There’s a lot to think about when considering going to university – here are three pearls of wisdom from me about student life.
You’re probably not going to have a clue what’s going on – and that’s OK
Both my cousins started university before I did. My mum has worked in higher education for most of my adolescent life. I’d been to countless events, organised by my school, intended to gear me up for being a student. But, despite all this, when I actually started my degree last September, I was struck by what little idea I had of what I was supposed to be doing. You’re warned that nobody will stand over you making sure you’re getting on alright, but the reality of that only really hits you when you’re halfway through week two and you’ve suddenly got an essay to draft and a formative assessment to plan and you’re not even sure how the library photocopier works yet.
Over the course of my first semester, however, I started to realise that there were others in exactly the same boat as me. Not only that, but it turned out to be a totally acceptable state to be in: no one’s tutors were looking for groundbreaking coursework; they just wanted something vaguely passable and turned in on time. The weird thing about starting university is that they throw you in at the deep end, but they don’t really mind if you can’t quite keep your head above water. Friends further on in their degrees kept telling me, “It’s fine, you’re in first year – you don’t need to do amazingly.” So when you start your course and inevitably feel completely swamped by the work, perhaps the best thing to do is not to try to overcome this feeling, but to accept that you’re going to be a bit disorientated for a while and to take things one small step at a time.
Living away from home: if you can, you should
Not everyone is able to move out for various reasons and I am sure that there are many benefits to staying at home (the cost being the most obvious), but I can only speak from my experience – and my experience is of moving into halls and having a generally great time. When higher education is already completely new to you, the prospect of independent living can be daunting, but, even then, it’s probably better to find your feet during a year where the work is slightly less high-pressure. The standard arguments you’ll have heard in favour of moving out are, by and large, true: it’ll equip you with some valuable life skills; your self-confidence will improve; etc.
Another thing I noticed about living away from home is that my relationships with people at home seemed to improve too. It can be a lot easier to get on with your immediate family when seeing them becomes a noteworthy occasion and you know that you’ve got your own, independent space if things turn a bit sour. Getting involved with extracurricular and social university life is also a lot less hassle if you move out: not only are you likely to live nearer campus and things to do, it’s also nice not to have to negotiate what you’re up to with anyone. My advice is that if you’re able to live away from home for university, you should absolutely consider it.
If you’re part of a marginalised group, don’t worry
Universities aren’t without their problems, of course – prejudice and discrimination on campus are unfortunately still all too real – and it’d be silly for me to try to speak for all minorities (or indeed about the atmosphere at every single university), however, I’d argue that university life can provide really positive experiences for students from marginalised groups. Student populations can be really diverse – you’re likely to find people like you. Until I started university, I was the only transgender person I knew and I’d sort of subconsciously convinced myself that I was actually the only transgender person, full stop. It was difficult to convince people to call me by my preferred name or refer to me with correct gender pronouns. At university, however, I’ve made quite a few trans friends and most people I’ve met have taken my identity in their stride.
There’s also a certain anonymity at universities that doesn’t exist in schools. There are so many more people there under a variety of circumstances, so that not everybody knows each other and so anyone who might “stand out” for whatever reason isn’t going to turn an awful lot of heads. This can be something of a comfort for anyone who has spent their secondary school days enduring extensive scrutiny and/or hostility. Clubs and societies for people from marginalised groups are also fairly common in universities, as well as support for anyone who is struggling for any reason. Basically, if you’re thinking about going to university and you’re worried about how any part of your identity will affect that, then there’s no need to fear the worst.
Lu is a first year philosophy and sociology undergraduate at the University of Glasgow.