Choosing to go down the university path has arguably become the "norm" for those of us finishing our A Levels and putting off living in the real world for just that little bit longer. In fact, last year, UCAS announced that in England, 238,900 people at the tender age of 18 chose this route, THE HIGHEST NUMBER TO DATE. When I reached my second year at college, the option of going to university was the one that was advertised to us left, right and centre. It didn't even seem like a question; going to university was the absolute obvious choice. Whilst there, I was told I would enjoy "the university experience", meeting new people, the freedom and the drinking. Being told that university was going to be this way set my expectations high. So off I went, prepared for the best years of my life only to experience something quite different.
I'm not saying that this is the case for everybody, university may have been the best years of some people's lives. But I remember as the years went on that it hadn't reached my expectations and maybe I wasn't normal because of that. I want to share the things that we don't get told about going to university, the things that I learnt through my time on my undergraduate course living 200 miles away from home that may help other students to be at peace with their own experience.
University can be a lonely place
You wouldn't think it with all the people who are around constantly: the initial flatmates and the future housemates. And it's true, there are always people about, you are never alone in that sense. But there's something that just doesn't quite feel the same in this set up as being around your family who you're 100% comfortable with and happy around. I found that I really missed the easy company of my family; the simple pleasure of being able to go into my sister's room and snuggle in her bed without having to say a word. Instead you can end up spending quite a lot of time on your own where you binge watch every series of Breaking Bad or Made in Chelsea which leads me nicely onto my next point...
Nobody tells you before going to university how BORED you can get! I have never, before or since, spent so much time in my room in bed watching TV shows on my laptop. That could sound like bliss to some of you but after you've gone to your only one hour lecture of the day to return home with no other plans but to go back to bed, this can become a very mundane and miserable routine. And such an anti-climax after what you were expecting university to be like. It doesn't help that you're a very poor student who must make the ongoing decision on whether you want to spend your money on a social life that week or a food shop.
Clubbing and drinking is NOT compulsory
I am someone who is not really bothered about alcohol and definitely does not care for spending £5 to get into a grubby club to shout to each other over music you don't even like and temporarily lose a shoe on the sticky dance floor. Yes, that actually did happen to me once. I must admit, in my first year of university I did get caught up in the excitement of going out, drinking too much and stuffing my face with a hot dog from Oceana at the end of a night (as if that was even a thing?) but my urge to go out slowly dwindled. I felt a bit weird for this, particularly in my final year where I barely ever went out clubbing and then when I did, was back in bed for a decent time with a cup of tea. Now I am the wise old age of 23, I can say with confidence that I do not like clubbing. It doesn't matter what other people do or think about that, what matters is you do what makes you happy. And if this means spending your evening out at the cinema or Nando's then absolutely go for it. The piri piri chicken definitely beats an Oceana hot dog, trust me.
It's never too late to make new friends or join societies
I know that some people go to university with joining a society (or multiple societies if you're REALLY outgoing) as a priority on their to do list. However, I did not. A) because I'm not very outgoing B) once I have made a group of friends, I get settled C) I am very lazy D) when would I have time to watch every episode of Breaking Bad? So I spent the first two years at university in a little bubble with the friends I made in halls and avoiding any further socialising. However, it wasn't until everything spiralled in my final year where I was battling depression that I actually put myself out there. I joined a Peer Support group where we were trained to support other students who were struggling. I met some great people and it felt like I was a part of a little community. I still strongly believe to this day that being a part of this gave me the sense of purpose I needed to recover from depression. And this happened in my final year when I only had a few months left of being an undergraduate student. It's never too late to get yourself out there!
Having freedom doesn't mean moving miles away from home
I didn't really think it when I was first browsing the various universities around the UK but I am actually quite a home bird. Instead I thought "Fantastic! A chance to move to a completely different part of the country 200 miles away!" In my first year, I thought that living so far away and having this new-found independence was fantastic, I didn't miss home at all. But as I reached my final year and the depression took a hold of me, living so far from home was incredibly difficult. I spent hundreds of pounds coming back on the train, which in itself was an ordeal through the panic attacks and travel sickness, to see my family for the comfort and company I desperately needed. I wouldn't say I regret moving so far to do my undergraduate degree but I do think it's important for the person to really think about who they are and what's going to suit them best. If you're someone, like me, who likes their family close, try not to get caught up in the idea that freedom= separating yourself completely from home.
So, when people are gushing about how absolutely AMAZING university is and how it is the absolute BEST years of their life, it doesn't matter if your experience wasn't or isn't the same. It doesn't matter that you didn't like going out drinking or that you went to a university half an hour away from your hometown so you could see your family every weekend. What does matter is that you're happy and you make the right choices for you.