University of Portsmouth's History Blog

Third-year history – don’t be daunted and have confidence you will be OK

Ben Humphreys, who graduated in history with the UoP this year, expected to find his third year of history studies hard but actually found he had acquired the skills and resilience in his previous two years of study to get through the third year smoothly.  

There are a lot of assumptions that the third year of university is the hardest both in terms of quantity and quality of work.  There’s also a huge assumption that the first year is a walk in the park – just fun and games and a busy social life. To be honest, I found first year really hard; I struggled to understand what was expected of me and how to start thinking subjectively about the sources I was reading. Not just to read and accept it but to question it. I think taking a gap year had slightly blunted my intellectual prowess and I felt like my peers were much more switched on than I was. I was also struggling with mental health issues. Regardless, the jump to first year was my biggest challenge and my second and third years were much smoother for me. I knew how to approach the various types of assignments and how to pick apart primary and secondary sources. By the third year I was a lot closer to my lecturers, seminar leaders and peers, which made my third year so much more comfortable. I hope that my experience resonates with some of you and if it does, rest assured third year will be okay!

As I mentioned above, you will know how to complete the third year assignments from your previous two years of experience. The word count is usually just increased by 500 words which actually allows you to really tackle the question in hand. The real challenge is of course, your dissertation. 10,000 words may seem daunting and it is a serious undertaking. However, it’s split into three, 3,000 word chapters, an introduction and a conclusion – which breaks it down for you nicely. The best advice I can give is to spend a good amount of time finding a topic you really love – if you enjoy it, the journey will be so much easier. Make sure you build a good working relationship with your dissertation supervisor and seek them out often. Typically, I met with my supervisor every fortnight, which kept me on track whilst juggling other assignments. It also pushed me to spend regular time on it because I didn’t want to turn up with nothing to say! Some of my peers didn’t see their tutors for months on end which was crazy; they are there to support and guide you. Use them to your full advantage.

Ben Humphreys playing rugby.

Ben found playing rugby invaluable in giving him energy and focus for his studies.


A balanced work / social life is so important and there’s two main points to get across here. Firstly, stay active. Continue to play sport or exercise. If you aren’t physically active, get active. I probably wouldn’t have made it through university if I wasn’t playing rugby throughout my years. It cleared my head, improved my university experience exponentially and gave me energy to study. Also, its potentially your last year of university so make the most of the widest range of sports clubs accessible to you, ever. Secondly, don’t spend all day in the library. Some of my peers were in there from 8 until 6, but didn’t seem to get much work done. Go in there for between one and four hours and have a productive, focused study session.

Another piece of advice is to get closer with your year group. I only became closer to them in the latter half of my university experience, because of my own personal problems and I would change that if I could. Getting closer to my peers made the course so much more enjoyable and the presentations that much easier. It was easier to present to a group of friends than a group of strangers.

Finally, careers. Now if you are anything like me, you don’t want to even hear about career prospects until after third year. I just wanted to concentrate on getting a good degree and I think that’s fair enough. I had also hoped that by third year my career plans would have materialised out of somewhere but no. I still don’t know what I want, and if you don’t either – that’s okay! There’s also no timeline to follow here. You’ve probably all had it, when people ask you what you do, they ask what you are going to do with your degree or what you want to do after. There’s an expectation that graduates have to leave university immediately to become a high flier or a CEO or something. Don’t be fooled and don’t compare yourself to others. Your twenties are a weird time period where there’s not a particular mould or pathway to fit into. So don’t worry if you haven’t got it figured out yet, I graduated last year and I don’t either.

Oh and don’t worry, there’s life after university.’

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