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Monday 9 June 2014

University: my experience and some advice

First of all, a quick apology to those of you that noticed a few unfinished posts go up on my blog yesterday - I've been relying on scheduled posts throughout exam period, and unfortunately I've been so busy this past week that I completely forgot to finish them. They'll be finished and up again in their complete form soon.
So this week was pretty momentous. On Friday I took my last ever exam and, all being well, I'll be graduating in July. It's a confusing feeling. I've been looking forwards to finishing for such a long time, but now I'm done and have nothing concrete planned for the foreseeable future it's a bit of a shock to the system. The last two months have been the most gruelling of my life, and suddenly I've gone from ten hours of revision a day to nothing. It still feels strange, and there's still the underlying feeling that I have something that needs doing. Hopefully I get over that soon, because I sure could do with a couple of weeks to relax!
Anyway, since my university experience is all but over I thought it'd be useful to share my thoughts. The job market nowadays is so competitive that people often feel that they have no choice but to go to uni. However there are so many people going to uni that graduates are struggling just as much as non-graduates to find a job. Therefore I feel like now, more than ever, people should really consider all their options before making a decision on which direction they want to go. My experience has been quite different to many other peoples', so hopefully it can provide some guidance.
The first difficulty I had was deciding which subject to study. For as long as I can remember I've been an indecisive person. With difficulty I managed to choose five A-level subjects, which I enjoyed equally. This didn't help me with choosing a uni course, and to be honest I can't remember how I decided. But eventually I settled on Physics. "Settled". There was nothing I really had a passion for, and I think that was the start of my problems. In most university courses there are two types of people; those who have a natural ability and "get" the subject, and those who just try their best. I was in the latter category. I'm not afraid of hard work, but when mixed with a lack of passion for the subject it isn't conducive to a fun experience of higher level education.
My experience at university wasn't due to my choice of university. I still believe that I chose the best uni for my course. Instead it was due to an unfortunate series of events, some of which were unavoidable and others which were due to my personality. 
My flatmates in first year were a mixed bunch: one girl I became good friends with, one girl I rarely saw and two boys who, when put in the same room, were very hard to get along with. This, combined with the fact that all social events seemed to involve getting drunk, reduced my ability to make friends. Fortunately I managed to make a few like-minded friends on my course, but I still found myself spending a lot of time alone. Apart from a few flat arguments first year went uneventfully and I got decent results in my summer exams.
Second year meant moving out of the student accommodation and into a rented house along with a few friends. Unfortunately for me, most of my course mates had already decided who they'd be living with for the year. I, of course, wanted to live with my friendly flat mate, and so decided to take up her offer to live with her and a few people she knew. We managed to find a lovely house right next to campus and all seemed well. Everyone in the house had really similar personalities, but unfortunately we didn't see a lot of each other. The four of us were studying three different courses, so we all had different commitments. The two girls I didn't know well also, understandably, had separate friendship groups. Then, a few months after second year started, my flatmate decided it'd be best for her health if she left uni. This was a hard time for me. I'm completely happy with having a very small friendship group. But living with two people who still seemed like strangers to me was something that I couldn't get used to. I would spend more and more time alone in my room, and there came a stage when I struggled to get out of  bed. I tried not to let it affect my work, but my summer exam results were evidence that my mental health had suffered. 
I knew something had to improve for third year, so I decided to move in with my sister and her boyfriend. It was something that I had resisted for a while due to the stereotype of identical twins being joined at the hip. I'm sure that there were plenty of people who believed that we were studying the same course at the same uni just to be together. The truth was that we were both as unsure as each other about what we wanted to do in the future, so we chose to study a subject which precedes a wide variety of careers at the best uni we could. Still, I spent the first two years living away from Jess so that people wouldn't roll their eyes when we told them that we were living together as well as studying together. Turns out that moving in together was the best thing I could have done. Suddenly there were people who I could eat my evening meal with. And being able to pop upstairs to see Jess was a great comfort. Slowly my mental health improved, along with my marks for assignments.
Third year also meant that I had more choice when it came to choosing modules. I was able to tailor my degree towards the areas of physics that I enjoyed more, which made a huge difference to how I felt about uni. There were only a few modules I disliked, and some that I even enjoyed. A pole fitness society was also formed this year, which gave me a great opportunity to do some exercise, and provided a great distraction from final year stresses.
Fast forward two months and I've now jumped the final hurdle of my degree. Eight exams completed, and now there's just the stressful wait for my results. I really hope I've managed to do myself proud, despite all the difficulties. In fact, they just make a good result seem even more necessary. If I'm going to spend three years of my life being quite unhappy then I need something to show for it.
I hope this post doesn't completely dissuade anyone from deciding to go to uni. I do have a few good memories from my time there. I only hope it can help people gain some perspective about what uni can be like. 
I've compiled a list of dos and don'ts, so that people who decide that uni is for them can hopefully avoid the experience that I've had.

- take a gap year if you're not sure whether or not to go to uni. Unfortunately I felt pressured into going to uni straight away as the uni fees were tripled the year after I started. Travel or get a job, and hopefully you'll decide what will be best for you. 
- take a look at how flexible your course is at each of the universities you're interested in. Having the option to focus on subjects you enjoy will allow you to excel. Although it's worth remembering that science subjects will have quite a few compulsory subjects in earlier years.
think about how much you're likely to enjoy your course on days when you're finding it difficult. University is a big step up in difficulty from A-levels. Weekly assessments tend to take hours, and evenings spent in the library aren't unusual.
- say if you're not happy with your flatmates in first year. Student accommodation services are normally quite accommodating (pun not intended), particularly for the first few months, as clashes in personality are bound to occur.
- think about how often you'll be able to see your housemates. Living with people doing your course is a safe option, as long as you won't get sick of seeing them!
- tell someone if you feel that your mental health is suffering. For a long time I denied that I had a problem. And unfortunately my relationship with my housemates wasn't good enough for them to tell me to get help.
- join societies. Having an hour a week to look forwards to without fail really helped keep me going.
And most importantly, don't go to university just for the sake of going. People worry about missing out on a life experience, especially if all of their friends are going. But in the end I felt like I put my life on hold for three years. For me it was just a means to an end, and now that the end is here I can't wait to start living!
What are your thoughts on uni? Do you feel that people head to uni too rashly nowadays?
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  1. University life is so different in Spain... I'm jealous of how it is there...

    xx, Be || lovefrombe

    1. In what way is it different? I'm jealous of University in the US where you choose a major and minor subjects - I'd have loved to have studied more than one thing! x

  2. Such a wonderful post. I'll be hopefully going to university in September so it was really useful reading this :)
    Eleanor -

    1. I'm glad you found it useful and I hope your uni experience is amazing! :) x

  3. Thank you for this post :) I'm in year 13 (last year of school) and I felt pressured to going to university just because all my friends were. But I decided that I don't really know what I want to study or what I want to do with my life. I'm now taking a gap year and getting a job and travelling so I can give myself time to decided whether university if for me or not :) xx

    1. I'm so glad my post helped to reassure you. It sounds like you've made the best decision you could have possibly made. I hope you have a fantastic year and figure out where you want to go :) x