And How To Make The Most Out Of It
As with the rest of life, it is hard (if not impossible) to find a one-size fits all solution to the “perfect university experience”. However, after three years of being a student at UvA, I found that there is very little information that is faculty-specific about student life. Much of my experience was a trial-and-error road full of pit-stops, bumps and some pretty bad crashes. Once you get all the practical stuff done (finding a room, signing up for health insurance, buying a bike…), students are usually left with little guidance on how to do the rest of it – which is at least the next three years of their lives. So I wanted my last article at Rostra before I graduate to fill in that gap as much as possible. Let’s talk specifically about how to make the most out of being an economics student at UvA.
This advice piece is obviously drawn from my own experience, so it is more than fair to tell you where I am coming from: I started my B.Sc. course at 20 years-old, I was born in Brazil and attended high-school in the U.S., and spent a year before UvA studying Engineering. I am an international student, who has had more than five addresses in Amsterdam, got “surprised” rained on while biking more often than I would have liked, and once called the REC library “my favorite place on earth”. In three years, I went from being a university drop-out to an Honours student graduating this July with an awesome job already lined up – and I truly hope my experience helps you on your own journey.
How To Actually Study Smart.
I know everybody says this, but it is very true: studying smarter instead of harder can exponentially increase your grades. Most articles don’t actually explain how to actually do this, so here we go:
Establish a routine. Before covid-19 lockdowns, I totally overlooked this advice. However, it quickly became very clear that having a time designated for “not studying” increased my focus and effectiveness when I actually sat down to study. I suggest having a general wake-up time, lunch time, dinner time and leisure time (such as a no-study rule after 8 p.m. unless it’s exam week.)
Separate spaces for sleeping, eating and studying. If, like most students, your bedroom doubles as a study room which doubles as a dining table, you need to find somewhere where you can focus only on studying. This is usually the library – get to know it; it will become your favorite place over time and increase your quality of life. If you compartmentalize your spaces, your brain will not let you when you really need to focus. Besides, it’s always nice to be the person in the friend group who’s always around the university – that means coffee and cookies time with whoever is around! (I missed this a lot during Covid-19 lockdownds, but hopefully you will be able to do this in the next year!)
Google methods of note-taking, and try out different ones. Try typing up weekly summaries of your courses. Try explaining course material to your friends and quizzing each other. Try writing a paragraph of what you learned by the end of the day, or formulating questions for your lectures/seminar teacher beforehand. Finding the best study method is all about trying different things, there is no one-size fits all solution, no matter what Harry Potter-looking “How To Get Into Harvard” Youtubers say. That being said, always make sure to read the chapters, attend the tutorials and pay special attention to the homework (even if you are not sure about what to do), these questions are probably going to be part of the exam.
Take Electives And/or Join The Honours Programme.
Now that my amazing advice got you a 10 in all your courses and you started feeling a bit bored, don’t forget about electives. You can take them as soon as in your first-year and in any (I repeat any) faculty of the University of Amsterdam. Last semester, I was able to take coding courses with second-year students in the Artificial Intelligence faculty – where else but university can you say you did that? You can even apply to take electives at other universities, like the VU or University of Utrecht (that goes for third-year minors as well!). Taking electives might sound like unnecessary coursework that will not count towards those 180 EC that you need to graduate. Well, you are 100% correct (except if you take electives from the recommended electives list, those might count!). And by the way, one of the electives in that list is a free Dutch language course for international students!
However, taking interesting electives will also look amazing on your CV and make you sound like a more well-rounded individual in job interviews. Employers are increasingly looking for multi-skilled students (a 7.5 GPA Economics student that also knows how to code might be more valuable for a shiny tech company than a 9.0 GPA Economics student, and the same logic goes for a marketing company, or an energy company, and so on…).
Plus, it gives you the option to explore other fields that might be interesting to you and keeps you excited about going to class and applying yourself to university. After all, being intellectually curious is what got you here in the first place!
ALL KNOWLEDGE IS CONNECTED TO ALL OTHER KNOWLEDGE. THE FUN IS IN MAKING THE CONNECTIONS. – Arthur Aufderheide
The Honours Programme requires more commitment than taking a few random electives: it is a three-year programme with a limited course list, that has both GPA and course-passing requirements. It is not for everyone, but it will definitely look good on your CV and differentiate you from other students. At the end of three years, you even get a second graduation ceremony and an Honours programme diploma.
All courses are interdisciplinary, and the programme gives you access to a lot of AUC courses (the sister school of UvA, but with more liberal-arts courses and teaching style that a lot of students appreciate). As an Honours student, I also got to be part of the Honours student council that is a lot more close-knit and has fewer responsibilities than a faculty council, but just as much leadership potential and a lot more space for creativity and change.
Don’t waste time to start applying for internships.
A lot of students think that internships will only be possible in their third-year, but this is the farthest thing from the truth. The earlier you get internships, the more experience (and thus the more chances of being successful) you will have when it’s time to apply for that “dream job” when you graduate. If you are planning on doing a Masters degree instead, having a second-year summer internship on your application can show your commitment to the field and to challenging yourself.
For the economics students interested in banking & finance, it is worth applying for “spring week” opportunities that are usually based in the U.K. (but I have found some in Germany and France as well). Those are very early opportunities to get to know the industry, establish connections and figure out if that’s something you would like doing. Most applications open around September, so you can apply even before you start university! (you might want to wait until you have some impressive grades to show for it, though). You should also register with the FSA (The Financial Study Association) to check out when companies are having “get to know me” days that can be very helpful in getting to know the industry they operate in, what skills they are looking for, and if it would be something that could fit your interests,
For your first-year, make sure you focus on your grades. If you can, stay away from working student jobs (again, only if you are financially able to). Once you have a solid transcript, start applying for summer internships. A good place to start is Linkedin Jobs (I found my second-year internship through there!). If you are an international student, make sure to apply in advance (2-4 weeks) for a Nuffic Agreement with the university’s career center (they are all super nice and willing to help so don’t be shy!). Make sure you have an elegant resume (the career center also has an online tool for that) and a motivation letter that is specific to the role, the company and mentions some of the things that were cited in the job description (for example, if they say they want someone detailed-oriented, talk briefly about how you are attentive to details and how that helped you in some area of your life). Always have questions prepared for the interviewer about the role, and don’t forget to just be yourself!
Don’t be afraid to ask for extra help.
How can I emphasize this more? Don’t be afraid to ask for extra help, but in bold? Seriously, don’t be. Figure out what it is that you need, and ask help for it. If you need to ask questions to a professor and can’t do it in the lecture hall, approach them during the break or email them about office hours. If you need the solution of a specific problem explained in more detail, email the seminar teacher or ask them after the tutorial. If you need to miss a mandatory tutorial, email the seminar teacher in advance and explain why. If you are scared of taking an elective because you don’t know if you can handle it, email the course coordinator and ask for more information about the course (such as prerequisites, recommended knowledge, course commitment). Book an appointment with a study advisor to figure out your schedule and your study plans. You can ask absolutely anyone at the university for extra help – I am willing to bet that you can even approach a stranger in the REC building and be studying with them for Financial Accounting a few minutes later.
Even if you don’t think they can do anything for you, it never hurts to ask. There are so many things that I could have resolved in minutes instead of weeks if only I had asked for help when I needed it!
Finally, join a student organization that you are passionate about – such as Rostra Economica!
Once you have figured out your favorite style of studying, have decided on what electives you would be interested in, have applied for some career days and have a clearer idea about what you want to get out of university – apply for a student organization! I am not going to lie to you: it can be a lot of work and commitment to a team of people you have never met. But if you are passionate about the subject, and willing to commit to the work, being part of something bigger can be very rewarding and those strangers in your team can eventually become your closest friends.
In summary, don’t be a “reactive” student. Don’t only do things when they are thrown out your way, or when you are required to. Seek out opportunities, try out new things, make unexpected friendships, ask for help and be proactive in your experience. By being the protagonist of your university journey, you will not only have more success in achieving your goals (whichever they are), but you will enjoy the university experience a lot more and with a bit of luck even make it the “perfect university experience” for you.
The Practical Stuff:
Don’t get rained on. Download “buienalarm”. Check it before you start biking – it’s weirdly accurate and precise.
Buy books from UvABooks. It’s a student-run app that lets you sell and buy books from other UvA students for a fraction of the original price.
You can borrow chromebooks for free from the library if your laptop stops working. The maximum rental period is 14 days, but they will likely extend it upon request. You can also rent macbooks and ipads from https://studiepc.nl/ . Get a 10% discount code here.
Every library has a cafeteria with lunch deals that go as low as €2,50 for a sandwich, a fruit and a drink. There are also very trendy food stands available at the REC that change every two to four weeks.
Need extra cash? sign up for experiments at the https://www.creedexperiment.nl/. You can €20 to €40 for participating in 2-hour experiments.
Sefa has a lot of events and parties for free or very low prices! Make sure you sign up at the start of your B.Sc. for a premium account. It’s very much worth it! The FSA also helps a lot when finding a job (they do masterclasses and projects with companies around Amsterdam). Sign up.
You can learn Dutch for free at the university (check the electives section for a link to recommended electives). You can also learn coding for free.