The Cons: Would I Recommend Going to Uni?

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.

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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.

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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.

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This was because of a light we couldn’t replace ourselves. We also dealt with a month of cold showers in the previous house…

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.

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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.

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So, Overall?

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.

The Pros: Would I Recommend Going to Uni?

It’s been more than three years since I left home at 18 and moved to a city 200 miles away that I’d spent little more than a couple of hours in. It was the start of my university career: one that saw me write countless essays, meet new people, have many ups and downs as far as my health was concerned, learn far more than I can currently remember, and spend a little too much money on books. So, with a little distance between my final deadline back in May and now, I thought I’d write two posts about the experience: the pros, and the cons. This, obviously, is the pros post. Here I’ll share what I loved about going to university, and some of the things you might be able to look forward to – or reminisce upon – about your own time at university.

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That ‘Uni Lifestyle’

In the months, and sometimes years, before heading off to university you hear many things. To name but a few: it’ll be the best years of your life, you’ll spend a lot of time partying (and a lot of time hungover), and you’ll meet friends you’ll have for the rest of your life.

Is it all true? No, not inevitably. Is there some truth to it? Sure! I loved moving to university, and leaving my old home behind. It was an adventure I’d been looking forward to for years, and I felt ready for it. I wanted the independence, I wanted to meet new people, experience new things, and live somewhere else. I got all of that. University is one of the biggest, most readily available opportunities for you to find a complete new start; a new environment, new people, the ability to make plenty of new impressions. Plus, freshers week? Basically a week to practice making your new first impressions over and over again before you really start to meet people the following week. Who could ask for more?

And now I’m going to try to stop saying ‘new’ for a minute.

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One of the biggest factors you’ll consider when choosing to go to university will be the course. What you’ll spend your life studying or working for for the next three years (or more). You need to choose the course that is right for you, because if you like the course, you won’t mind doing the work for it. Dare I say it, you might even look forward to the work. A degree is an intense undertaking for most people and if you aren’t willing to work for it, you likely won’t finish it. So be as sure as you can, and it’ll make the hours in the library worth it.

Luckily, there is plenty of choice out there, so there probably is something for you. Some of my best memories of university are to do with the modules on my course. I studied English and History joint honours, so I had two departments to contend with. One of my first modules at university was an English Language module, much of which studied differences in regional accents and pronunciation. And as the 200-odd students in the room came from all over, every lecture was punctuated by the murmurs of students asking whoever was next to them to say something and laughing at the response. It’s not the worst way to bond, y’know.

DSC01332.jpgOther fond course memories come from a module where I basically learned about ghost stories instead of the civil war I was technically meant to be learning about; a module where I learned that in the middle ages it wasn’t unheard of for rats to be issued with court dates; and a module where I spent hours watching films in a language I couldn’t understand, a friend translating where she could.

The People

As I said earlier, going to university is the perfect opportunity to meet people – and to get used to meeting people. We all know it can be a hard thing to do, but simply starting a conversation with the person next to you by saying “hi” can do you well. It can feel strange, because almost as soon as you get to university you need to think about who you want to live with the following year, so you often agree to move in with people before you know them particularly well. Some friendships will last and sometimes you might end up with a housemate you can’t wait to leave behind, but it’ll all be valuable life experience.

And let’s not forget, while you’ll come away from university having experienced some weird things and encountered some weird people (I can guarantee you this much), all of those encounters will turn into stories you’ll look back at with amusement. For example, one of my first year flatmates claimed to have a phobia of shiny things and ended up somehow melting a neon green plastic piece of cutlery in the oven without noticing it. Extremely weird both then and now, but an anecdote which never fails to make people laugh.

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The whiteboards on our fridge in my first year flat were home to many a weird conversation

The Perfect Time to Be Selfish & Try New Things

Another thing about university is it’s the perfect time to focus a little more on you and what you want to do. It’s probably one of the best times to consider getting yourself a gym membership; universities sometimes give their students free memberships, often discounted ones, and local gyms regularly provide student rates. In my first year I was a member of a city gym near my flat; it was roughly equidistant to the university gym but cheaper and 24/7, so it was a little more flexible. In my second and third years, I moved to the other side of campus, so the university gym was nearest and I went there. With the flexible schedules most students have at university, it’s remarkably easy to fit in regular workouts if that’s what you want. And why wouldn’t you – increase your fitness, counteract the countless hours spent sitting down studying, great for your mental health…

Aside from exercise, university gives you the opportunity to explore many other things; you can try new activities wherever you live, take advantage of events the university runs, join societies… In my first year I had the opportunity to attend a radio recording at the BBC in Media City. A friend and I both came to the conclusion that we weren’t good enough at exploring Liverpool and the surrounding area during the semester, so after the January exams and summer exams we’d set aside a few days or a long weekend to do nothing but explore. It was a great help that northern trains are so cheap – I mean, £5 return for an hour’s journey each way? Yes please! Where I live, an 11 minute journey each way will set you back about £7.

Other opportunities I took advantage of included: attending John Boyne’s book launch for The Heart’s Invisible Furies; seeing ITV’s Victoria being filmed near campus (not something the university advertised, but something I stumbled across); and going to Haworth to see the Bronte parsonage and write in the special copy of Wuthering Heights that was created for Emily Bronte’s 200th birthday.

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One of the BBC buildings in Media City, Salford
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Writing in the handwritten Wuthering Heights manuscript for Emily Bronte’s 200th

A Trial Run at Adulthood

Going to university and living away from home is a little like a trial run at full adulthood. Budgeting, cooking, cleaning, getting yourself to lectures etc on time, figuring out how to self-motivate, dealing with landlords and agencies, finding places to live, finding your favourite supermarket, remembering when to put the bins out… All with just a little less pressure. By the time you’ve graduated, you’ll be ready and eager to start your fully adult life.

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So, that’s that for this blog post – all my pros about going to university! Soon will be the second post about the not-so-enjoyable parts, and whether they might outweigh everything in this post. Keep an eye out!

Why I Don’t Care About Numbers at the Gym

For a lot of people, when they work out, it’s about a number: a weight they want to get down to, a weight they want to get up to, a weight they want to lift, a record they want to beat. Me? I have no number. I go to the gym for one reason and one reason only: to keep my body fit and healthy. I’m not looking to impress anybody, and I’m not going for aesthetic reasons.

My body has a history of injury, so I’m really just happy when it’s capable of doing exercise. I have to be aware of what my body’s limits are and just how far it’s safe to push it.

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I started going to the gym regularly two years ago, when I first arrived at university. Through a stroke of luck, that autumn was the time when the tennis elbow I’d been struggling with for the previous five to six years finally eased off. But, in consequence, that had left me with incredibly underdeveloped muscles in that arm (and the surrounding shoulder/chest area) because I couldn’t use it properly for so long. I was pretty weak on the muscle front in total, really.

But for whatever reason, when I moved to university, my body finally started co-operating. I was very tentative when I started going to the gym – when it came to running, I only did short bursts, afraid I would reignite that old injury. When it came to cross-trainers, I could only do short bursts because I didn’t have the strength for it: two minutes on a low setting would tire me out. When it came to weight machines, the absolute lightest setting was difficult for me.

Building up muscle over the last two years has been a slow journey, and I’m in no hurry to rush it. I have definitely seen remarkable improvements – simple as it may seem to some, I could barely lift heavy shopping bags two years ago. Now I do it without blinking an eye. The shape of my arms has changed incredibly; I used to have absolutely no shoulder definition, and very skinny arms. I still have skinny arms, but now the muscle definition is visible. I can go on a cross trainer for a good fifteen minutes on a medium level and continue my workout elsewhere afterwards. I’ve done 5km runs on the treadmill and felt good afterwards, rather than like my foot was splitting open – which used to be my reality.

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About nine months after joining the gym

To other people, who don’t live with my body and who don’t know its history, the numbers surrounding my workouts seem unimpressive. 20kg weights aren’t seen as much. Taking 45 minutes to run 5km is seen as slow. Only being on level two of the cross trainer seems mediocre. But for somebody who would be unable to walk for a day after running 400m, completing a 5km is amazing! For somebody who had to quit playing piano because the strain on their arm was just too painful, to be able to actually lift heavy boxes when moving house is triumphant. I kid you not when I say that even something as simple as plaiting my own hair was a challenge only a few years ago, because I lacked the strength to hold my own arm up for that long.

Even during the last two years I’ve dealt with other injuries – back in February this year, my thumb on my writing hand became so strained I actually lost the ability to handwrite for a while. Thankfully, I’ve mostly regained the ability since then – though I doubt if I’ll ever get back up to my old speed. I’ve also had knee issues, which meant I stopped using the cross trainer for a while so they could recover. But these injuries have been easier to deal with, and I suspect it’s due to that base line of fitness I’ve managed to build.

And that’s why I don’t care about the numbers. Of course I like seeing how fast or far I’ve managed to run, but I’m only looking to build muscle and fitness in the way that’s best for my body.

What about you – do you go to the gym? Do you have a numbers goal? Maybe you’ve got a condition/injury that you’re trying to work through? Let me know.