven, and our skills complemented each other. We relaxed by meeting for a few beers at each others’ houses to talk about our assignments and work on our group projects. We didn’t agree a lot of the time, but we never fell out either. Compromise, respect and active listening helped us to create the best work.
- Reflect on your experiences. I used a blog to reflect on what I’d learnt and talk about the theory and my experiences. Taking the time to critique your work helps you to see how you can improve, and to set what you’ve learned in your long term memory. You can reflect on paper, but there are countless other benefits to having a blog as Stephen Johnson explains in ‘why learn social media at university’.
- Engage with your lecturers. Your lecturers are there to help you learn. In fact, you are paying them to do it. When they ask questions in class, respond. If you are confused or disagree with something that is said, say so. If you are offered tutorials, grab them with both hands! Tutorials are like gold dust when hand-in dates are close. Prepare a list of questions and get as much of your work done as possible beforehand. It’s better to have your lecturer tell you it needs improvement in advance. Trust me.
- It’s not a competition. Speak to students on other courses and help each other out. Speak to PR students from other universities online to compare courses and talk about work placements. No-one else on my course was interested in social media, so I looked for others online. Other students gave me advice on work placements, places to work and even on my dissertation subject.
- Choose your assignments wisely. Often you are given the chance to decide what units you do and what you study for assignments. Think about what interests you, what you want to do when you graduate, what you’re good at, what’s been done already, and what information is available to you. In particular when you choose your dissertation title, you have to want to find out the answer.
- Plan your time. It’s dull and tedious, but it’s a life saver. In my first year I planned my time in a work document, breaking up my assignments into sections and telling myself what I had to get done and by when. I soon moved on to using Gantt charts and critical paths, after reading chapter 8 of ‘Planning and Managing Public Relations Campaigns’ by Anne Gregory. Making a schedule helps you to visualise what needs to be done and by when, which is vital to managing your time effectively.
- Choose your housemates wisely. If you live with mates who try to drag you out every night and come in waking the entire street up at 4am in the morning, you’re not going to get the grades you want. Try to choose housemates who care about their studies as much as you care about yours.
- Don’t get ill. Whilst it’s important to work hard and do your best, it’s easy to stay awake all night working on assignments. It’s also easy to eat badly and stop exercise altogether, especially when the pressure is really on. Work hard, but give yourself everything you need to do it justice.
If anyone has anything to add, feel free to leave your comments. Good luck!
Bethany Ansell recently graduated with a first in BA (Hons) PR & Communication from Southampton Solent University and won the Five by Five sponsored graduate prize for her work on the course. Her blog can be found here.
Photograph of Southampton Solent University library from lofwyr_’s photostream on Flickr (Creative Commons)