Letter to my undergraduate self: Anna Wallace – ‘Making better choices got me back on track’

In a nod to the Big Issue’s regular feature Letter to My Younger Self, we’re asking staff to think back to their own experiences as a student and tell us what advice they would give to their undergraduate selves.

This month we’re talking to Anna Wallace, Admin Assistant in Library Services.

What and where did you study? 

English and Philosophy at Leeds University. 

Did you experience a culture shock when you started University? 

Most definitely! Although I had had a year out after my A’Levels and lived abroad in a large city, I wasn’t used to finding my feet in big social groups, and this was a real challenge for me. Having grown up in a rural town with a tight-knit group of friends, I think I put a lot of pressure on myself at the time to make instant friendships. I’ve realised since that friendship usually comes in time and often when you don’t expect it. 

What was your biggest failure and what did you learn from it? 

My second year at Uni was a juggle of socialising, working and studying, possibly in that order, which certainly reflected in some of my marks! It meant that I pulled quite a few all-nightersmissed a couple of essay deadlines and received some late submission penalties. I also didn’t feel up to speed with the reading, or completely engaged with my subjects. But on the plus side I was able to pay for my University living costs and have a few memorable nights out! 

By my third year, I realised that I couldn’t juggle everything, and if I was going to leave Uni with a reasonable degree, then I would need to prioritise my time better and focus more on my studies. In doing that, I would say that my final year was my most enjoyable, I finally engaged with my course and felt all the happier and more content for it. No essays were late, I was up to date with the reading and felt more confident to contribute in my seminars. 

What are you most proud of about your time at university? 

For me, the fact that I stuck with it, pulled my socks up in my final year and made some better choices which got me back on track is probably what I feel proudest of. 

What was the best bit of feedback you received? 

I received a good solid first for an essay on American Literature in my final year. It was an essay that I remember grappling with during the Christmas holidays, with limited resources to use (this was in the days before Google and Wiki!!). I felt very unsure about what I submitted, as I had struggled so much, so to receive positive feedback made all the effort feel worthwhile and was a confidence boost in my ability to build an argument without relying heavily on secondary texts. 

What advice would you give to your undergraduate self? 

If I were to go back and do it all again, I would manage and prioritise my time, which is no easy feat for an Arts student with just a few contact hours each week. I would complete the reading, and (perhaps most importantly) I would find a thread in my unit choices, so that I was building on knowledge each year, and choosing the units that I enjoyed, not the ones that I thought I ought to be good at. 

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