5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Going to University
A graduate's advice for starting university
Going to university is a massive step. Some people look forward to it for years. Some people dread it. Some people are unsure whether they want to go right up until the last minute. However you feel about going to university, it’s a big life change. There is even more uncertainty around university this year with the pandemic changing how universities will run and the government managing to mess up A-Level grades when the world was already messed up. I have just graduated into a rapidly shrinking job market so don’t worry I’m suffering too. Let’s get into five things I wish I knew before going to university.
Manage your expectations
I felt like the prospect of going to university was looming over me for years. My parents always thought I was clever enough to go to university and I could achieve something they never did. I had made my decision very early on that I was going to be a writer and this career aspiration lends itself well to university. This meant that I had a long time to think about what university would be like.
I know for a lot of my friends university was going to be when things got good. It wouldn’t be like school. Things would be better. The student experiences portrayed in films are very desirable. Students get up to a lot of fun without a care in the world.
You need to remember that university is real life. You don’t enter a bubble where nothing bad happens. You still get sick, you still argue with people, you still have to study and you have to do everything while looking after yourself. Yes, you experience some great freedoms and meet some amazing people but university isn’t a complete whirlwind adventure.
This is a learning experience in more than one way
Don’t consider university as just an academic experience. You will learn a lot about yourself especially if you study away from home. That’s a great thing. The more choices you are allowed to make yourself, the more you can develop and find what is important to you.
You will learn how much alcohol you can handle, how to make your favourite comfort food, how to deal with scamming landlords, how to work under pressure and many more things. These are all skills that will set you up for life. Even the bad experiences are useful. You learn what you don’t want.
You need to get the balance between studying and socialising. Don’t spend all your time working away. There are so many things you can do and people you can meet. But remember you are spending a horrifying amount for tuition. You need to leave with a decent degree too.
Take it as an opportunity to set your boundaries
A big part of my learning experience at university was learning how to set my boundaries with people. Wherever you go, you will meet a big mix of people. You will have all kinds of interactions. Some good and some bad. Just because you are young doesn’t mean you can’t set boundaries about the treatment you expect from other people.
Its hard to say no and not seem like a pushover when you don’t know what you except and what you don’t. If you have clear ideas about what you are comfortable with and what is taking it too far, most people will understand that respect it. You are likely to experience some kind of strained relationship at university whether it is a romantic partner or a nightmare roommate. Know what you need in a relationship and don’t respect any less. If someone crosses the line, take action. You deserve to be treated properly.
Your boundaries can include a range of things like how much you are willing to help people, what you are comfortable talking about and the physical contact you will allow. Unfortunately, the more young women go out, the more they realise that many men don’t respect their boundaries. I don’t want to tell you to protect yourself because you shouldn’t have to. But I do encourage you to be strict about what you will take from men. You don’t owe anyone anything.
Maintain your mental wellbeing
Big life changes can have a serious effect on your mental health. The adjustment period is hard but even in your final year you can go through period of bad mental wellbeing. Make a note of things that help you maintain your mental wellbeing at a good level. If you don’t know, university is a good place to work it out.
A big part of mental wellbeing is knowing when to stop. You can’t do everything. You can’t party every night, make it to every lecture and complete assignments to a high standard. You need time to just exist and not constantly be doing something. Organise your time to find balance but any plans need to be flexible to fit around any roadblocks that pop up.
If you are struggling with your wellbeing, reach out for help. Your years at university will fly by, don’t struggle alone and feel like you missed out. There is so much you can do to help yourself feel better. That’s the keyword. Its about feeling better not necessarily your best. Most universities have student services and will have some kind of wellbeing team you can speak to for help and advice. If you don’t feel like going that far, talk to your fellow students. They might have tips for you or can just be someone to listen while you vent. Here is how I cope with my depression. I know talking to people about mental health is intimidating. I’ve had to do it many times. But you owe it to yourself to help yourself in some way.
Get what you can out of the experience
University will be different for everyone. We all have different priorities and things we want to achieve at university. There is no right or wrong way to get your degree. Your priorities might change over time too. As long as you are getting what you can out of your time at university, that’s all that matters. Some people have to work. Others don’t. Some people like to party. Other don’t like to drink at all. Some people breeze through. Others really struggle.
Your own university experience is valid. You don’t have to achieve the movie standard of being a student. That’s not realistic. Many students I know have gone through really difficult times while at university. I spent about a year and a half of my university experience in an abusive relationship. Of course, I didn’t have the picture-perfect journey but I got what I could out of my time there.
Higher education is a unique experience. You are allowed freedoms you have never had before but you are still not a fully fledged adult. You will probably never get the chance to live like that again. Enjoy your time and don’t overthink it. It will be over sooner than you expect so you just have to live it.