Our expectations of University may never be fulfilled, but we can be

discusses the reality of university, and why we need to stop falling into the trap of unrealistic expectations

Image: Jisc

For many young people, venturing to university marks their most significant life event to date. More often than not, starting university involves moving away from home and suddenly gaining a huge amount of independence, as well as transitioning to studying a single subject and hopefully forging something that resembles a career path. Before one does start university however, they will most likely be inundated with family and friends telling them to make the most of this experience, as it will undoubtedly be the best years of their life.

So, what do you do if you don’t get on with your housemates? Or if you realise that your degree is impossibly difficult? What happens when you realise the bleak reality of your financial situation post rent payment? Or when you simply miss home?

The fact is that university and the university experience is romanticised massively, particularly by adults in their 30s or 40s who are looking back at their time as a student through rose-tinted glasses, filled with nostalgia towards their years before a 9-5 job, or screaming children running around the house. In turn, this care-free, picture-perfect idea of university life has been adopted by prospective students. One thing I learnt, in less than a week after my arrival at uni, is that life simply doesn’t work like that.

No matter what stage of your life you are in, there are bound to be ups and downs. Whether those downs are just a day or two, or it seems like months of an unwavering low, it’s very hard to maintain constant happiness and fulfilment. Just because one’s time at university follows this same, arguably unavoidable, pattern, does not mean that they haven’t had a great experience or made the most of their year.

I am about to go into my third year at university and I truly have loved my first two years. I’ve had a lot of fun, met wonderful people that I never would have even crossed paths with had I not left my beloved (but rather backwards) hometown in Lancashire, and found fulfilment through getting involved in projects outside the lecture hall. I feel more comfortable in my skin and I have undoubtedly gained confidence. But that’s not to say that at university I haven’t experienced major instances of self-doubt, felt isolated from my peers, stressed about balancing everything, and become increasingly disillusioned with my actual degree. Due to this mixed bag of emotions, I have often found it awkward when relatives ask me how university is going. I feel under pressure to portray my life as endless excitement and fun, which it can be to an extent, but pairing that with an explanation of how York can sometimes be boring or that I’m sick to death of reading is somewhat long-winded and contradictory. Thus, a half-hearted “It’s good thanks” is usually easier.

And yet, it is the fact that university hasn’t been as simple as getting drunk and having fun that has made it so worthwhile. Coming to terms with the fact that there are going to be moments where it’s pretty shit and the last thing you want to do is socialise, tidy up, or do your work, is a fundamental part of the experience and of growing up.  I have learnt just as much about myself, and the type of person I want to be, through dealing with these downs as I have enjoying the ups. Moreover, a massive advantage at university is that you don’t have to struggle through early adulthood on your own; your peers are most likely also feeling stressed about similar things or trying to overcome their own issues. Nothing has brought me closer to my housemates, and I have never felt such a sense of comradery, than being open and confiding in them about the difficulties I’m having, even if they are as minor as not knowing how to use a tumble dryer.

I’ve learnt that there is no use in comparing your university experience to the unrealistic expectations propagated by our family, friends on social media, and in endless TV shows and films. My time has been far from perfect and I wouldn’t describe my first few years of adulthood as stress-free, but that is more than okay.

Admittedly, I have been lucky and enjoyed a lot of aspects of student-life, and not everyone can say the same. Nevertheless, just because someone might not describe university as the greatest years of their life doesn’t mean they didn’t make the most of it, or that those years weren’t invaluable. For the sake of our mental well-being, and so that we actually have a chance of being happy with our experience, students need to let go of their pre-existing ideas about what university should be and spend their 3 years how we want to, not how we think we ought to.

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