I’m the first member of my immediate family to go to university. As well as this being a fantastic academic achievement, it also left me entirely unprepared for just what university was going to be like. I had to turn to movies and books in order to paint myself an idea of what the typical university experience is, and to be honest I don’t think I could’ve been more wrong. So here’s what my university expectations were prior to stepping foot inside a lecture hall three years ago and what my student life looks like now.
Expectation: I’ll go to every single lecture.
Reality: hahahaha no. I have made this bargain with myself every semester since I went to university and I have failed it every single time. Nowadays I don’t know a single student that hasn’t missed one class, at some point. Of course it can be for illness or personal circumstances, but I also think it’s important to cut yourself some slack and take a day off if you feel you need it. My friends and I call these ‘mental health days’ and it’s just an opportunity to let your body rest and your brain to enjoy doing something other than studying for a change. So there’s no harm in missing one or two classes here and there, but don’t get complacent and start taking a full day off just for any old reason… you still need to study and catch up on what you miss!
Expectation: I’ll be so sociable and join clubs and societies.
Reality: To be fair I did join one society when I started at university…. and I went to one event. I think there’s a common misconception that it’s really difficult to make friends at university unless you get involved in a club or team, but that really couldn’t be further from the truth. You’ll be able to meet your best friends in class or through mutual friends, or even in the strangest of places like a lift (true story). Once you know what university that you are going to, it’s worth searching for a Facebook group for that university’s freshers / newbies. As far as being part of a society goes, I think it’s a fantastic way to be sociable at university and it’s certainly something to add to your CV. However I do think it’s possible to have an amazing university experience when you’re not involved in any official group.
Expectation: Everyone is going to be really intellectual and I have to be too.
Reality: I remember thinking that my university experience was going to be like an 80s coming-of-age story, where everyone around me was so seriously high-brow and intelligent and I would have to match up to their standards. The shock of realising that my fellow students were just normal people like me made the process a lot smoother. It’s the same with my professors; as much as I wanted a Hogwarts-style, robe-wearing scholar to swoosh into my classes and tell me to read more James Joyce, it turns out that most professors and tutors were pretty normal too. I mean, other than that English tutor that wore sunglasses to lessons and played David Bowie as part of his lesson plans. Of course your lecturers are all going to be very intelligent people and worthy of your respect, I think you shouldn’t be afraid to be friendly to them. Developing a good relationship with your tutor really helps out further down the line when you need help for a good grade or someone to write you a reference.
Expectation: I’m going to party every night.
Reality: I’m not going to lie and say that I didn’t drink a lot, especially in my first two years of university. Especially in the halls, I’m sure there was a party most nights and I’m lucky to be studying in a city with a fantastic nightlife. But sometimes you just need a break. Maybe I’m getting old, but with the stress and workload brought on by my third year of studies I don’t have the time to see my friends soberly any more, let alone let loose and party with them on a regular basis. A few hungover classes were definitely enough to put me off late nights quite quickly, but I’d say if you have the stamina for it then enjoy your student lifestyle while you still can. Only students have the benefits of afternoon drinking on a Tuesday being ‘normal’, and even then you still have to drink responsibly and think about those 9am lectures tomorrow.
These are just some of my thoughts about university reality. I’d like to do another post like this in the future. What are your thoughts?