So, it’s that time of year again. Fresher’s Week has just ended for the next generation of students who have infected Britain’s major cities with their scourge. I was one of those students myself just one short year ago – excited and anxious about beginning the next step of my life, studying a subject I was passionate and excited about…
Oh how wrong I was.
One year later, and I find myself in the midst of somewhat of a crisis. My first year was a total disaster. I discovered (during my enrolment lecture, in fact) that going to uni was a massive mistake. I should have run away and never looked back there and then, but I decided to give it a shot.
As the first term began, it quickly became clear that I was doing entirely the wrong course – English Language and Linguistics. I struggled with linguistics from the very first lecture, and I didn’t find the English Language side of things nearly as captivating as I had at A Level.
Soon enough, I stopped going to lectures, and I never really found any motivation to study or do set work. I had very little desire to make friends (even though there were some lovely people on my course that I wish I’d gotten to know better). I became more shy and withdrawn that I’ve ever been in my life. By Christmas, I was just about ready to drop out, but my parents, lecturers and boyfriend all told me they thought I should stick it out and that it would improve during the second term. It didn’t.
Second term was worse. One of the modules I had, I didn’t turn up to a single lecture for, and the others I only went to sporadically. There was a period where I went to only two or three lectures over the course of two weeks. I received emails telling me that if I didn’t start turning up, I would be asked to leave. By this point, I had been having panic attacks and was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and an educational psychologist (and a ridiculously long, difficult test) told me I’d managed to live for 20 years with dyspraxia (and dyscalculia, but that wasn’t really much of a surprise) and nobody had picked up on it until now. It was a blessing in some ways, because now I had an explanation for my terrible short-term memory and awful concentration, but a curse because I had to come to terms with the idea that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, making my anxiety worse than ever. It was a vicious circle.
It was an extremely bad place to be and, I must say, quite possibly the lowest point of my life so far. I was so disappointed that I’d spent a third, miserable year at college in order to get the right A Level for my course, only to get there and hate it.
It’s probably fairly obvious that I failed my first year – although I did get an A+ in the only piece of written coursework I handed in, which was Child Language Acquisition.
Then there was the cost. As I started uni in 2012, I pay £9,000 a year, plus the £3200 odd student loan. Already, that’s £12,200 I’m paying back. I was hoping that my timetable would reflect the expense, but I was doing something like 12 hours of lectures a week (8 lectures/seminars at 90 minutes each). I can’t do the math, but I’m pretty sure that’s not worth it. It got worse though – before I made the decision to defer, I was going to begin a new course – English Language and Media. As I’d already done all but one of the English Language modules (not well, I might add), I’d have to “slow progress” and do the four media modules and the one English Language one I hadn’t done. This meant that, in my first semester, I would be doing two Media modules and nothing else. That’s a lecture and a seminar for each, at 90 minutes long that means I’d have had 6 hours of lectures a week, and be paying £9,000 for the privilege. I get that there’s meant to be time for “personal study” but that, frankly, is ridiculous. Not only was I paying the price with my mental health, but throwing myself into thousands of debt. And what for?
I don’t know what it was about The University Experience that didn’t live up to my expectations. There were plenty of opportunities to go out and have a good time – especially living in Brighton, the clubbing capital of the South. I loved the independence – particularly being able to finally get my rats and start up my fish tank, as well as being able to eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I loved living with Phil, even though a number of people have suggested that living with him was the reason I was so miserable. I loved my housemates and I loved the city I was living in because it really did feel like home. I’m not really that big on going out and drinking (or at least I wasn’t before I got anxious), but I didn’t seem to be having the “time of my life” like everyone was promising I would.
If I’m being honest, I think I was expecting university to change me for the better. I think I was hoping that doing a subject I had painstakingly chosen would change my attitude to studying and make me feel like I wanted to do it, rather than because I had to. I’d suddenly be able to focus and write long, eloquent essays rather than getting distracted by everything. I was hoping learning would stop being a chore and be something that I would enjoy doing. When my attitude and my attention span remained exactly the same, I was more than a little disappointed. Instead, it changed me for the worse and it’s going to take much longer than a year to sort myself out.
There has always been huge emphasis placed on going to uni – my generation especially. Most of my college life was preparing us and shaping us for studying at a university level. If I had a pound for every time I heard the words “universities really like…”, then I would be able to pay off all of my debt in cash. When it came to applying, every single person in my tutor had a UCAS application, with the exception of maybe one or two. These people were given next to no support, as the focus turned to getting UCAS applications in on time and Personal Statements to below 4,000 characters or whatever the ridiculous number was. In my third year, the same thing happened again. I imagine it was fairly similar across the whole college – about 90% of people I spoke to were going to university and, if you weren’t, it was demanded of you WHY you weren’t going. What will you do instead? Are you thinking about apprenticeships? Do you have a job?
The sheer amount of people going to university now means that (excluding medicine and a few other specific subjects) degrees have very little merit when it comes to job hunting. Just because you have a degree doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be any better off than the next person. It doesn’t guarantee you a job in your chosen field. It doesn’t make you a better person, and above all, it doesn’t make you any more qualified (unless, of course, we’re talking about medicine or other specific subjects). Back in the days when my dad went to uni, a degree was much more difficult to obtain. Only the very best people went to university and if you had a BSc or BAHons at the end of your name on a CV, it actually meant something.
When I started college, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I was adamant that I did not want to go to university. This carried on in my second year, when many of my friends were going off to open days and collecting prospectuses. It did not appeal to me at all. The only reason I did end up going was because most of my teachers during my second year told me: “you may as well go. If you don’t like it, you can always drop out,” like it was the easiest process in the world. Looking back, that’s a terrible piece of advice to be giving out. I realise now that they were probably only saying it because the more students that went to uni, the better the college looked. I decided to do a third year to complete an A Level in English Language, and then continue to university to do a degree because really, what else was there to do?
It felt to me that there aren’t enough options aside from university. I was given very little guidance when I was a naive 17 year old without a clue. It was basically “go to university or be stuck at Pets At Home for the rest of your working life”. I realise now that those aren’t the only two directions my life could take, but it was a particularly scary ultimatum to be given when I was basically being forced to decide on the next forty years of my life pretty much on the spot. Interestingly, of the four of us from our group of close friends that went off to university, only one of them is actually enjoying it. Two of us (including me) left, and the other one hates it. I won’t mention any names, just in case they don’t want me to, but I’m fairly sure they know who they are. *waves*
So, during the summer holidays, I finally emailed my lecturers and told them I wasn’t going back in September, and moved back to Basingstoke, animals and fish in tow. I’m using this next year to work full time and earn some money, travel to New Zealand to see my family and hopefully work somewhat slowly on my main novel and the various side projects I have in mind. There’s also NaNoWriMo in November, which I would like to seriously attempt this year. I have a 27 hour flight to the other side of the world at the beginning of November, so hopefully it will give me something to do!
Will I return to university next year? I have no idea. Given the rotten ol’ time I had this year, I’m not exactly in any hurry to go back. My mental stability is far more important to me than a £45,000 piece of paper telling me that a full stop goes at the end of a sentence (seriously though, I had a lecture on that exact thing). At the moment I’m doubtful that I’ll go back, but I’m wanting to keep my options open. I’m still technically a student of the uni, I’ve just deferred a year. I won’t know for some time if I will be going back, purely because I still have the sour taste of my first year in my mouth – and I’m not talking about Fresher’s Week hangovers!
Thank you for reading!