My University experience was, without a doubt, the best experience of my life so far. It massively shaped me into the person I am today. My views and ways of thinking were formed here. It felt like home to me. I was truly happy.
I was free.
Some people tell you that when you leave University, you enter ‘the big wide world’ as if it is far more liberating. I never found it to be that way – or at least so far. Leaving what felt like my perfect place was hard. Incredibly hard. It hasn’t been easier since. I felt like Alice in Lewis Carroll’s books, where she is tossed out of Wonderland back to mundane reality. And ever since, I have been dreaming of finding my Looking-Glass passage back.
What often pains me, is thinking back to my time there, and considering whether I could have got more out of my experience, had I done a few things differently. Of course, we should never expect everything to go perfectly, but here are a few things that on reflection, I wish I could have changed.
1. Incessantly Worrying About the Future
This wasn’t a particular problem for me in my first year – it was all very new to me and I was in the zone of getting used to my new surroundings. However, by my second year, and most especially during my last year, I became incredibly anxious about my future post-university. Of course, this is normal and healthy in small doses.
But I began to fall victim to this persistent pressure that seems to be forced on students to ‘prove’ themselves and demonstrate that their degree was ‘worth it’ financially. It began to overrule my ability to relax and enjoy my journey. I would be in the middle of doing my course reading, when all of a sudden, these questions would bombard all of my attention:
What if I don’t get a job straight away?
What if I end up disappointing my parents?
What if I can’t afford a house in the future?
I could list a thousand more, but you get the idea. They were worries I couldn’t seem to just brush aside – they HAD to be answered. The problem was, I couldn’t answer them. In fact, there are very few people in that same position who can answer them.
From somebody nearly a year after graduation: you DO NOT need to answer these questions and worries.
You will find your way at the right time. The time to put your mind to these questions is when the time arises, not when you’re two steps back on a different journey. We tend to hype up these concerns to be far worse in our heads than what they are in real life. I managed to find employment fairly quickly after leaving university, and I instantly regretted all that valuable time I fed to my anxiety.
2. Being Too Stingy With Money
Our University experience teaches most of us two things about money: what it’s like to not have much and how to budget. But what about if some students take budgeting too seriously?
I had always been very good with saving money from a young girl, so when I reached University, I had some savings stored away in an account. This money, I had decided, was NOT to be spent at University but to be kept away for more important things, like buying a future mortgage. Sounds quite sensible really.
But what if my yearly spending funds provided by the Student Loan Company only covered enough to keep me alive? What about LIVING?
In order to keep every penny of my savings, I had to turn down fantastic summer opportunities for work experience and traveling in exchange for temporary retail work. I missed out on countless social events because I was trying to keep underneath my stingy budget.
On reflection, I wish I could have granted myself more freedom with my money. I believe that the opportunities I turned down would have been far more beneficial to me in the long term – both career-wise and personal enrichment.
I’m not talking about splashing money until you’re thousands in your overdraft, and of course, every student’s financial situation is different. There are going to be many people out there who just simply don’t have money to spare – to whom my heart really goes out for. However, if you do have some savings to fall back on, ask yourself this question: which is more important, early future financial security, or making the most of your life and its opportunities?
3. Not Making the Most Of the Opportunities Available
This sounds similar to my last point, but it actually goes further than financial stinginess. Even when money wasn’t the problem, I found something else that was. Whether it was getting every last bit of my course reading done, perfecting assignments, or just simply being too tired, I let countless opportunities slip by.
University comes packed with hundreds of societies, ranging massively in interests. I think my misconception about them was that they were just ‘for fun’. What I realise now as a graduate, is that they were perfect opportunities for developing new skills and hence, enriching my CV.
I tried my absolute best for my degree. I put in all the effort I had. While I still found it incredibly rewarding for me and continue to feel immensely proud of myself for it, I sometimes wonder if I would have been better off with a little more experience under my belt at the cost of maybe a couple of marks.
If I have learned anything about the working world as a graduate in the past year, it is that sometimes the highest academic grade isn’t always the most favourable quality. Getting involved in the societies and work opportunities that University has to offer, no matter how fun and casual they may seem, will look better on you than you may think.
4. Having No Proper Routine
Granted, experiencing the true student life is staying at the library until 12am, before tiptoeing back into the house to try and make late-night dinner without disturbing your housemates. Or, more excitingly, discovering that your friend’s schedule is just as messed up as your own and spending the entire night bonding over it.
I don’t entirely regret this. I loved the freedom I had to get things done whenever I felt best. I was at liberty to just leave the house to go anywhere, at any time, and no one asked questions. It’s the kind of freedom you won’t get later on in life. Some of my favourite moments with friends were shared during this mess that is a student’s non-existent routine.
What I do regret, is not having a routine when I really NEEDED it. I won’t pretend like University is easy. It’s hard. Really. Dealing with the stress and pressure of assignments, alongside my tendency to unnecessarily worry about anything and everything, was so exhausting! In order to successfully complete my work and fit in the opportunities I should have liked to have taken, it would have required an immense amount of self-discipline when it came to a routine. Unfortunately, I never really achieved that.