The ABC Study Guide, University education in plain English alphabetically indexed. Click here to go to the main index, or the ABC image for the cover

Personal Development

Students at Middlesex University describe the contribution that University life has made to their growth as rounded human beings.
It is not possible to take your brain to university and to leave the rest of yourself behind. We are complete people, with emotions, lives, commitments, personal problems, abilities and disabilities. University can have positive and negative effects on us. As we learn, our ideas about ourselves and our abilities change. These effects and changes are growth and personal development, even if the growth sometimes seems backward.

For some people, the changes to themselves that they experience and the way they understand and cope with them, are amongst the most valuable (or, sometimes, damaging) learning experiences at University.

This file gives you an insight into how other students have experienced University. Their accounts are anonymous and identities have been disguised.


Straight from school or college
Returning to study
Returning to study via an Access course

Autonomy Confidence Determination
Friends Harder Laziness
Lonely Mistakes Open Minded
Organisation Panic Self-Doubt
Shyness Web Working

Straight from school or college

I came straight from school. I felt like an experienced student, but the doubt I had about the relevance of my experience was that family and friends already in university had told me that University life is very different. I did not know if what I had learnt in my A Levels would apply to my courses at university or if my sixth form experience had given me the skills for the University study style which (I was told) was based mainly on private and independent study.

Since I started as a university student, I have been able to sort out things for myself and have become more independent. I have had to make my own decisions about things like programme planning, the time that I come in a use the university computer, and how and when to seek help and guidance from tutors. I have had to sort out and manage my own time, balancing it so that I have the right time for my academic and social life.

I considered myself to be quite an experienced student as I had not had a break from education. I thought that I was in charge of my own studies, but after the first semester I have realised that I was expecting to have more guidance.

My sixth form teachers tended to be very pessimistic and this lowered my confidence, especially on essay writing. Now I feel more confident because I got a good grade. I think I have improved in my organisational skills and learning by myself because I had to. I have also realised that I am an extremely impatient person especially with computers (computer rage). In sixth form I had to do a lot of computer work and I was quite enthusiastic about computers and their advantages. Now I have taken a big dislike to them because I have experienced so many problems with the system, the programs and the Internet. But I have just kept plodding a long.

University is good because you get to meet a wide variety of people. I have specially benefitted from meeting older students. Most of the people I speak to are at least a couple of years older than I am. They help to widen your perspective on life as they can explain things to me which I only ever saw in black and white.

Returning to study

When I came to Middlesex University I was returning to study after working, but I had continued study with The Open University, which made me a little less worried to work under my own steam. I did not have a clear idea of what I should expect from study at University. I think I was open to any kind of learning. I thought of myself as someone needing to further my education and taking my last chance as circumstances may not allow me to do it in the future.

My opinion of myself and my abilities has changed during my first year at University. I used to give up whenever a challenge arose. Now I am able to take a step back and carry on. I realised that I am probably more able than I thought.

I found it discouraging trying to get to know people and forcing myself to do things myself rather than someone already doing it for me. But I think this has had a positive effect. I now know I can do things on my own. In addition to these new feelings of confidence, good points of my University experience are that I have discovered different ways of thinking and that it has opened up opportunities. Bad points are lack of sleep, trying to organise study around a family, and finding time to myself.

I returned to study after five years. I knew I would not have problems with study because I like to study. I was more worried about my academic standard of writing. I was nervous about using the computers, but I soon got over that. When I started university, I was very proud of myself for coming back to education. I love a challenge and I always give something I start my very best shot before I give up.

I never understood philosophy and I never thought I could cope with a conversation in this topic, but now I have the confidence to join in on any discussion. Overall, my first semester modules have given me confidence in my abilities.

I was apprehensive about coming back into education after a long period. I was unprepared for the way the University leaves students to accumulate the required knowledge on their own. The amount of information thrown at me in the first semester was too much, and I was definitely not prepared for the amount of Information Technology which was (somewhat) dumped on me. Although I do not feel I have yet had enough time to evaluate myself, I feel I have the ability to do well here. I hope that the University can encourage me to develop and learn to the required level. Good points include meeting people who are interested in pursuing a similar career to myself. Bad points include not having enough support which I feel is important when entering University. My experience has shown me that I have patience, and I have developed the ability to communicate using a computer. One course introduced me to the way history plays a very important part in the how we live today. I have the ability to work on my own, although I can work with others when required.

A mature student in my mid twenties, I was married with a two year old child when I came to University. The previous year I spent juggling A level courses with full time care for my daughter. I felt very able to cope with managing my own studies after that intense training course. I was extremely enthusiastic about combining computer skills with my studies. It has made me feel less out of touch with the way technology has progressed since I left school.

During my first semester I gained confidence in my own skills. My essay writing skills improved and (at last) I feel I understand what is being asked of me. I think this is largely due to a sense of belonging within the university. Studying A Levels felt very isolated, as I did not belong to a class and had no peers to talk to. In the university I have met many like minded people who are supportive and understanding.

At the beginning of semester one I could have listed numerous bad points regarding administration, financial services and timetable queries. However, as the weeks went on and I became familiar with the "system", problems were solved. It just takes a while gaining confidence with the surroundings before you can relax and concentrate on the important matter of studying.

Returning to study via an Access course

Before I started University I embarked on an access course to refamiliarise myself with formal learning. Prior to this I had not been in full time education for nine years. As a result of the Access course I was prepared for University study. My understanding of university was that a lot of the work I would have to do myself and within groups. I was very enthusiastic for new technologies, as I felt I did not want to go into the year 2000 computer illiterate. I was confident and prepared for a challenge.

I must admit my ideas about myself and abilities have changed and I am becoming very aware that my abilities depend on how hard I work and how far I want to push myself. I think my ideas have changed, largely, because with interacting with others I realise how little I know. One of the good points about my experience is that I have learnt how to share with others through discussion and group work. Working to strict deadlines is beginning to discipline my time management. A bad point is having less tutor contact than I got accustomed to in college.

I left school 14 years ago. I completed an access course but it did not properly prepare me for University. I felt completely lost initially. However, I had the support of good friends. I was apprehensive of computers. I did not think I could possibly write an essay on the subjects I was given in my first semester. One module required me to send the essay by email. I had only heard of email on the telly. Yet I feel I have learnt a lot, academically and technologically, in the past 12 weeks. I was worried that my younger counterparts would leave me feeling thick and old, but that has not been the case. I am more confident and amazed at passing my first module. I now know that if I put my brain into gear, I will be able to achieve anything.


The good impact the university had on me is that I now see myself as an autonomous person. It is a big change in myself. Something that helped the development of my independent thinking was mixing with different people and being aware of different cultures and backgrounds. I have learnt to respect diversity in people and work together in one environment. The bad side of this is stress as I struggle to combine my studies and my family life, with no time for a separate social life. A student centred university is good in that it develops autonomous learning and changes the student life style for the better. Encouraging self reliance and initiative means students tend to reach their potential. But it is hard work and stressful.

Many times I had the opportunity to improve my autonomous learning skills by asking other students or friends about issues related to my studies. For example, I took advise about my draft essay and this way I learnt what I had to do in to write a good essay.

Confidence confidence poem

When I began I was not very confident, but talking through my problems with the tutors and fellow students helped me a lot. University helps you become more independent by giving you your course syllabus and then letting you get on with it. If you get stuck there are help desks.

I like it that we do most of the work by our selves and it has built up my confidence. I do wish there was more interaction between lecturer and students at the seminars.

I think a student-centred university is a good thing because students benefit. We learn much more from autonomous learning than from studies completely directed by a tutor. Autonomous learning also helps in gaining confidence, being self-motivated and making decisions. Choosing our own modules helps us become more self-directed as we choose what interests us. Self-confidence, motivation and the ability to make our own decisions are all skills we will need when we leave university to find employment.

I am now a lot more confident with computers. This was achieved via autonomous learning as no tutor has ever sat down at a computer with me to guide me through it.

The style of teaching on the SHE module was very new to me at the beginning of the semester. It has made me more confident in using the computer and email. I most definitely view myself better for the experience.

At the moment I do not feel confident enough in my work to consider having an extract put on the web.

I was able to show myself I had the confidence to do group presentations. We arranged meetings, discussed the work, sorted out the different sections and assigned them to each of the group members, and decided what visual aids we would display to our audience. This was group cooperation working to a deadline.

As the semester has progressed my self confidence has increased and I feel more able to be constructively self-critical and to recognise my strengths and weaknesses. My thoughts about myself have developed along with my understanding of what I am studying. I am more interested in the world around me and feel more knowledgeable. The bad side of all this is that I have less free time.

I originally believed that I would be given a lot more guidance. My learning was really spoon fed to me at school. I now feel much more confident about making my own decisions and finding things out for myself. This is largely down to the University's approach of not holding students' hands and doing everything for them.

My ideas about myself have not really changed that much as I have never been confident in my own ability but have always surprised myself. I have learnt how to work more effectively on my own and manage my time more efficiently. I have more confidence in my abilities as a result of the work I have done in my three modules and I have made lots of new friends who are very supportive and help me out if I have any problems.

When I started I thought I was out of my depth and believed everyone knew more than I. I have now become more confident and am able to voice my opinions in a non-patronising manner. I now feel I am quite capable of completing my degree and producing work of a good standard, which is quite opposite to how I felt when I started.


University has made me aware that lot of determination can provide a great deal of opportunity.

University has made me see that I am a very determined person as I handed my work in time and met the deadlines. I have realised I am a hard worker and that I work best under pressure.

I now realise that successful studying requires more than just determination, although it is a good start. I now know that I need to allow myself time to think about and discuss my work with others, before putting pen to paper.


The friends I made have all been very supportive to my learning, especially my flat mate who helped me through the computer stale-mates that I faced.

Living on my own for the first time I have developed in character as I have had to make new friends and look after myself. I do miss home and having not been home for about three months it sometimes gets me a bit down. However, when I am home I am sure I will miss University.

I live in halls and there are a number of people who I am friendly with who are doing the same modules. If anybody had a problem we worked on it together. I do think that this is a good idea because it is almost impossible to work on your own when you come across problems and knowing someone else with the same problem was a great help. We were encouraged to form self-help groups that met regularly, but I found it difficult to form a group able to meet at the same time as people had classes at different times.

I found the self-help group we formed on one module very useful in enabling me to make more friends and feel more at home in a new situation. It helped me to settle in to my new environment. However, I regret that (on a modular course) we will not be in the same classes throughout our three years. It would be good to be able to build life-long networks of friends one could turn to.

In my self-help group I made friends with people from 11different cultures and backgrounds, which then allowed me to use their different opinions and perspectives in my work.

I interact more with other people now than before because I always want to know how to explore the web more efficiently to gain more information. I encourage my friends to come over to me so we work together in groups.


I felt very independent living away from home and thought I had achieved a lot to gain a place at Middlesex. At the end of the first semester I have not reached the goals I intended to. University is much harder than I expected and I could have worked harder. I have learnt a lot so far and it has enabled me to be more independent about my studies which will be very beneficial for me in later life. But I did not really enjoy my first semester. The majority of my work all had to be handed in together which put a great strain on me - Although I think this was my fault as I left a lot of the work to the last minute.


I have become a bit more lazy as I have no one telling me what to do.


Overall university has not had a very good effect on me. I find it much more lonely and feel more isolated from every one else than I did when I was at college.


At the beginning I thought I could not manage because of the work load and the computing system. As I carried on, my ideas about myself and my abilities changed. I now feel more confident. I trust myself more than ever. My abilities progress so quickly that it gives me comfort all the time. One reason I have changed is the idea that I am here to make mistakes and learn from doing so, and also from others. The positive effects are the learning atmosphere and friendships, including people from different cultures and backgrounds. The negative effects are the stress, especially when the computers do not work easily, and also the work load towards the end of the semester.

Open Minded

I have become a lot more open minded. I have met people with very different backgrounds to me and I have learnt a lot from this.


I feel that I have learnt a lot from being a self-managing learner as it has allowed me to organise my work and arrange my time. It has also given me research skills to help me though my assignments. I have met people through the study groups that I may not have met if we did not have to be autonomous learners. This is good as the groups offer a lot of peer support and help when you are stuck.


I had left school some years when I decided to do an Access course. It was very panicking. I did not know what to expect from university. I was scared I would not be able to cope with the studies. I had hoped to follow instructions from tutors who would give support when I needed it. The Access course showed me that University was not going to be easy, but I determined to do it and I have managed up to this time. My writing and communication have improved and I have gained confidence through presentations. I have had a very positive experience of group working which has effectively broadened my knowledge through sharing ideas and helping each other. But I still feel frustrated when I do not get the support I feel I need.


I really did not think I was academically capable of going to university. When I was at school I was at the bottom of everything. I had no confidence because I always felt like the Class Dunce. After passing an Access course my confidence in myself rose dramatically. I still have doubts about being capable of the work that is expected of me. The tutors seem to think I am capable of the work - so maybe I need to pay a bit more attention to them. I have the determination and motivation to stick at it and I think that is half the battle.

I kept wondering how long it would take someone to realise that I really should not be here, that I am really not that clever and it was just a fluke that I got in. My confidence was at a pretty low ebb. It is quite an achievement for me that I am slowly gaining the confidence to accept my own ideas. At the same time, my ideas about myself are changing in that I feel that I belong here and that I am embarking on an important stage in my life, which is really exciting and fulfilling. On the negative side I am becoming more selfish and inward looking. Sometimes a feel like a teenager again and forget that I have other priorities - but not for long.


Before starting university I was quiet, easy going and shy. Walking into my first lecture was a shock because I did not realise I would be in a room with two hundred other people. I am only used to about 25 people in a room at any one time. Since then I have learnt a lot about myself and other people. But I do find my modules difficult and I am still trying to find my feet. I find classes hard to understand, but being part of a group on some modules has helped a lot. Now I have a lot more confidence and can carry out tasks responsibly without the help of others. One module helped me recognise what my weaknesses are and what my strengths are when writing essays. I liked the idea of getting feedback from other people who have read my draft essay and could tell me my good and bad points. Now I feel more confident about talking to people and getting feedback as well as giving it. All this is new to me.

Web Working

I regularly correspond by email and always use the web to complement my information from the library.

I have had easy access to the Web from a home computer. The Web has been very positive as it has kept me abreast and I can go to the site pages from home and not wait for the University computers which are constantly busy. I do not think that having easy access to the Web has deterred me from reading. If anything it guided me where to go for reading material. Using the Web and email has been an active experience, directing me to further reading and bringing up ideas which I have gone on to share with others. It has been a forum for discussion.

Study Link
Andrew Roberts' web Study Guide
Top of Page Take a Break - Read a Poem
Click coloured words to go where you want

Andrew Roberts likes to hear from users:
To contact him, please use the Communication Form

Click for Contents List

See also tips from students on:

Career Skills


Student Centred
Web Working