A lot on the side

Don't waste your time outside lectures, says Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer
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The Independent Online

Being at university can be fantastic; never again will you have the chance to socialise with so many people, have so much time to discuss and study so many interesting ideas, or have as many opportunities to do things you've never dreamt of trying before. Nowhere else will you find such a concentration of sporting, performing, creative, volunteering, organising and community and student support activities. You'll not only discover new skills that future employers are looking out for but also you'll become a well-rounded person.

Being at university can be fantastic; never again will you have the chance to socialise with so many people, have so much time to discuss and study so many interesting ideas, or have as many opportunities to do things you've never dreamt of trying before. Nowhere else will you find such a concentration of sporting, performing, creative, volunteering, organising and community and student support activities. You'll not only discover new skills that future employers are looking out for but also you'll become a well-rounded person.

It's almost a crime with all of this on tap to lock yourself away for the duration to study for top marks. And you don't just have to take it from me. Listen to what the Dean of the undergraduate college of Harvard - one of America's most prestigious universities had to say to his students: "... much of what you do, including many of the most important and rewarding things that you will do, will be recorded on no piece of paper you take with you, but only as imprints on your mind and soul."

If studying all hours isn't so smart, neither is partying. Fun is fine, but graduates should leave with evidence of what they've learned from, for example, running rag week, their bar job or captaining the scrabble team. With so many graduates to choose from, (70 per cent get a 2:1) employers want evidence of wider learning - something on top of a good degree that highlights each candidate's personality, competencies, reliability and commitment.

If you are one of the nine out of ten students, who works to help pay the bills while you study, you are proving, at the very least, that you are reliable. You could also be proving a whole lot of other things. For example, if you work in a bar or restaurant you will show you can work with the public, as a member of a team and multi-task.

But try and find time for another activity too because you'll be working till retirement. Terence Perrin, a Director of the Association of Graduate Recruiters says: "Up to a point any extra curricular activity will do, provided the sought after competencies are matched. Students need to learn to be creative about this."

The world is your oyster. But what should you do? To give you some ideas, Which Way interviewed five students who kept themselves busy outside the lecture room.

SOCIETIES

Sarah Cockburn, 21, final year English Literature student at Durham

"I have found it really good to focus on something other than my degree. I joined my college's theatre group at the Freshers' Fair in the first week and was in a college production straight away. In the second year I moved on to our university-wide theatre group, and then got onto its executive. Drama is very strong here, with weekly university productions as well as college ones. We've just mounted our own Oscars at a big local hotel!

I also edit a theatre magazine that reviews all Durham's student and city productions, and national ones too. I've had to manage printers' deadlines, co-ordinate a team of reviewers and organise tours of our productions. It's been quite a commitment, but my course has been flexible and I've enjoyed my studies more.

You can get into a bit of a bubble within Durham's collegiate structure and this has been a great way to meet people across the university. It's so important to make the most of your university time, given the numbers now getting degrees. Some people I know wish they'd been more involved with things like the ski and snowboard team. At the end of three years you should have more to show for it than a beer belly and a degree."

SPORT

Alex Hill, 23, just graduated with an engineering and material science degree after four years at Wadham College, Oxford. He has played for the university in cricket and football

"I'd played football and cricket for my school and the county so it seemed natural to try for the university teams. Of course there was the incentive of getting a blue - but the first time I turned up was quite intimidating. I didn't know anyone and the existing teams were very cliquey. So I didn't push my credentials and I played in the college teams instead. Having no exams in the second year, I decided to play at a higher standard and went for the university football team.

I made better friends there, meeting a wider group of people. The training commitment and matches meant I had to juggle my tutorials and I didn't go out as much. Your team mates make the same sacrifices and you really respect each other for that.

In my fourth year I've put in the committee work. Some people play just for themselves but someone has to make it work and do the back-up, organising trips and post match celebrations. I have found it great fun and it's helped to give me identity - being part of something. Our club ran on a shoestring and I had to manage funding events. As a senior member I've gained organisational skills that have been useful for job applications.

Playing in matches gives you something to talk about when you're new and nervous. It can all get a bit intense in college. It's good to get away to play somewhere else and it's better to be active while you relax instead of just watching the telly."

PART-TIME JOBS

Hayley Roberts, 21, just graduated in law from the University of Plymouth

"I worked throughout my three years at university doing at least eight hours a week for two local Sainsbury's branches. I wouldn't let my parents pay anything as it was my decision to study for a degree.

Working has helped to pay off my debts. It was a bit of a struggle, but it's okay. I work on the checkouts and as a cashier in one store and in the other I do whatever's needed on the day. I have learnt so much doing this work and it has really built my confidence. You get quite a lot of training here that is customer-driven rather than task-based. It's quite difficult to relate to everyone who comes in, from rushed businessmen to elderly pensioners. I find this much easier now. We have team talks where we discuss queries and managers raise issues. Confidence comes through knowing you're doing the job right. I have friends who haven't worked. Their days all roll into one. I really appreciate what hard work is now and I'm ready for more."

VOLUNTEERING

Ewa Truchanowicz, 31, in her final year of a psychology degree at the University of Middlesex

"I wanted to be part of the community and contributing my time and skills seemed the best way. Attending the leadership award training day offered here got me interested in volunteering which then led to me getting a paid, part-time job at Community Volunteering Programme. I wanted to volunteer in a field related to my course and am now at Careline, a telephone crisis counselling line and WISH Community Link, a befriending scheme. I value being treated as a professional, receiving quality training and support. Volunteering has allowed me to explore varied career opportunities whilst retaining full control over my time. You can volunteer from as little as one hour per week. I feel enriched as a person as a result of doing this work and nothing beats the 'thank you' you get at the end of it!'

STUDENT UNION ACTIVISM

Steven Blane, 20, in final year of a law degree at Dundee University

"Student unions are a hive of activity and take lots of organisation and energy to work smoothly and well. There are the bars to organise; dances and visiting bands to invite; community involvement and one-off charity stunts; managing the overall budget; involvement in student politics in relation to higher education policy, and even disciplinary matters that need to be resolved.

My only regret is that I didn't start earlier. If someone had told me in my first year that I'd be on the executive committee of the Student Council, I wouldn't have believed them. I spent the first year drinking and partying. I'd done some debating at school but nothing else and I wasn't very confident. Then a friend of a friend said, let's go for it together and I was elected.

This coming year I'm also Hon Sec. of Dundee University's Student Association, and I'm also President of the Mootings Society in the Law Faculty.

It was quite daunting at first, speaking in front of people, but it's only for a couple of minutes and everyone's in the same boat. There are places for first years on the Council and I'd recommend anyone to go for it. You won't regret it. I've met a whole lot of people I wouldn't have, it's given me new skills, but it's also a good laugh. I'm probably more outgoing now and talk to more people. It's part and parcel of university.

I've gained insight into different faculties and departments and seen the bigger picture. Now, if I go to work for a big company I'll understand the bigger bits. Getting involved doesn't take ages. I spend about four hours a week on average. If there's more to do, I just spend a couple of hours on it before I go for a drink. You'd go insane if you worked all the time.

And if you want a special job, it helps to have that extra bit on your CV."

AND FINALLY

Some words of advice from Carl Gilleard, Chief Executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters: "Employers are looking for well-rounded human beings. Confidence and self-esteem count for a great deal too, so if you have things you can talk about, it'll help. No one's going to fight your battles for you out there - you have to sell yourself. Three years pass so quickly, so start early to add up those bonus points and at the same time find out more about and develop yourself."'

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