PASS-ing with flying colours: Rachel Cox
Sometimes, we all need a little help from our friends – even those we haven’t met yet.
At The University of Manchester, our Peer Assisted Study Sessions (better known as PASS) provide a relaxed and informal environment for students to access the support they need from fellow students in the year above.
“During my first year at The University of Manchester, I attended a weekly hour session known as PASS. Though I received a lot of amazing help from my lecturers and seminar leaders, PASS provided me with very recent insight – both with coursework help and tips for life as a student. The PASS leaders are second-to-final-year students who have been through similar experiences to us during their first and second years.
“Of course it was important to address any specific coursework and exam content requests with the academic staff leading the module; however, seeing assignment examples for context was very reassuring given that I was used to having something re-marked a few times before final submission at college and high school.
Getting to know the group
“The group was formed of around ten to 20 new students within my course discipline (Fashion Buying and Merchandising) and we had three PASS leaders supporting us each week. They were extremely sociable and approachable throughout each session. The session was allocated on our academic timetables for us to attend. At first, it was very easy to not attend given my own mental health challenges and social anxiety.
“However, once I gave it a chance and built a rapport with the leaders, I found it very easy to engage with the sessions. Given that it was experienced students holding the sessions, we got a lot of practical good hints and tips for where to find helpful resources that they’d researched, as well as general wellbeing tips including looking for student housing.
“During the second week, the academic lead running the PASS session had set up an activity in the Sackville Street Building Great Hall with all PASS groups and leaders from our year. We had half an hour to dress two people in an outfit made by our group members from bin bags, newspaper and other materials. I (all five feet of me) ended up being nominated to model and, as you can imagine, for someone with huge social anxiety, this was terrifying to have to do in front of a room of around 100 people.
“In the end though, it was really fun to see everyone’s creativity and I had a really good laugh at how ridiculous we looked with a bin bag dress over our clothes! Seeing the cringeworthy photos again during a final year celebration also made it a really fun and hilarious memory to have from our first few weeks as undergrads. No regrets at all!
Flexible, rewarding sessions
“The sessions were similar to seminars, providing more of a classroom atmosphere than lectures. At first, the leaders set topics and tasks for the sessions. As we got further into the first semester, however, we all found that it worked better for our group to say what we wanted to cover in the next session so we really got the specific support we needed. Discussions helped us to share our experiences so far as new students. For our degree programme, we had the option to complete an industrial placement or year studying abroad.
“Our PASS leaders were in the year where they were applying for these opportunities for their third year, so it was extremely helpful to receive support and advice for placements (and general job applications) a year early. A couple of sessions also involved work on our CVs and cover letters. It was great to see CVs of more experienced students who had received placement and job offers, and to have a standard to work towards when it came to applying for positions within the fashion industry specifically, and similar opportunities.
Meeting people and building confidence
“Since being part of the scheme as a first-year student I have since kept in touch with my PASS leaders, which has been really helpful for work during my current internship at the University and previously for further advice on final-year projects (for us, the mammoth but brilliant Business or Fashion projects).
“Overall, I was so happy with how much the group built my confidence. It was great to be able to meet and get to know fellow coursemates and to share experiences with different people from who we sat with in lectures and our housemates. I felt that I learnt to really own my work and practice a good amount of autonomy with each assignment.
“For someone who found it extremely anxiety-driven to attend things from a social perspective too, it provided a nice structured time to attend something I knew would end at a certain time. Plus, as I already mentioned, any hints and tips for getting those extra couple of marks on an assignment is always a bonus!”