My First Semester at The University of Edinburgh

One of our first year writers looks back on her first semester at Edinburgh Uni.

By Eleanor McKie

Edinburgh was the end game since I left primary school. As cliché as it sounds, I knew I wanted to go to Edinburgh before I knew what I wanted to study.

Throughout the Nat 5s, the Highers (not advanced because honestly, I skived sixth year) Edinburgh was always on my mind. It was the goal. There was just something about this gorgeous city that was a driving force, why wouldn’t I want to study here? The history, the culture; and Edinburgh sits 20th in the QS 2020 University rankings worldwide. As well as being one of the best student cities in the UK, Edinburgh is also only an hour away from my home so I can see my dog whenever I want.

It seemed stupid to not want it. I was the first person in my year to send away my UCAS application because I just needed to know. Then, about a year ago, I got my unconditional for English Literature and History while sitting in Morrison’s car park in Stranraer- where my now ex-boyfriend was frankly embarrassed by my excitement (fellas take the hint, if she’s proud of herself you’re proud of her too). But he just didn’t get it. All that hard work had finally paid off. 

Edinburgh’s Old Town

What I later found out is that of all the 197 universities in the U.K., Edinburgh is the third worst for taking private school children and really with my grades, I only had a one in ten chance of getting in. So yes, being a student at Edinburgh University is something to be proud of. 

However, to tell the truth, it is hard to not feel a little out of the loop sometimes. Although this is for all intents and purposes a Scottish university, first year doesn’t necessarily cooperate with the Scottish education system. As someone who only took history at Higher level I do occasionally see gaps between myself and other students who maybe took it to A level or some other higher form of qualification. So, although its only my first year, I guess I have my work cut out for me in filling in the gaps. 

In more specific terms, a typical day at the University of Edinburgh can honestly be anything you want it to be, regardless of your subject. If you choose to attend those gruelling 9ams, that potentially means a walk in the welcoming Scottish weather. I have friends who have no choice but to get a bus or walk half an hour up hill. But on the good days, when the rising sun is shining over the Crags, it is worth it. 

Undoubtedly, the worst aspect of university living is accommodation. It is February and my radiator does not work properly. My flatmates don’t really clean up after themselves, my headlight has broken since November and one tiny fridge between five people is a struggle to say the least. Frugal, is one word. The worst night was when I came back after being at home and my radiator was only producing a tiny bit of heat. I also have a massive single paned Victorian window. I’m sure you can imagine what my room is like. The repair man said that because my radiator was producing heat (the tiniest bit) he had to class it as working and because it was ‘working’ I wasn’t entitled to a portable heater. After some diplomacy, the man said there simply weren’t enough radiators for everyone with a dodgy radiator such as me. An electric blanket and hot water bottle are therefore a must.  

As for lectures, I’ve also found there’s no exact science to taking notes. Sometimes I write, sometimes I type and sometimes I realise that I don’t have a clue what’s going on; so I save the replay for later and watch dog videos in the meantime.

My first semester at university has also taught me that there is an exact science to finding a seat in a lecture theatre. If I’m early, I’ll sit in the middle, so no one needs to push past me during the lecture due to a lack of space. Therefore, I implore anyone reading this, if you are early to a lecture, be tactical; don’t be that person who sits on the end of the row. It’s just going to be awkward for everyone involved. 

In my case, each lecture also brings a different lecturer, and with that comes new people to sit next to. As a Scottish student, that has meant hearing ‘oh my gosh, your accent is so cute,’ or ‘I haven’t heard many Scottish accents.’ Somehow in my own capital city, I am a foreigner. 

But the diversity is a good thing. Even if that means the occasional accent barrier. It took my Canadian flatmate two weeks to figure out that when I said to him ‘y’alright,’ it was a greeting and not a threat. Edinburgh is a diverse and rich city that has a lot to offer students. After lectures, there are myriads of clubs and societies to join in your free time. Pole dancing, baking, water polo. Personally, after being involved in a stereotypical judgemental netball team at school, the high echelons of university sport didn’t appeal to me, but there are more casual teams too. I opted for the more laid-back creative writing club, and if I get my act together, I’ll look into languages as well. Even if you can’t commit to a club, the open mic nights at pleasance are great. Sometimes a little out there, but it’s inspiring to get an insight into students’ talents. 

No matter what or where you study, friendships are an important part of the university experience. I’m fortunate, many of my friends moved here too and the ones at home are only an hour away. Yet even as a self-declared introvert, I’ve made many. Through living in halls, through clubs, through tutorial groups. It’s hard not to find anyone to click with. 

Of course, the elephant in the room is the nightlife. As a Scottish student, I can attest that a night out in Edinburgh, like Glasgow, is really all my country has to offer party-goers. There are so many clubs that there’s something on (usually themed) every night of the week. However, on a Saturday night I can be found in the Wetherspoons of Dumfries as Saturday night is like a money purge in the city. 

As for prospects and what the uni has to offer, any degree from a university like this is worth a lot in the daunting world of employment. Even if you don’t know what exactly the aim of your uni game is, there’s plenty of support. One night I had my obligatory ‘what the feck am I actually doing?’ panic and within twelve hours I was in the middle of an appointment with a career advisor. One of the many advantages of the Scottish university structure (as well as being free, thank you Nicola) is that in first and second year, it’s flexible. There are so many interesting subjects on offer that it is incredibly easy to change and change again until you find what you really want to do.

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One of our first year writers looks back on her first semester at Edinburgh Uni.