Is university a “popularity contest”?

University means a fresh start for most students. It can be an opportunity to completely reinvent yourself and to be the person that the social cliques and gossip of your hometown prevented you from ever being.

Nobody there remembers that stupid thing that you did in Year 7, or that horrible way that you used to style your hair! You are now officially an adult, who has their own place, has to do their own washing and can eat leftover pizza for breakfast if you want to! But does all of this truly mean that you are finally free from all of the status games found in a sixth form common room?

Well not exactly. Everywhere you look in society there is going to be two groups of people: the majority and the minority. This division often produces the same cool-uncool dynamic as high school, where difference is shunned and conformity is praised. Hence many students still experience a great amount of peer pressure whilst at university, spanning from things like the way that they dress and behave to things like alcohol abuse and sexual acts.

Feeling the need to down one more pint in order impress the people that you’re with or to go home with that stranger from the nightclub because that is what is expected of a university student is all too common sentiment. For some people, this is precisely what they want from their university experience, but for others it can feel very much like something that they have to do to fit in.

Although this high school mentality of peer pressure and ‘fitting in’ does still exist in some circles, the sheer diversity of the people that you will interact with at university does mean that you are highly likely to find somebody who has similar interests, outlooks and sensibilities as you. The first people that you get to know at university are your housemates, and for many, this becomes the social group that they spend most of their time with.

However, if you find that you do not gel well with them you are definitely not as trapped as you might have been during the social games of sixth form. Through your course, your college and societies there are lots of opportunities to make new friends that are much more like you and you can create your own little social atmosphere that you feel comfortable in, without feeling pressured to be anything that you are not.

This does not mean that nobody at the university will ever going to judge you for the way that behave or something that you do, but it does mean that there are people out there who will not. It is all about just finding those people and focusing on spending your time with them rather than with those that you do not connect with.

Overall, university is a fantastic experience where you really begin to shape your life into the way that you want to live it. Sadly, the social pressures, disapproving looks and judgemental reactions from sixth form have not entirely gone away, but they definitely lose some of their power.

As a society, we still struggle with a predisposition of prejudice and discrimination, it is not just an aspect of university life but one of life itself. Therefore university is no worse than the working world, but it is a damn sight better than high school!

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