“These are going to be the best years of your life!”
I’ve lost count of how many times this was said to me before I started university in September. It played on my mind while I was packing, when I was lying in my bed for the final night before the journey up north, then again as I sat in my room during freshers week, wishing- though uni had been a dream and a goal for years- for nothing more than to be at home with my dog, than to be heading out to another sweaty club.
Yes, going to university is without a doubt an incredible experience, and a privilege which many, in the UK and abroad, simply can’t access or afford. I feel incredibly lucky to live in a country which hosts some of the best universities in the world. So why on earth am I writing about it being ‘naff’? Having the chance to be independent at 18, with access to cheap club nights, countless ridiculous societies (Quidditch or blacksmithing, anyone?) and to be living with people your age can sound like absolute paradise… the work we pay £9,250 a year for just being secondary, right?
The “best years of your life” mentality is very dodgy ground to tread when moving into an entirely new and unfamiliar stage of life. First off, there’s the implication that it’s all downhill after these 3-5 years, so best make it bloody incredible and iconic, right? When in reality, the consequence of going to uni is gaining a degree which could put you on track for your dream job. Or, you could meet the love of your life, and leave ready to make more amazing memories with them. The list goes on. If university is the “best years of your life” then yikes for those that decide it isn’t right for them or don’t get the chance to go. I’m the first in my family to go to uni, and I’m pretty sure my family members have had some pretty fantastic life experiences.
Before firming York, I only visited the campus and city once… expecting to love and enjoy every aspect of university in the first 10 weeks is setting the bar veeeeery high. It’s incredibly difficult to get a realistic idea of what your experience will be like until you’re actually living in a place, and going through your course yourself. Before I came to York, I was under the impression that any city nightlife would be incredible- I’ve since discovered a sweaty Wednesday in Salvos really isn’t for me. You’re taking on new flatmates, a new stage of education, a new city, quite often far from home… it’s not unusual for something to not click right away. You could love every bit of university and still be unnervingly homesick, and it’s okay to admit that.
The first year of uni is a year for learning and growing; there’s a reason why your grades (generally) don’t contribute towards your final degree classification. You’re learning how to manage a workload consisting of entirely new ways of learning, all while adapting to life away from home, finding friends you really click with, new hobbies, and whether you really can manage to stumble in at 4am from a club and still make it to your 9am seminar.
When I was reunited with my friends from home at an NYE house party, the obligatory small talk question was of course “how’s uni?” to which 95% answered “it’s really great thank you, I’m really enjoying it” etc etc. I’m sure most were telling the truth, but when finally one friend told me she wasn’t in love with her course and was struggling to settle in, I was almost relieved. I then felt I could open up to her about how I really felt about uni- how I was enjoying it on the whole, but when the term ended, I couldn’t wait to yeet myself onto the train home.
We shouldn’t feel obliged to act as if every aspect of university is amazing- that’s not healthy in any stage of life, and by sharing the truth of the various ups and downs with our friends, we can rest assured that we aren’t alone. The idealization of uni culture, the images of partying every night, missing seminars, living off of takeaways… first of all, isn’t an ideal image for everyone, it’s also just plain unrealistic. When I returned to my retail job over Christmas, I made an error with the till and my co-worker joked how I must “still be in student mode”. I feel like a lot of people see university as a free ride to being lazy and chilling out for a few years, and yes there are many students that don’t help that image, but for most students I know, it just isn’t the case. We still have to pass our first year, and who can afford VK’s and cheesy chips every night anyway?
Don’t get me wrong, my first term of uni was great. I had a fab freshers week where I made some amazing friends, some of whom I’m living with next year; had the best birthday so far celebrating with friends, family and my boyfriend; dressed up as Mystery Inc for Halloween with my new mates in Leeds; tried out swing dance (and LOVED it) and enjoyed wandering around the gorgeous city that is York.
On the flip side, in the first few weeks, I felt too homesick to FaceTime my mum or dad (though I requested snap-chats of my dog every day). Joining swing dance was nerve-wracking when everyone else there seemed to already know each other. It took me until this term to pluck up the courage to stay for the second class! I also caught several gruesome flu-like diseases, which left me bed-bound and frustrated. Even now that I’ve come back after Christmas, I found myself doubting whether my course was right for me at all. In any stage of life, there’s pitfalls, and university is no different; we should all be able to open up when we feel a bit down. Of course, there’s a difference between feeling down and feeling that university completely isn’t right for you. So many people I know are considering changing courses or dropping out, but no one seems to be talking about how normal this is. According to the Complete University Guide, in 2014-2015, 29,140 students dropped out of university altogether; that’s 7.4% of all students.
I’m approaching my next two terms with fresh(er) eyes. My advice to any readers hoping to go to uni this September would be to live and learn by the day, enjoy the ride and don’t think too much about where it’s taking you. It’s okay to have a naff day, a naff week, even a naff term- don’t beat yourself up about it. Oh, and take multivitamins, and carry hand sanitizer EVERYWHERE. Freshers flu is nasty and very, very real!