It seems most people's perception of student life is that it consists of a huge group of hyper social individuals going from party to party without a care in the world. As I come towards the end of my degree I don't think this is quite accurate.
I was part of the first year of university students who faced the increase in university tuition fees in 2012. In combination with the increased competition to get jobs after university, students are under even greater pressure to attain the top grades. This does not take into account the additional pressures which foreign students face, with their even greater tuition fees. Also, in certain cases they face culturally induced pressures to succeed at university with a distinctive fear of failure.
The compulsion of students to brag about pulling an 'all-nighter' or reach a point of exhaustion where they are falling asleep in the library ramps up this pressure to either become severely sleep deprived or become a night owl. I mean, no one seems to praise the students who pull 'all-dayers'!
Additionally, with a small number of exceptions, we face the realisation that we are no longer one of the best at what we have chosen to study. Personally, as a 2:1 student (unless a miracle or huge disaster occurs between now and finals - eek!) I face the frustration of people writing essays overnight and achieving Firsts with no apparent effort, which contrasts with the increasing pressure I and others put ourselves under to achieve the grade.
Within this pressure cooker of student life, I found that myself and friends became increasingly homesick. I did not know anyone else attending my university having come from a small school in Blackpool. I faced the situation where I probably needed help but felt unable to ask for it having not adjusted to the difference in support which university lecturers offer compared to school teachers who I saw every weekday at school for years.
I shared a room for a couple of months with a girl who faced mental health issues and as far as I understood, she felt pressured to share a room in the hope of becoming part of this hyper-socialised ideal of university life. At the time I felt at odds with her, as I was trying to be involved with everything I could in an effort to ensure that I lived up to the label of being a 'student'. I think that our difficulties were due to the misplaced perceptions of what a 'student' lifestyle is. I mean, lots of people are students, so logically it should encapsulate a much broader description than a 'hyper-social' individual.
I volunteer with a charity called North London Cares which I began doing as part of my role on the Lloyds Scholars programme. North London Cares works to bring together isolated elderly people and young professionals. Spending my time doing things like this has made me feel part of a community. It is always nice when I pop to the shops and bump into people I know. However, I have personally felt the loneliness that the old folks describe feeling (although not nearly as severely where it reaches a point of isolation) but I have also seen glimpses of this in my student friends. It should be talked about more and taken into consideration.
If there is one thing I have learned from my degree (Archaeology and Anthropology) it is that no one ever fits an 'ideal' type such as the 'hyper-social student' that the media presents. And so, instead of creating a breeding ground for social anxiety and even a damaging retreat into isolation, perhaps we could take a bit more time to do or see things a bit more inclusively.