5 Important Lessons I’ve Learned at University

Good afternoon, wanderers of the world!

Today I wanted to share some experiences and concepts that I have learned in my 2 years of university.

University can be a wonderful, scary, diverse and enlightening place, full of all kinds of people trying to push themselves one step closer to their dream jobs. And yes, after someone’s written 47 lines about why they’re so great, you can, just like anywhere, expect to find some pretty big egos. On the flip side, connections are made that you never expected. Whilst us undergrads will agree these are facets of university life, we will also all agree that everyone’s experiences are still equally unique. Let’s explore.

  1. 18+ doesn’t mean adult. What do I mean by this, I hear you say. Well, once we reach that age 18 milestone, statute recognises us as fully grown. Autonomous and capable and mature to an extent. And when you’re a respectful person of sound mind you expect that everyone at university will be the same, after all they were handpicked because they’re so lovely,  focused and interesting, right? Not always. Dickheads are a worldwide phenomenon, a pest we have come to accept in the workplace due to the fact that a lot of them can still do their jobs pretty well. But make no mistake in believing that the high school bullies and plastic queens have been filtered out by UCAS. They haven’t. The dickheads’ natural skill in manipulation serves them particularly well when it comes to presenting oneself in their light of choice – and it is only when their shell starts to unravel that we can see them for who they really are. During my first year of uni, I had a great set of friends who as if by fate I’d brought together to make a house share last minute before term started. I studied Law, and after the first year I realised that Criminology was a better fit and so off I transferred, blissfully ignorant in my expectation of finding equally wonderful mates. I’m not saying all people are bad. I’ve met some pretty good people here who I know will be friends for life. But in the beginning of first year round 2, I was romanticised into having a ‘big friendship group’ – something I’d never really had before. Needless to say it didn’t work out well and it wore me down a lot before I got the courage to prioritise loneliness over being bullied, and to even admit to myself and others that at 20 years of age I was, being bullied. I am not saying you will be bullied, or that everyone has. But it is something that I learned at university; that people do not always grow out of it, and in fact enjoy it. Important though, is to not react inappropriately, and to always seek help from the university. If this is you, never feel like you have to sit in the corner you are being pushed into. You are a star and can shine no matter how much darkness is around you. I truly believe that a lot of these bullies act out a deep insecurity; feeling the need to push others down so that they can feel more on top. Pay no mind to the fear of having no mates – when you open yourself up after leaving that shit, the right ones will find you.
  2. Module Selection is Imperative. For a lot of people, university is simply ‘the next logical step’ after college, and the reasons they embark on a degree show just as much variety as the people who undertake them. Many come with no idea what they want to do for a career, which is fine as it’s a hard question to answer and not always easily fulfilled. But it can lead them to miss the point when it comes to one of the main aims of university: specialisation. When we think of our dream career, we know that the first thing necessary for any of it to happen is experience. And of course the classic paradox of ‘needing a career to get experience, needing experience to get a career’ opens its claws to us. What many fail to realise is that university IS the first port of call for experience. When you’re sitting in an interview, a shiny fresh graduate with no relative experience, the same questions will keep hitting you, basically trying to ascertain how you could know your interest and capabilities for an area you have no experience in. This is where you will remember that module you picked, where you will call on that presentation and essay to give you some substance to this specialism that you’re dying to sink yourself into. It was when I had this realisation that I knew I needed to study criminology instead of law: because the content of those modules was much more specific to the knowledge I needed for the areas of criminal justice I want to pursue. So choose wisely – what sounds interesting should not always be the priority if there’s something you know will better equip you for the path you want to go down. And if that’s really the path you want to go down, it should be interesting to you anyway.
  3. Universities operate as businesses, not as institutions. For anyone who’s been, they know that there are many features which distinguish university life from that of college/school. From the freedom to the subjects, the social life and beyond, it’s a whole new world for the fresher. And it’s great. But it all balances out. With the freedom comes responsibility, with the social life comes the need for self-discipline. The university does not care if you pass or fail, it does not care where you come from, and it does not care if you deem its costs unreasonable. It’s a business, after all, and your hunger for lunch with nowhere else in walking distance is seen by them as an opportunity to extort money from you. Just like how they promised us they wouldn’t raise our tuition fees to the new allowance of £9,250, and then did so that very year. Whilst some students unions are great value for money, others know they can rip you off and therefore will push it to the point that it’s costing you more than it would to eat in town. Even though this aspect is just about food, this agenda is something that I feel to be really unfair considering the mounting costs it’s already taken just to be at university – especially as good nutrition is vital to good learning. Don’t get me wrong, I know other universities are more accommodating. My first year was at Reading uni, and the whole feel of the place resonated with reason-ability much more than my current uni (University of Leicester) does. As a consequence of their business mentalities, universities’ politics seeps through just as much as it would in any other company. From their costs to their student services, right through to the research that they support through their academics. For those less interested in politics, it may not be as obvious. But for those who, like me, just can’t help but read into their environment, it can become disheartening to see that the ‘best years of your life’ might be spent in a university that does not align with your moral compass. On the plus side, it becomes an opportunity to learn scrutiny and develop your understanding of an increasingly globalized world, after all education is a huge part of the process that has enabled the monster of capitalism to get as far as it has.
  4. It’s easy to forget about yourself. In many ways. Sometimes there can be so much going on around you – friends, societies, lectures, seminars, essays, work, bills, family, that it all just piles up and can overwhelm you. Especially if you’re new to the whole living away from home thing. But even after 3 years of living away from home, I still find myself forgetting about me sometimes. You get so focused on doing that you can easily become overworked and forget to feed your soul. Take your multivitamins, remember to be mindful and don’t feel bad to say no to things. Oh also, here’s a friendly reminder to register with a doctor. Your health travels with you, look after it, and don’t take it for granted. If something doesn’t feel right, mentally, physically, go get it checked or ring 111 if you’re stuck (Free NHS number). It sounds basic and obvious, but being reluctant to take care of yourself and ask for help can lead down neglectful paths. Prioritize yourself, and never be afraid to ask for help. It’s hard to do it all alone, and you don’t have to. There are so many services out there with both the NHS and your university that can help you in ways you never knew they could. Never feel that your problem is ‘too small’ to seek help for.
  5. We are in the luckiest 6.7% of the entire world population. I wanted to finish on this point because I believe it really is the most important. When we look around at our peers, the thousands of people on and offline enrolling this year, the year before, the year before that, it can seem like we are one small fish in a hell of a crowd. We get sucked into the culture of our country and invoke that mentality that university is the ‘normal’ most logical next step in our lives. And it is, but the majority of might not ever think past that. Our country has got it right in that university should be accessible to everyone, we are blessed with student loans, scholarships, bursaries and more that mean even the poorest of us can make it to university if we work hard enough. But you my friend, yes even you from the rough ends of your town – form part of that 6.7% of people worldwide to hold/be enrolled on a university degree. There are over 72 million children worldwide who do not even have access to primary school education, let alone the opportunity to get a degree. More than 759 million adults do not possess the basic skills to read and write. We make up a tiny proportion of blessed individuals who are lucky enough to be able to get educated to the highest of levels. This is something that continues to overwhelm me each day, it is heartbreaking, but it also inspires me to use it well. You are here for a reason, because you have the capability to change the world, to educate and inspire, to learn and grow and be a part of the solution, not the problem. Use it wisely and never take for granted the opportunities that the majority of the world could only dream of. You are one in 7,500,000,000. 
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