And so we have descended gloriously into September. The month that notoriously provides both life changes and new beginnings for the younger generation! I felt a warm nostalgia this results day, browsing online to see that that once again hundreds of students had secured a place at their dream universities, and the occasion prompted me to reflect upon my own experiences of university so far.
If you are at home preparing for life as a fresher, your ears are probably no stranger to the phrase ‘best year of your life’. As a budding student, you will often have those five words thrust at you from all angles, and although it can be the case, I feel like it’s important to talk about what happens when expectation and reality don’t quite align.
When I started university in 2016, my expectations were as high as every other new student. The things I had seen and read online, and the stories from former freshers had all reassured me that this was going to be the best year ever. So I was somewhat unprepared for some of the feelings and challenges that I experienced after moving away from home. Pre-university, my life was pretty much untouched by change: I had the same friendship group throughout school, lived in the same house all my life and worked at the same job during my teenage years. I suppose that without even realising it, in those respects, I was a creature of habit.
As my time as a student went on, I began to realise that things were not as black and white as I first thought. That’s not to say that everything about university was horrendous, it’s just that I hadn’t really anticipated the problems I would face. What people often don’t tell you about university is that whilst it opens up a world of opportunity, it can also provide a breeding ground for things such as stress, anxiety and loneliness. And alongside things in my personal life that took a toll on me, I began realising the effect of these negative emotions.
Unfortunately, this meant that rather than being one of the best years of my life, I spent a large proportion of my first year facing feelings of loneliness and inadequacy (both in a social and academic sense). This is when social media, in many ways, became my enemy. I began comparing my real life, with the edited lives of other students online, fuelling this negative perception of myself. I felt that everyone else was having a better experience than I was, with more friends, better nights out, better grades, better everything…
I have always been told that I come across as a positive person and the vast majority of my friends had no idea how I was feeling at the time. Looking back now, I am quite shocked at the reality of how unhappy I really felt in my daily life during that year, something that not only took a toll on me emotionally, but even affected physical aspects of my life such as my weight and appetite. Without even fully realising it, I spent a large proportion of the days of that year feeling stressed, isolated or unhappy in some way. Until now, I had been largely embarrassed about my university reality, feeling (particularly at the time) a certain pressure for the experience to be as good as everybody else’s (or at least, as good as the version of their lives that I was exposed to). But from speaking to friends and discovering that this reality wasn’t exclusively mine, I have realised the importance of speaking about the struggles of university life.
This post is by no means an attempt to scare anyone or put people off going to university. I have accepted that my first year was an unhappy chapter in my life, but nonetheless, it is a chapter that has finished. Two years on and since then my experience has been amazing. Now, I am just about to embark on my year abroad in the south of France and I couldn’t be more excited!!
The reality is that university can be both amazing and awful at times. I feel that it’s important to talk more openly about the negative experiences of higher education to firstly, show students that they are not alone, and secondly, relieve the pressure on them to have that ‘perfect’ experience. The vast majority of the time, things can only get better. But in the meantime, talk to family and friends about how you’re feeling. Make use of the university welfare services and most importantly, don’t suffer in silence. It’s possible that accepting your university offer could be the best decision you’ve ever made, so don’t let a bump in the road discourage you!
If anyone reading this has any questions or is struggling with university life then feel free to ask me any questions. Good luck to all the freshers!!