We have all heard from a parent, a teacher, or an aunt attempting to live vicariously through our youth; “Oh wow, university will be fantastic, those three years will be the best years of your life!” and as such, have pre-existing ideas about how our university years will play out.
You’ll meet your best friends. Have a huge friendship group. Meet like-minded people within the first week of being there. Fall in love with your flatmates. Love living away from home. Thrive from the independence you’ll obtain through cooking, cleaning and doing everything for yourself. So why was coming to university the most anti-climactic experience of my whole life?
Every expectation was in my mind as I journeyed to Leeds to start my university life. Although I was aware of the possibility of homesickness and anxiety as a large part of my experience, it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. I had connected with flatmates online; I knew who I would be living with and had even spoken to people on my course with whom I believed to already be building friendships with.
Yet, when I arrived and the hustle and bustle of my mum cleaning my bathroom three times and my dad and brother stocking my fridge with essentials was over, the only sense I had was the overwhelming one of being alone. Freshers’ week came and went, I made some fantastic friends who are still some of the closest people to me today, I had a decent social life and was enjoying my course – as much as I could expect to be – at such an early point in the year.
I was going out regularly, meeting people, but for some reason, I couldn’t escape the strange feeling of loneliness- which made no sense in my mind because I was alone very infrequently. Fast forward to getting my first assessment back and seeing a far lower grade than I was expecting to see… came the academic fears and pressures and an alarming sense of continually feeling like the least smart person in the room.
I constantly listened to classmates’ discussions and distinctly remember texting my friend from home with the words “I am too dumb to be here”. I reflected on the words of those adults who had spoken to me before I went to university and wondered why, if these were going to be the best years of my life, was I hating almost every moment?
The reality is, that although university allows you to grow and develop, change who you are and finally be the person you may have always been too nervous to be in your hometown; it’s simultaneously terrifying and lonely. In what other world would you move in with five strangers and be expected to become best friends with them? In what world would you be starting a new academic year while also learning to cook, clean and take care of yourself? University is other-worldly in that sense.
The fact of the matter is that university is completely unique, it’s the only time in your life where these bizarre situations take place and, as such, it’s entirely normal to be terrified. But for those of you who might be feeling how I felt in my first year, I can absolutely reassure you that university may not be the best years of your life – and that’s okay.
This is not to say that the feelings of being terrified and lonely go away completely. To be completely honest they never have, even though I’m in my third year in Leeds. But they minimise themselves, especially once you can look at the situation around you and realise that, in fact, life can go on and be brilliant and fun without the label of “the best years of your life”. University not living up to your expectations is okay.
It’s a brilliant way for you to find out exactly what you enjoy, whether that’s getting up at 7am every day and establishing yourself a routine or going out and partying five nights a week. It’s fine to love the city you’re in, never want to go home and enjoy every moment. It’s also fine to miss home and visit your support system every weekend.
It’s alright to live and breathe your degree and feel immense passion for your subject. It’s also okay to just muddle through the three years you spend here and hope you manage to do your best. Whatever your experience, your feelings are valid, acceptable, and (as abnormal and isolating as they may feel) completely normal.
University may not be the best years of your life because how can you measure the best time of your life by three years? Even if you do a course that requires much longer than three years, your “best” life is simply unquantifiable. There may be months that are fantastic and there may be months that will have you wanting to drop out entirely. The reality is that University is as much a journey of ups and downs as anything else in your life.
I think people like to make University seem entirely separate from school, high school, or college, when in fact, many of the experiences on a personal level will be similar. You’re going to have crosswords with others, you’ll certainly have heartbreaks – in friendships, in relationships or even in your support system outside of university. You’re going to make mistakes, wake up some mornings and wonder why on earth you did what you did the night before.
The thing with university is, as my mum regularly reminds me, you’re there to learn. Whilst I always think this means in terms of my degree, I am not only here to learn academically, but also to learn about myself. University is about learning, but in so many senses that exceed just going to your lectures.
So, whether you love every second of your university experience, or continually find yourself wondering if you made the right choice, I guarantee there are more people relating to your situation than you think. After all, one important thing to take away from this article is that university isn’t an irreversible contract you sign that says you must stay doing your course, or stay in the accommodation or house you are in. It can be changed. (Take it from someone who dropped out, changed course, started again, and moved accommodation.) I love my university experience now, but it certainly has not been “the best years of my life” and that is okay.
Words by: Maeve Wood
Edited by: Michele Ngue-Awane