9 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started University
Hey world, your gal is officially a grad! Well, not officially, per se. Until my final grade slides into my inbox and I’ve donned the ol’ cap and gown, I can’t really call myself a graduate. But we did it, lads, we did it!
As this chapter of my life comes to a close and I no longer have to read another bloody book for academic purposes (can I get a freakin’ hallelujah up in here?!), I find myself reflecting on my university experience. And having not had your typical university experience by any stretch of the imagination, I think it is important for me to disrupt the narrative that says university has to be ‘the best years of your life’. Well, I’m calling bullshit.
It might seem that a lot of my experience is symptomatic of November 2016 and dropping out of university. I mean, that’s not normal. But to be honest, my university experience wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows before I dropped out either. I never found my people and I never lived the uni life. Not even as a fresher. But you know what? That’s okay! So without further ado, here are 9 things I wish I knew when I started university.
1. Your university years don’t have to be the best years of your life
One of the biggest lessons I have learnt from university is that you don’t need to subscribe to other people’s idea of fun. A good time looks different for everyone. And my university experience has been far from stereotypical. No binge drinking. No parties. No sleeping around. No communal living. No close-knit group of friends. No fun. A lot of loss. A lot of pain. A lot of loneliness. A lot of boredom. But I also left university with a lot of money earnt, a lot of experience, a lot of travelling, a multi-award-winning business, and a fantastic graduate job.
And to achieve those things, I have had to make a lot of sacrifices by way of my social life. (There have been bloody amazing moments too, don’t you worry! And for the most part, I have been really happy.) But to think my university years would be the best years of my life is, quite frankly, depressing. You mean to tell me that my life is only going to go downhill for the next
touch wood sixty-odd years of my life? Sounds like a pretty shit deal to me.
Never, and I repeat, never let the suffocating student stereotype pressure you into acting a certain way at uni. Whilst I LOVE a good night out as much as the next person, you don’t need to go out every single night to be happy. Plus, while it may look like everyone is out having a great time, I can guarantee you that half the people in the club are there purely for the ‘gram or are already dreaming of the kebab and cheesy chips they are going to devour on their way home, instead of enjoying the moment.
2. You don’t have to find your #squad
Although university is all about “finding your friends for life” (boy, how many times have I had that one shoved down my throat), a lot of people probably won’t remain friends once they are out of the uni bubble. You’ll have plenty more opportunities to make friends down the line, whether at work or elsewhere. Spoiler alert: our life doesn’t have an expiration date of 22 years.
Personally, I never really met my people at university. When my sister died and I dropped out of university, I lost 95% of the friends I had made in my first year. Life experiences like that really do show you who actually cares. And the answer is often sadly very few. Plus, when I came back to retake my second year, the very few friends I still had were very close to graduating. So I spent my final year of university living alone in a studio with practically no friends.
I’ll admit that I could have made more of an effort to make pals in my final year. My lack of mates was totally self-inflicted. An introverted lifestyle of working long hours in your part-time job, running your own business and applying for graduate jobs isn’t particularly conducive to making friends. However, even in first year when I wasn’t doing any of these things and I was going out a lot more, I still struggled to find people I properly clicked with and had a lot in common with. But that’s okay. As long as you’ve got a couple of good friends to keep you sane, you can survive without #squadgoals.
3. Long distance relationships can work
Whilst this was never actually a genuine concern of mine and I always knew Gaz and I were capable of surviving long distance (or anything, to be honest), it still really frustrates me when I read tweets saying something along the lines of “You’re off to uni? Make the most of your final week with your s/o because you’ll have broken up by reading week”. I’m sorry but bore off.
Just because an integral part of many students’ experiences is experimenting with loads of people (no shade to people who do this, you go get it boo – I live vicariously through my mates, just as they do with me), it doesn’t mean that this has to be the norm for everyone. You don’t have to give into the illusion of choice, one of the biggest pitfalls of 21st-century dating. Okay, rant over.
To anyone who is entering university in a relationship that they care deeply about, just know that it can work. Fast forward almost five and a half years of long distance later, and my boyfriend and I are finally moving in together in just two months time. Long distance can be tough at times, but oh boy, is it 100% worth it!
4. Everyone has a degree nowadays so you have to make yourself stand out
I’ve worked hard all these years for amazing grades to get into university so surely I can walk out of uni straight into an awesome grad job, right? Wrong. Whilst I was never really under this impression, a lot of students are. Suddenly they are thrust out into the big, bad world and realise, shit, I’m going to have to do something to stand out from the crowd.
Instead of worrying, many students instead opt to not think about post-grad life until, well, it knocks on their door. And whilst those students probably enjoy their university experience far more than I did, I definitely do not regret working hard to differentiate myself to get a great job. Plus, when you have four-month long summers at your disposal, you can totally play hard during the year and work hard in the summer to get experience. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.
5. A 2.1 will become the new A*
Oh boy, how I have gone from getting straight A*s at GCSE and A Level to being absolutely elated with a high 2.2 or scraping a 2.1 is beyond me. Unlike school where, aside from a few extracurricular activities, you are defined solely by your academic achievements, there are so many other things to do at university.
Whether you hold a position of responsibility in a society, work part-time, or have a side hustle, university isn’t all about the grades. In fact, I believe it’s only a very tiny part of the experience. Only a select few people actually graduate with a first from university. So I would rather graduate with a 2.1 while getting more experience and having fun, than graduate with a first, any day of the week.
6. Success is different for everyone
Throughout your childhood and teenage years, you are on a very strict conveyor belt of education, working for the next qualification to take you to the next qualification. However, when you’re on the brink of graduating from university, everyone’s lives begin to head off in completely different directions. Some will travel the world, some will do a masters, some will move home, and some will start a graduate position in the Big Smoke.
Success to someone else may not look like success to you, and vice versa. At the end of the day, as long as you are happy, have got a roof over your head and can afford to put food on your plate, that may be the ultimate success. Comparing yourself to others is a futile exercise. And to be honest, the grass will always seem greener. Express gratitude for what you have and be proud that you’ve even got a degree in the first place!
7. Everyone studies in different ways
Some people are early birds whereas others are total night owls. Some prefer to attend every seminar possible whereas others thrive off independent learning. Some prefer to type up everything whereas others are all about putting that pen to paper. What I’m trying to say is that every student is totally different. What works for someone else might not work for you. And that’s okay. You do you boo.
I, for one, cannot stand studying on campus. But 90% of the people I know love it. And, in fact, they are only productive if they are on campus. I don’t think I could think of anything worse. I need to sit in complete silence by myself. Whether it’s getting distracted by all the food outlets on campus and forking out 5 quid for meal deals I don’t need or getting distracted by everyone around me (I can’t deny I love a good people watch), I just can’t study on campus. Don’t feel pressure to study with your mates if that environment doesn’t do bits for you.
8. No one’s gonna chase you for work – you either do it or you don’t
If you’re one of those people who hated teacher’s telling you off every two seconds in school, you’re in luck. Because at university, lecturers will never chase you for work. And, frankly, they often don’t really give two shits.
Most undergraduates will have very limited contact hours. So show up and put the work in. ‘Cause otherwise, you’ll fall into the trap of doing approximately shit all for three years. You need to be self-motivated at university, especially if you are an English major like myself, where I basically had to teach myself the entire curriculum for three years.
9. Pretty much everyone else is as clueless as you are
From someone who hates nothing more than speaking up in a seminar and thus gives the impression – and rightly so – that they have no idea what is going on, comparison can be a bitch. This is especially the case for someone who was used to being top of the class at high school. You now find yourself at a top university where everyone seems intelligent beyond compare.
But believe me, just because they talk the talk, it doesn’t mean that the person yabbering away in the corner is any smarter or more clued up than you. While some people are amazingly good at giving the impression of having a higher brain function (note: nodding along always does the trick), the fact is that the majority of students are just as clueless as you are. You’re good, don’t worry.
I hope you all enjoyed reading this blog post! It is a little more personal but I think it is important to talk about these things. Please let me know in the comments below something you wish you knew when you started university.
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