Overall I loved my time at university. I studied in Hull (City of Culture 2017, w00t w00t) for three great years and fell head over heels with both the campus and the city. I made lifelong friends, overcame obstacles ranging from minor to catastrophic, significantly increased my alcohol tolerance (Welly vodka, amirite), and somehow managed to stumble out the other end wearing a mortar board holding my degree.
It wasn’t all easy and I made a lot of mistakes that I wouldn’t make now if I could go back and do it all again. It probably demonstrates a lot of personal growth, to be honest, which is encouraging given that I first went to uni FIVE. WHOLE. YEARS. AGO. If you’re going to be a fresher this September, there’s a chance you’ll find this post useful — learn from my mistakes!
I’d get to know more people on my course. I made a few pretty good friends in the English department but I do wish I’d made more of an effort. I kinda wish I’d had that support network in the library at 2 AM during exam season, swapping essay sources and bouncing ideas off each other, mutually cringing at having to read out your original work in the Creative Writing seminars. I never really felt part of it, so I wish I’d really embraced that particular social aspect.
I’d join a (sports) society. I’m not the sportiest of people, so my anxiety over that definitely held me back from joining a club. I wish I’d realised that it was more about socialising, going out, having fun, going on trips with your new friends and only competing to the intensity you want to.
But I wouldn’t try to make friends with everyone. A panic sets in on that first afternoon when you arrive in a new city, knowing nobody, that you’re going to end up with no friends. So you kind of cling on to anyone who seems quite nice. Well, believe me when I say, you really don’t need to. I’m lucky that I’ve formed solid friendships with a couple of the girls I met on that first day; I just wish that I’d concentrated more of my time on them rather than spreading it more thinly among people who I just didn’t click with.
I’d take more time before committing to a relationship. I was in a relationship by the start of my second semester, a relationship that lasted until well after I graduated three years later. If I hadn’t been in such a hurry, my uni experience would have been dramatically different, probably for the better. I don’t regret it, but it was definitely the wrong move at the time. I should have focused on building stronger friendships rather than fixating on some lad I fancied.
I’d take my first year more seriously. There was a lot of buzz around first year and how it didn’t count towards your degree and how you only needed 40% to pass. Basically I let this go to my head more than I should’ve done. First year was the best opportunity to lay the foundations for good revision habits, gain an even base of knowledge, and make silly mistakes without any fall-out. If I could do it all over again, I’d definitely make use of that!
I’d reach out: for more help, more contacts, more opportunities. I floundered through most of my degree, and now I’m kinda kicking myself for not just grabbing someone who mattered and admitting that I was struggling, in all kinds of ways. The help was there. I could’ve built up a rapport with my tutors, used more of their knowledge and expertise, asked for references, and taken advantage of placement and job opportunities. It was all there, and that’s one piece of wisdom I’d impart on new freshers.
I’d pay attention to my mental health. Along a similar vein, I wish I’d listened to my own mind when it was screaming out for help, rather than getting worried because I hadn’t heard it make a sound in so long. It was a totally separate issue that I needed to deal with in my own time, but it took its toll on my academic performance. Unbeknownst to me at the time, university student services take mental health very seriously and show a lot of compassion to those who are struggling.
Most of all, I’d do what was right for me. I’d relax; I’d trust that people would like me for me and that I didn’t need to present a more colourful, shinier version of myself in order to make friends. I’d say no to that impromptu night out and get myself to the library instead, making sure I was up early for the 9:15 A.M. lecture. I’d educate myself on the services available to me and make the most of them. I’d try to get a hold on my anxiety earlier and give it a good kick, and do everything that it originally held me back from, and I’d come out with a great deal more pride in my work!
Right, that’s me off my soapbox for now. Don’t be too nervous, have loads of fun, and most of all: good luck!
Oh, and you should definitely go to Hull — at least for the glorious stomach-liner that is a post-Beach Party cheesy chip wrap covered in Chip Spice.