Thinking about going to university?

Written by a recent graduate, Charlotte

Ah, university, it can be the best time of your life, it can be the worst time of your life, but there’s no doubting that whatever the outcome, it’s unforgettable. It’s usually this time of year that college students up and down the country are tweaking their UCAS statements to ensure they get into the university of their dreams, eager to get as far or close as possible from home. But, what if you’re not ready for university? How do you even know? Will you ever know? Is the meaning of life really forty two? Well, read on and you’ll find out as I attempt to answer these questions and more.

As I mentioned previously, university is unforgettable. Where else can you gain a degree whilst pulling an all nighter in the library fuelled by energy drinks and a four pack of crunchies? Fortunately unlike the olden times, university isn’t as elitist as it once was and whilst there are some exceptions such as Oxford, Cambridge and Eton (the really fancy ones) you have just as much a chance as any for getting into the one you want. “But Charlotte!” I hear you cry “I don’t know if I want to do university!” Okay, cool. Again, like the olden times, university isn’t the be all end all it once was. Yes, it does help to have a degree, but this is 2020 we’re in, there’s other options besides a degree. Apprenticeships, volunteering, starting from the bottom and working to the top, the entire world is your oyster! You don’t have to have a degree to get where you want to, the path isn’t completely linear; there’s diversions, distractions and even times where the road cuts off completely. So what do you do? Find a different path until you get back on to your original one. It may take several tries, you may still be on your path, you may be dealing with roadworks that prevent you going any further. All of those are okay and valid and honestly, are part of the journey. If it was that easy, then surely the payoff wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding?

For those that have decided university is for them, good for you as well! Having been to university myself, I would like to take it upon myself to impart some wisdom in the hope that someone out there would take this advice to heart or at the very least, try it out and see what they think.

And with the world being more uncertain than ever, more universities are looking at online teaching for the upcoming year. Whilst this makes it accessible to everyone, unfortunately it’s not for everyone.  If you prefer an active learning environment such as myself, then you may decide on a different approach. If you’re not like me and can cope absolutely fine in a non learning environment, then look at your options. At the end of the day, no one else is doing the learning but yourself, so do what is best for you.

Not one person’s experience is the same and again as I’ve reiterated before, that’s okay. Just because you’re staying home and commuting to classes every day to save money on accommodation works for you, doesn’t mean it will work for others. I mean, in an ideal situation, I would have moved out of student accommodation and found somewhere of my own with friends for second and third year. But I didn’t. Seeing how I’m autistic and therefore classed as disabled, I was able to stay in on campus accommodation all three years. Do I wish that wasn’t the case and I could have done my own thing? Absolutely. Do I regret it? No. It made things easier for me and because I knew what to expect (a big thing for autistic folks) it was comforting and made my experience less stressful.

Tips for university

I would say the most important tip, and I cannot stress this enough, is research. Research the course, research the best uni, research that uni, research the time it gets there, how much in travel fees, the qualifications you’ll need, accommodation, amenities, everything. Without research, you know nothing, and you end up convincing your mum to spend fifty quid for a B&B whilst she fully knows well the area, only for you to see it for yourself and ask can we turn back, feeling incredibly guilty for getting her to fork out that amount of money and getting stuck in traffic and torrential rain on the way back. True story, actually. I’m not naming names, but yeah, should have done me research more.

You want independence from your parents but still miss the comforts of home? You’re not the only one. When considering universities, I knew this would be a problem. I’m not the most careful of people and I will generally miss home at some point, meaning that inevitably, I’d either go back or mum and dad would be meeting me at the local hospital after I, I dunno, sliced my leg open on a night out after falling onto glass. Solution? I have two. Students, we get the job done.  I wanted my university to be far away enough from home so that I have that sense of independence and could become my own person, but at the same time, have it be close enough or easily accessible so that should something happen, it’s easy to come back home. I ended up going to Edge Hill University which whilst pretty far, is super easy to get to. Follow the roads up to Leeds, turn left and then onto the M62 for the last 100 miles. Also, give university a chance.  My mum said to me before I went away that the least I could do is try. If by Christmas I still wasn’t happy, then I could come back home. And you know what? I did and I enjoyed it. Granted there were ups and downs and times where all I wanted was to go back home and enjoy a nice hot bath, but I stuck it out, found my people with the rugby team and by the time I went back for Christmas, I found out how boring home actually is. Don’t let first impressions make up your uni experience. It’s tough and can get lonely, but you’re not the only one and you’ll be okay.

The social life at university is one shrouded in myth and legend, one of horror and fantasy. Making night long friends in the toilets, losing half your outfit in the student union, anything can happen; even more so if you ever take part in the infamous sports socials on a Wednesday night. Chugging as much cheap booze in as little time as possible, being subjected to humiliating rituals and punishments, they’re not for the faint of heart. If you do find yourself at a sports social, have fun, drinking is optional but encouraged and whatever is said, goes. Also if you do have a lecture the next morning, I’d suggest not drinking or go light on the beers. Trust me, I know. *Shudders at the flashbacks*

That said, university social life isn’t all about drinking only to wake up in a bush the next morning with a broken phone and two quid to your name and forgotten memories, no, no! There’s also the infamous fresher’s fair where all the societies group round in a blatant attempt to lure you in with their promises of fun and also let’s face it, the free lollipops and bags of Haribo. Don’t kid yourself, you know that’s the only reason you go along to these things. It’s like Halloween but without the pumpkins. The beauty of such societies is that literally no matter how niche your interest, there’s bound to be a society for it or at the very least likeminded individuals who are willing to meet up for two hours a week to discuss Hungarian goat yodelling techniques. If you find enough people, then you can even set up your own society! Pretty sure you just need to convince the student union that it’s a good idea, but don’t quote me on that; it’s been a few years since I stepped into a university environment and the ol’ noggin ain’t what it used to be.

Depending on where you go, accommodation at university can be hit or miss. Fortunately, mine was generally nice although I will admit to getting a wee bit sick of showers come third year. And yet the lesser blocks had baths? Come on, what’s up with that? Back to the point. Accommodation is also a major factor to consider during your time. Generally the first years are prioritised for on campus living; the uni doesn’t want them scarred for life so it only makes sense. And any that are left over are for those that may need it (such as myself) or even third years, which is something my university did after building new accommodation for us. And this may sound strange, but I found this genuinely helped; make friends with the cleaners. Even if it’s just knowing their name and giving a friendly hello in the mornings. Cleaners are known for getting shtick around campus, but if it wasn’t for them, then the floor from the night before would remain forever sticky and the tables wouldn’t be cleaned. Cleaners do a lot and whilst yes, I don’t understand how they complain of places being messy when it’s their job, it still helps to make it easier for them. Who knows? Maybe the ‘annoying cleaning lady’ won’t have such a bad reputation if you go out of your way slightly for her. Just sayin’ 😉

Finally, just have fun and make the most of it. I’m not saying it’ll be the incredible life experience everyone makes it out to be, if anything I found it quite overrated myself, but that doesn’t automatically not make it worth it. I found my people, got a degree and a knee injury that will no doubt come back to haunt me in my later years out of it. I had fun, had regrets and even had my heart broken on more than one occasion (don’t dump through phone, folks. Try and avoid it if you can). What you put in is what you get out and it can be anything you make it to be; more so even! Be yourself, relax and remember; there’s no pressure. You got this.

This is Charlotte writing for The Network, signing out. Peace and good vibes!