BA: An Insider's Guide

BA: An Insider's Guide

by Rebecca Jury


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BA: An Insider's Guide by Rebecca Jury

Offering 10 steps to obtaining an arts degree at a New Zealand university, this handbook serves as a roadmap for students to discover success in college. From finding the best snacks on campus to realizing your lecturer is a fellow human being, this guide answers the important questions, including What is a bachelor’s degree all about? How does one decide which courses to take? and What is a tutorial? Anyone interested achieving work-life balance, improving study habits, conquering essays and exams—all while having fun along the way—will benefit from this reference.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781869405779
Publisher: Auckland University Press
Publication date: 05/01/2012
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 1.25(h) x 9.00(d)

About the Author

Rebecca Jury is a former university tutor and youth counselor. Currently, she is an English and social studies high school teacher at Rongotai College in New Zealand.

Read an Excerpt


An Insider's Guide

By Rebecca Jury

Auckland University Press

Copyright © 2012 Rebecca Jury
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-86940-578-6


Step 1

Want it

I've been there. It's a crazy, weird time as you try to plan your academic future. You've decided (or at least someone has decided) that you're going to university. Now you're on a 30-metre diving board and your university career is stretched out in front of you like an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Are you brave enough to take the plunge into this new world? Are you strong enough to be able to get to the other end? Is it worth the effort?

I've been on that board. I've taken the plunge. I've swum right down to the other end.

I'm remembering what I was thinking when it was me up there. Commitment. Money. Time. I'd just returned from my first OE and was painfully aware of what else fifteen grand could buy. I did a rough calculation of how many countries I could visit in the time it would take me to complete my degree and seriously considered recalling my enrolment. I was thinking about failure. What if I wasn't smart enough to do well at uni? What if all that commitment would be for nothing? What if my degree didn't get me anywhere? What if a Bachelor of Arts really did stand for Bugger All in the real world?

If you don't want an arts degree, stop now. Turn around, climb back down the ladder and come back another day. I can help you get a degree, but I can't make you want one in the first place.

If you do want one – great. Dive in now. Let's get started.

Make it official

Before we can go any further, you need to choose which university you want to go to. Choose it based on its reputation, its courses, where it is and who else is going there. Then choose a backup.

The next stage is letting them know you're interested. Call them now or go online to request an enrolment pack. Enrolling can be a long process so it's crucial to start the process off as early as possible – no commitment required, this is just the first point of contact.

Lodging your interest at two unis allows you to check them both out and then make an informed decision about which one is right for you. Plus, with entry requirements getting more selective, it pays for you to have a second option.


Step 2

Plan it

Somewhere along the way, someone started spreading the word that a BA is the course to take if you don't know what to do, and that 'BA' actually stands for 'Bugger All' – bugger all effort and bugger all use to anyone. That person was right – on one level, at least. A BA is a very interesting way to spend your time if you don't know how else to spend it and, if you don't mind low and mediocre marks, requires bugger all effort. Consequently, if you've got no real reason to get a BA and if you're just scraping through in all your assignments, your BA will be worth bugger all to you at the end.

To those who know anything about it, though, a BA doesn't stand for bugger all. BA is short for Bachelor of Arts, an internationally recognised degree founded on ancient principles of education. Technically, a BA is a degree in liberal arts – that's anything in the social sciences from English, Sociology and Media to Languages, History and Geography. Broadly speaking, though, a BA is a degree in thinking, debating, researching and arguing. It's a degree that asks why and how as well as asking what, where, when and who. It's a degree that explores the questions humans have been posing about the world for thousands of years.

While people (often those enrolled in other degrees) do love to mock the BA, if you've got a clear reason for getting one and you do justice to that reason while you're at uni, it's going to be worth heaps to you at the end. I know this because I did, and mine is. My BA shows the world not only that I am familiar with the theories of my subject area, but also that I know how to argue for and against them. It shows that I can think at a tertiary level, that I can do so under pressure, and with great results. It shows that I was prepared to commit to the long journey of getting a degree.

At the end of your time as a student, your BA will reflect the effort you have invested in it. The first investment you should make into your degree is planning. And the first thing you need to plan out is your reason for bothering.

Find a reason – any reason – to study

Before you can get what you want, you need to know what you want. You want a degree, but why? Why a BA? Do you want a degree that will help you get your dream job? Or do you want one to get you into a postgrad course? Do you want to learn new things, expand your mind, see the world in a new light? Or are you after something tangible to show for your intelligence?

As a teenager, I was never set on the idea of university. I left high school singing my freedom from the institution of formal education and headed straight into the world on my OE. After a year of travel and café jobs, I was ready to look for a career. Having worked with my hands in one sink or another since I was thirteen, my requirements were simple: a career that would allow me to use my language skills in a way I found meaningful, to interact with people and to keep my hands dry. After a month of gazing enviously at job positions aimed at 'candidates with at least Bachelors-level qualifications', I enrolled at uni.

While my quest for a career was what pushed me into my degree, what pulled me in was my desire to learn. I love to learn and, while I maintain that life presents opportunities to learn wherever we go, nowhere teaches you how to learn better than university. Getting a degree hasn't made me a better person, but it has made me a better learner – someone who knows how to approach an issue in order to see all sides of the story, someone for whom every answer poses another three questions, someone who knows that learning is never finished.

I went to uni to make myself eligible for the sort of job I was jealous of other people for having; you will have your own reason for being there. What that reason is doesn't matter, as long as you have one and you totally believe in it. If you decide to work as hard as I did, your uni mates (and, in weak moments, yourself) will ask why you are bothering. If you truly believe in your reason your answer will dispel any doubts; mine was always 'because I want a transcript that proves to the world I'm the best person for the job'. No one ever tried to argue with that.

Not exactly sure what you want to achieve from your degree? Think ahead to the moment you are handed your certificate, the day you take it home and put it up on the wall, the day you see your name with letters after it. Will it make you feel proud? How will your life be different? What will your degree represent to you every time you look at it? Completing a degree is inspiring, energising, rewarding and, at times, painstaking. For me, retaining a mental image of my degree hanging on my office wall put both the highs and lows of uni into perspective.

I saw my degree as my doorway into the kind of job I wanted, although I didn't know exactly what job that was. If you're doing a degree with a certain job in mind, find some ads for it on Seek or Trade Me or talk to someone currently in the position. Then, before you enrol, plan out the CV you'd need to get that sort of job. If you've got a specific postgrad course in mind, get in touch with whoever runs it and ask what you'll need to get in. You'll probably find out (possibly for the first time) what a prerequisite is. If, like me, you don't have anything that specific in mind, keep your options open.

If you want a clearer picture of what you might use your BA for professionally, there's plenty of help on offer. Google will direct you to hundreds of 'career quizzes' that ask you a series of questions then suggest potential careers options. The New Zealand government's version of this is Career Quest, which asks you 78 questions before suggesting jobs that match your personality and strengths.

As well as online help, there are careers advisers at school and uni whose job it is to help you plan your future. If you don't know what you want to do, they can help you identify your interests, choose your courses and decide what jobs to aim for; if you do know, they can steer you towards the most useful courses and give you some nifty tips on what employers like to see.

As valuable as professional help is, a lot can also be gained from talking things through with the friends and family who know you the best.

Work out how to enrol

Once you've found a reason to get a BA, you need to work out how to actually sign up for one. I never anticipated that this would involve so much choice. Having heard about people graduating with a 'BA in Sociology' or a 'BA in History', I figured that all enrolment would require me to do would be to tick the 'BA in English' box on a form, send it away and await my timetable of classes.

The enrolment 'handbook' that was delivered to me was so thick that the postman gave up trying to force it through the letterbox and left it on my doorstep. It had a smooth, glossy finish and this, along with the ecstatic-looking students on its cover, made me think that it was going to be an easy-reading guide to student life. I put on some Pink Floyd and went and sat in the sun with a beer to thumb through it.

As is my style, I opened the handbook to the middle and began to read. By the end of the first page I'd been consumed by a wave of jargon – 'course codes', 'points', 'levels' and 'EFTS' washing over my head as I sipped my beer and tried to make sense of it all. I quickly discovered that there was no prescribed 'BA in English' but a baffling array of courses from which I needed to construct my own.

Most courses were on offer in either 'Semester 1' or 'Semester 2', with some labelled 'Whole Year'. As I flicked back and forth between the calendar planner at the front and the courses in the middle, I learnt that the standard university year – generally running from February to November – is split into two semesters, which are broken up by a set of exams and then a short holiday. Semester 1 just meant the first half of the year, Semester 2 the second. I decided not to worry about Summer School – Semester 3 or Trimester 3 at some unis – for now.

The 'degree structure' diagrams at the front of the book showed that only about a third of the courses I needed for a BA in English had to be from the English schedule. The rest could be split across other courses from the Arts schedule and courses from any other school of study.

Each course was given a 'points' value: my degree required that I complete a total number of points, including a certain number at 100 level, at 200 level and at 300 level. On closer inspection, the 'level' of each course corresponded to the year of my degree in which I was recommended to complete it – the majority of 100-level courses, for example, I was expected to complete in my first year of study, 200-level courses in my second year and 300-level courses in my third year.

To make matters more complicated, each course was referred to by a 'course code'. These codes were made up of a four-letter subject code (such as ENGL for English) and a three-digit number (such as 102), which indicated its level (ENGL102 being a 100-level course) and its particular identity (in this case 02 identified it as a classic English course: '101' is widely recognised as a subject's 'original' course).

Some 100-level courses had 'C's (co-requisite courses) that I had to take at the same time, and others had 'R's (restricted courses) that I couldn't take if I had taken courses with similar content. Under every 200- and 300-level course were the 'P's (prerequisite courses) I'd need to have passed before I could be accepted into the later courses. Finally, some had 'EQ's (equivalent courses), which covered the same material but under a different subject code. Your university will have its own set of codes, courses and cryptic numbers, so read your enrolment handbook carefully and find out what all the unclear terms mean.

Even though they provide uni advisers, open days and stacks of info on their websites, I believe that universities make the enrolment process as confusing as possible as a way of weeding out uncommitted students before they get onto campus. I can't think of any other reason for it. It took me the whole afternoon to fill in my enrolment form and by the time I was finished I was exhausted, the room silent and dark, my beer still two-thirds full beside me.

Plan a degree that suits your goal

Your first consideration is your major; like the title of a book, it will tell other people what your degree is about. Your major subject will reflect what job you want (so, for example, if you wanted to be a history teacher, you'd choose History as your major) and/or what you're most interested in learning more about.

Although a BA allows you to take a wide variety of courses in the first year, the further you progress, the more specific you get. So, while courses from your major subject might only take up a small part of your first-year schedule, by third year they'll be the majority of what you study.

A wide variety of 100-level courses means lots of scope to change your major. You might find that the subject you planned to major in isn't quite how you'd imagined it. No worries – provided you've got enough points in another subject, you can change your major at the end of your first year; I'd spread my 100-level courses out so strategically that by the end of mine I could choose between English, Mass Communication and Sociology.

The main things to bear in mind are the Ps, the prerequisite courses that you have to have passed, often at a certain grade, to be allowed into the next level of study in that subject. Some courses are compulsory if you are to achieve a major in that subject; in order to meet my first-year English major requirements, for example, I had to complete ENGL102 and one other 100-level English course. While choosing a wide variety of courses is all part of the fun of first year, do it in a way that will keep as many options open for you as possible in second year.

Craft your degree

My first high-school job was as a custom sandwich maker. For three years, I spent fifteen hours a week crafting whatever kind of sandwich my customers wanted. I made sandwiches with ten kinds of meat in them; I made sandwiches that were meat-free, dairy-free and gluten-free; I made sandwiches for invalids, babies and pets. With 2340 sandwich-making hours under my belt, I believe that I've made every kind of sandwich there is to make.

Planning your degree is like crafting a sandwich. The courses you have to take to meet your major requirements (like ENGL102 in my degree) are the bread of your degree; they are non-negotiable. Whether my customers liked white, wholegrain or gluten-free, they had to have bread – or else their meal was rung onto the till as a salad. Likewise, your BA will not be a BA unless you select the courses required to meet the required points for your major subject at each level.

While the courses you need to take are the bread of your sandwich, the courses you choose to take are its fillings – the meats, cheeses, salads and spreads. While I was required to take two first-year English courses for my major, I needed to take a total of eight first-year courses for my BA, leaving me with six to choose. These courses filled in the gaps of my English degree and in doing so turned it into a unique reflection of my tastes.

You may want to work towards a 'double major'. This gives you two areas of expertise but means that you'll have twice as many compulsory subjects. It also means that your degree will be partially ready-made. Your timetable may allow you to choose different elements but you'll have less creative licence over how it's crafted. Depending on who you are, you might find this a selling point or a turn-off.

If you're in the latter group, you can look at a 'minor' subject instead of a second major. A minor is like a major but you need slightly fewer points in it, allowing you to add another course or two of your choosing. Check to see if your uni offers or is planning to offer minors; Canterbury brought in minors mid-way through my degree, at which time I'd done enough Mass Communication courses to add one in at the last minute.


Excerpted from BA by Rebecca Jury. Copyright © 2012 Rebecca Jury. Excerpted by permission of Auckland University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Step 1 Want it,
Step 2 Plan it,
Step 3 Get into debt,
Step 4 Be afraid,
Step 5 Get good habits,
Step 6 Make it fun,
Step 7 Master the essay,
Step 8 Conquer exams,
Step 9 Travel the journey,
Step 10 Use it,
Quick look-up,

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