It’s safe to say that not everything about university is sunshine and rainbows, smiles and laughter, success and socialising. This post is one of two where I explore the pros and cons I found during my time at university, and whether I think it was all worth it. My aim isn’t to dissuade anyone from going to university, but more to reveal the not-so-great parts that other people tend to skate over.
The Workload Can Be Intense
There’s often a bit of a perception floating around that university is like a part-time occupation – not too stressful, you’ve got loads of free time, no boss breathing down your neck, so what is there to be worrying about? And while I personally found first year easy enough to manage, I’ve always described my second year as hitting like a ton of bricks. For ten out of twelve weeks in the first semester I had deadline after deadline; I spent the weekends doing seminar prep and catching up, and the weeks tackling deadlines. The above photo is of the Easter reading I had to make my way through in second semester of second year. Three weeks to get through ten history textbooks, eleven history readings (none of which were short), and an entire fiction story written in Middle English, alongside another essay deadline requiring research, planning and writing. And that was supposed to be the “break” for the semester.
Of course, not every degree will require the same amount of time spent hunched over books, massaging an aching hand from too much handwriting/typing, and trying to remember what format your references should be in, but there’s a safe bet that at least every now and again you’ll find yourself feeling a little overwhelmed. Which is normal! But it’s definitely something to prepare yourself for. It can be far easier than you think to burn yourself out or find that stress about the work interferes with your sleep.
The Living Situation Can Be Far From Ideal
Certainly in your first year you are likely to end up living with a variety of people you’ve never met before, so the chances of you all instantly bonding and becoming the best of friends are… fairly slim. That’s not to say you definitely won’t get on – plenty of students continue to live with their first year flatmates out of choice. However, don’t go into it expecting to never have any issues, even in subsequent years. Out of four flatmates in my first year, we never saw one, another refused to quit smoking in their room despite complaints and setting the fire alarm off, and a third always left grease all over the cooker top.
In addition, you’ll be dealing with more than simply flatmates – I know I had issues with my accommodation providers each and every year. Broken showers, blocked drains, broken gates, ants, maggots, broken vacuum cleaners, chasing after contracts… You name it, I’ve probably had to deal with it. As far as some issues go, like broken showers, it should be fairly simple: you notify your accommodation provider/landlord, and they get it fixed. Problems in that area arise when you have to keep reporting the same issue because they aren’t fixing it. You learn to deal with it, you learn to stop taking excuses and fight for your rights as tenants, but it is exhausting. Some landlords believe that because you’re students, you won’t fight them because you don’t know how, or you don’t know your rights. Just stick to your guns and, if you know someone with more experience, ask them for advice.
It’s Easy to Feel Alone
Living far from home, far from your friends, in a new place – or even after you’ve lived there a while – can feel lonely. A fact that’ll be true regardless of whether you’re at university or not, but worth mentioning nonetheless. It can also feel worse because if, like I did, you have very minimal scheduled hours for your course, it’s easy to spend too much time alone.
If you join societies but they turn out to be pretty inactive, or they only do something on times you can’t attend, it can be frustrating as societies are a primary mode of student socialisation. Another obstacle can be whether you drink or not; I don’t drink for personal and medical reasons, and I’m not interested in clubbing. I tried it, it’s not for me. While there’s nothing wrong with that in itself, it can go against the grain at university. If you’re the same, it might mean you have to put a little more effort into ensuring you see people outside of an academic environment.
Life Doesn’t Stop Because You’re at University
A big thing to realise is that while you’re away at university, the rest of your life doesn’t just… pause. University can feel all-encompassing, but if you’ve left home it can also feel like a double life. There may be people you know back home having problems, or having celebrations, and you can’t be with them because you can’t get away – whether you have too much on your plate, or simply because to leave on short notice is too expensive and you can’t afford it. You might end up missing out on things, like if you’re family is going on holiday and you want to go with them but can’t because you’ve got exams.
The purpose of this post and the last one was to reveal both sides of the coin about university. For years I’ve felt like people tend to focus only on the highs, and leave others to discover the lows for themselves. But I think it’s fair to show the negatives, and to acknowledge them rather than brush them under the carpet.
Looking back at my time in Liverpool, I’ll never regret that I did it. Going to university was a dream I had from a very young age and one I worked extremely hard for years to make a reality. It was exhilarating, scary, amazing, and stressful all at once. But I think, if I were to go back to 2015 and decide whether to apply or not, there’s no question I’d do it again. Some of the things that help us grow the most in life are the ones that are difficult and that require us to navigate stages of life we’ve not experienced before. Because mostly that’s what it all comes down to – you’ll experience highs and lows in all walks of life, you’ll find opportunities wherever you go, and also disappointments.
Do I think my attitude would have been different had I known about the things I’d find hard? In all honesty, possibly. I would probably have joined a sports society, for one. Maybe the baking society. I definitely would have avoided my third year house. But we only really learn from our mistakes, or so everyone says, right?
University is like playing the long game. You might find some things hard along the way, and question why you’re getting yourself into so much debt while friends are already out of education and earning proper wages and going travelling. But in the end you come out with a degree, a lot more life experience, and hopefully some great friends and memories.