Life at university – the good, the bad and the ugly

uni2When it comes to university, I will never write anyone off. Even those who are the least academic people around can find a perfect course for them, perhaps with more practical work, and can find it a fantastic experience. The big question is whether it is in fact a truly valuable experience for the individual, and while I think the life experience you gain is immeasurable, often the money and time involved can mean the experience is worth somewhat less in the long run. For me, university was something I had been set on from a young age. Not because of my education, family or upbringing, but because I wanted to study, I loved to learn and I needed a degree in order to achieve my life goals. Plus I really wanted the experience, I wanted to get away from my town, I wanted to move out and look after myself, to gain independence. This was the perfect opportunity and I know that many who are currently looking, researching and making final choices will feel the same.

What I want to do is to make you aware that university is not a doddle, it is hard work for a minimum of three years of living away from home, working while studying and surviving on meagre loans and it can be lonely at times. But at the same time, you will meet the best friends, have the most bizarre experiences and finally have a chance to follow and indulge your true passions. So many people I know are preparing to sit their exams and are trying to make huge decisions about the next three years of their life and where they want to spend it. For me, I was lucky and this was easy – I walked on the campus and instantly fell in love with it. When I read about the courses and met the professors it only further cemented my decision and I am so glad I stuck with it despite my university asking for the lowest number of UCAS points out of each of my offers.

There is a lot to think about when making your decision and it is easy to be blinded by the thought of parties, living in a city, and studying with or following your friends. By writing this, I hope to give prospective university students into the slightly less exciting and fun sides of university just to try and balance out all the amazing fun you will be hearing about. Don’t by any means take this as a negative view of university because it really was the best three years of my life so far and I would encourage anyone to take the opportunity, I just think it is important to make an informed decision. Here’s what happens when things aren’t all sunshine and roses at university:uni1

  • Sometimes things don’t go right. You might not get the place at the university of your choice, you might not get on to the course you wanted or you might not get into the good accommodation. So what happens then? Well, I have a friend who was forced into a hotel for the first few months of university after an accommodation cock-up and she ended up struggling to meet people or make friends. She hated her time at university and found it difficult later on to find housemates for second and third year.
  • Your course might not be the one you wanted. I know a lot of people who switched courses during the first few months because they decided it wasn’t for them. There are always options available – my course allowed us to take on modules from any course in the Humanities sector, it was my choice to focus on English.
  • You might end up in the good accommodation, but with the smelliest and dirtiest people around. We had a particularly smelly individual living in ours who refused to clean his room or wash his plates in the kitchen even when they grew mould in three colours. It was gross, but we found ways around it, piled his stuff outside his room until he got the hint and locked it in one cupboard.
  • You are going to be poor. Being a student in first year I was living in my overdraft from the first week and I had friends who had more than one overdraft as well as their loans. Accept it from the start and be realistic about what you spend your money on. When you get your loan, work out what you have to spend each week and decide whether you can live off this. If you can’t – you need to think about getting a part-time job. This is easy, work in retail, at a bar, in the student union, with the marketing team or even in a supermarket. There’s loads of options available and around universities work is always flexible to suit university students.
  • Sometimes, you and your “friends” will not get on. I was incredibly lucky and the girls I met in my first week in my own flat turned out to be some of the best friends I have ever had. I lived with them throughout university and still see them all regularly after finishing. But if you don’t get on with them, things can often turn nasty in such close living and study quarters and university can become a very lonely place. Do yourself a favour and get out, join clubs or work on the newspaper, meet people on nights out and make the most of every second. Sitting at home alone will only make things worse.
  • The workload could be a shock. After putting in a lot of extra work at A Level, I found I was very prepared for the workload at university, but I know many that weren’t. If you are not one for independent study and reading, you might find it a bit of a culture shock to be expected to do so much on your own. You need to adapt and fast or you will end up behind. Stay organised and keep on top of things because you can quickly feel like you are drowning. Study with friends on your course and talk about difficult bits with them, they may be able to offer help. Don’t be afraid to speak to your tutor and to ask for advice – they certainly get paid enough to help you!
  • You might not be great at taking care of yourself. Whether we are talking personal safety and not walking home alone at night or we’re talking about doing the washing up, cooking and washing your clothes. For those pampered by mum at home, it can be a real surprise to see how much is involved and it can seem crazy to those who have never cooked or cleaned. But this is an amazing opportunity to learn and become capable. I was lucky and knew how to look after myself, but one of my flatmates was scared to cook, another had been pampered by mummy who still sent pack-ups, and another had never used a washing machine. Learn from each other, get your friends to teach you and realise that you will live a hell of a lot better and save a lot more money if you have these vital skills.

uni4Don’t let this put you off – university is amazing. It is so much fun and really does help set you up for life if you make the most of it and grab every opportunity. Just be prepared and aware that it isn’t sunshine and smiles 24/7, and that sometimes you might be homesick and lonely but that is okay. It isn’t right for everyone, but it could also be the best thing you ever do, and it certainly whizzes by in no time at all. I have a friend who studied abroad for a year, left behind her university friends and made a whole load of new ones. She is now travelling the world and staying with all of her international friends along the way. If that doesn’t inspire you, I don’t know what will! Of course, I would never argue that university is the only option and I know that for many it isn’t, but having the opportunity is amazing and making that decision over what is the right choice for you, is one of the biggest decisions of your life at 18.

What was your best university experience? Planning to go, what are you most worried about?

28 responses to “Life at university – the good, the bad and the ugly

  1. Finally someone who admits it isn’t all roses 24/7… I find all too often that people compete to make out that their uni is the most outrageously fun and skip the part where everyone feels that little pang of loneliness every now and then. Good advice for new students!

    • Thanks lovely – yes I thought it was so important to make sure people understand that just like everything in life, there are ups and downs. That doesn’t make it any less of an experience, it just means you need to be prepared. I think preparation can make all the difference, I was prepared and I was lucky that I had a great time. But I know others who had a bit of a crappy time because of some things that were out of their control and others that were – we just have to do what we can to make the things we can control less of an issue 🙂 Everyone gets lonely sometimes – it’s just how we deal with it that matters. xx

  2. Couldn’t agree more with them points, I think what some people forget when going to uni is that your there to figure out exactly what career path you want to take and although the experience is great and doing crazy things is great the end goal for me is what drives me to do everything that I can whilst there.

    • You’re so right Leasha – I guess this is the problem when so many use university purely as an escape from their home town and an excuse to party for three years instead of really pursuing their dreams and passions. At the end of it all, you might remember the wild parties and fun, but you’ll be remembered for the grades and the mark the experience left on your CV. Thanks for commenting xx

  3. Great post and a perfect read for anyone heading to uni. I finished uni quite a few years ago and although I spent a lot of money on a criminology degree and I am now a full-time blogger, I still don’t regret going. I had some of the best times of my life there. It is hard work though and I think too many people think that all students do is drink.

    • Thanks Dannii – you’re right, we should never regret our time at university when we have put that much money into it – that could be part of a deposit for a house. Putting that much faith in ourselves as a student, e owe it to ourselves to get the most out of it. I’m so jealous that you are a full-time blogger – you are living the dream! And I agree, far too many people thing students spend all their time partying instead of studying.. xx

  4. This is really useful for me! I’ve picked my A-levels but I’m not happy with them as I don’t know what university course I want to do and what it requries at A-level. It’s such a huge decision…aaaaaghh help!

    • I’m glad I could help 🙂 What A-levels are you doing? It’s so difficult to choose at 16, you feel like your entire life depends on them but trust me it doesn’t. There are lots of options and opportunities to change – I know lots of people who changed their A-levels after a few weeks/months because they didn’t enjoy them. Likewise, it is difficult to choose them to reflect what you want to study at university because you need to use A-levels to discover your real talents and passions to help you decide! All I can advise is to strive to study what you enjoy because when you get to university level, you really need to enjoy the course to put up with studying it for three years. Have you got any ideas what you would like to work as eventually or what you might like to study?

      • I have no idea what to do in the future and it makes it so difficult to pick. I picked maths because it’s a general subject that may help in most things (although I really don’t want to take it), I picked geography because I got an A in it (not because I want to do it), and psychology as it might be interesting. The fourth subject, I have no idea. It sounds a bit sad that I don’t like any subjects but I have goals I want to achieve when I’m older: travel the world (I’d love to do that as a job!), have income that can sustain my living standards (as in eat a load of organic foods and dress like a boss).

        I was thinking of having an online university course as it would give me more free time to blog (which I really enjoy), work and travel.

      • That must make the decision feel so overwhelming but don’t be disheartened by not really enjoying your subjects. I found that studying at a-level made the whole subjects seem totally different because it is so much more in-depth and interesting. You might find that while the subjects weren’t that interesting at GCSE that they improve when you study them in more detail and have more creative space with them – this particular was the case in my studies of both Englishes and Religious Studies. Also, you have to remember that while you may not find the study of the subject as interesting, it could open up more options – you could end up working for a charity and using geography or maths which might enable to you travel for work etc.. there are so many options and the broader you keep your studies at the moment, the easier it will be for you to branch out or focus down as appropriate. Haha I love your living standards, mine are similar 😛 I would warn you against an online uni course, I know it is cheaper and offers for free time in theory, but often you are left with a lot less support and you have to be very motivated in order to do well. My mum studied her degree distance learning and found it much harder than I did being at uni with my tutors, my boyfriend is studying his a-levels again by distance learning which works because he is super motivated, but I really struggled with my online journalism course because I was never given the correct support with it.. Sounds like you have a lot to consider, I hope I’ve been of help to you and feel free to drop me a message if you need any advice or to ask about any of the process 🙂 I’ll help where I can, just don’t feel pressured into making a decision that is not right for you xxx

      • Yes this is so helpful, I even showed your reply or my mum and she totally agrees! After a bit of researching, I think I found a university course that I might like: international developments!

      • That’s so great! I’m really pleased for you 😊 glad I could help! Xxx

  5. This was a great post covering everything about uni! I definitely agree that uni can be for everyone and everything but it’s not fun being poor, with fresher’s flu, piles of assignments and dirty, slobby students living with you! Putting the studies aside (I love learning too) I feel like I’ve missed out on the fun side of student life as I never lived in halls of residence or joined any societies to meet more new people. And I won’t miss the loneliness and not seeing my family for months. But uni, like so many experiences, is what you make it 🙂 xx

    • Thanks Jody! And you’re right, I’d forgotten to mention fresher’s flu – that’s not fun for anyone! It’s a shame you didn’t have that experience, but I’m sure you had a whole other experience that was equally valuable to you – what did you do instead? Yeah these things affect us all but if you deal with it well it can stop it from being a problem, if you let it get to you, it can take over your experience.. Xxx

      • I think it’s just different courses. No uni course is easy but with social work there’s not much freetime. I’m sure that’s the same for lots of courses but I have learnt some valuable learning experiences anyway 🙂 xx

      • Ahh yes I had a friend at a different university who did social work and her experience of uni couldn’t have been any more different to mine – mine was so much individual study and reading and I was only actually in lectures 8 hours a week whereas she was in every day and all day long with placements etc – definitely a demanding course but I’m sure it really pays off 🙂 x

  6. Great advice. Especially about the workload. Unfortunately successive government policy seems to have made students reliant on being fed information and university (indeed life) is a different thing.

    I can’t believe about the smelly individual yu lived with – that sounds horrific!

    • Thanks Denise, it really is such a shame the way we are taught. I was lucky and was always very independent with my studies early on because I enjoyed learning in my own way and didn’t always find teachers’ methods so effective, but many aren’t like that and the majority do just get spoon-fed all time which does make uni such a shock. haha yeah it was an experience, but luckily he kept out of sight and smell most of the time, rarely came out of his room and once we hid away his plates things were fine 😛

  7. This is a fantastic post and so informative for those who are currently looking into going and making the transition. It’s all very well for someone to point out all the amazing things about university but you need a reality check sometimes too and I think that’s the most important thing.

    I never went to uni and sometimes I really wish I did. Hell, even the other day I was wondering whether it’s feasible for me to go NOW. 3 years after I was supposed to! Haha! At sixth form, my career path didn’t really go to plan so I wouldn’t have been doing what I wanted to do anyway.

    One of my best friends went to uni and she has told me many stories about a lot of the things you mention above. She’s had terrible fall outs with her roommates at times and it got her so down. She also struggled with the work when she was going through some personal health problems which really took a toll on her grades so you’re absolutely right about how it’s not all sunshine and smiles 24/7! x

    • Thanks Jenny 🙂 I’m glad it could help people. I just got so sick of seeing people writing about how amazing uni is al the time and never telling the more human side of it. For every good experience there is also the one that sucks, where accommodation or loans are not sorted out properly, where flatmates turn out to be horrible and where the course just isn’t what you imagined. It’s important to be realistic and give an honest view of what it is really like to others can make informed decisions about their own plans. I think uni is one of those things, because you hear so much about it and see pictures of people having an amazing time, that you always wonder about if you don’t do it at the time. But perhaps that is more because all the way through school we are taught that this is the only real option – we were never taught about apprenticeships or going straight into work – there was no support for these students and limited for uni students..
      It’s sad that your friend had such a tough time at university, and it makes me glad that I had it so easy when I was there, but I hope she still has some great memories and that her experiences have made her a stronger person 🙂 It must be so hard to cope with health problems while away from family and home friends and to have to look after yourself while maintaining your studies, I admire her for not dropping out. I knew one or two students who were forced to drop out because of health problems/accidents and it must have been soul destroying after working so hard to get there in the first place!
      Don’t forget, there is always time to go back to studying and uni later on when you have a clearer idea of what you want to study. My boyfriend is 24 and he is retaking his a-levels after working as an engineer since 6th form. He hopes to study history of business at university and is finding his studies so much more valuable and interesting than when he took them the first time. My mum studied for a degree in education at the same time I was doing mine, but she did hers part-time around working full time – there are always options 🙂 xxxx

  8. I’m going to be going to uni in 2015 and I have to say the flatmates are my biggest concern! I know some people who have (like you) been incredibly lucky and made great friends with flatmates but I also know others that have become really sad and wanted to leave uni all because they can’t stand the people they’re living with. It’s a really scary prospect but I’m just hoping I’ll be as lucky as you, have the strength to get over it or join a club and make a completely new set of friends! Wish me luck everyone 😉 x

    • Hi Phoebe, I know it is a bit scary moving into a brand new place where you don’t know anyone, but most people I know have got on well with their flatmates, maybe not all of them but their flatmates are often a big part of their uni friendship group. The fact that you have been off travelling and meeting new people all the time tells me that you must be good at making new friends, so I’m sure you’ll have nothing to worry about. But just remember, if you don’t get on so well with your flatmates, there are loads of other people on campus, on your course, and on nights out. Just throw yourself into it in the first few weeks and meet as many people as possible, say hi to lots of people in your lectures/seminars and then you have lots of backups in case you decide you’re not keen on the flatmates. It is scary, but no scarier than travelling the world by yourself 🙂 good luck – but I’m sure you won’t need it!! xx

      • Thank you so much, that’s all really helpful!! 🙂 I’m determined to be one of those people who’s always busy at uni and has no time to mope about! I’m hoping to study at Glasgow or Edinburgh, I’ll be applying this year – I’m so excited to study literature and all the different modules you can specialise in like Dystopian and American literature sound really fascinating! Thanks for your advice, I will certainly read up plenty before I go! Again, great blog and I really enjoy following it. Best wishes! xxx

      • That’s the best way, I could never stand being idle when I was at uni, I was always doing something, I wish I had started blogging back then because I would have had more time to spend on it 🙂 That sounds amazing – you’ll have such a fantastic time in either city! Looking forward to reading all about your time at university and what you end up studying. Thanks so much and right back at ya! xxxx

  9. also, really great post and blog – it’s really good to have a realistic view based around studies instead of the lifestyle! I’m hoping to do English literature after my gap year, any advice?? xxx

    • Thanks 🙂 and I’m glad it has helped so many people to read – like you say there are so many people raving about the lifestyle but there is so much more to uni! Oooh lovely – where are you studying? I loved literature, was just fascinating. Advice-wise, I would say get on top of and stay on top of the reading – check out the reading lists if possible before you start and any info about the course, you might be able to get reading lists before you go and make an early start. Always read extra around the topic, it will help so much with contextualising for essays and discuss, discuss, discuss! Lit is a great one for making friends because your seminars are just literary discussion and you are encouraged to talk to each other – so great when you get a group of people you can have great discussions with and share ideas with 🙂 Also, research into teh diff modules and don’t be afraid to ask professors more about them – I was lucky and got to study loads of really different ones including early American literature and Dystopian literature which were amazing! Hope that helps! Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to help out 🙂 xxxx

  10. There’s some excellent advice here! I know I wasn’t quite prepared for the level of independent study and even though I’ve just finished second year sometimes I still struggle to make myself work! x

    • Thanks! I think it’s hard to be prepared when we are so mollycoddled at high school, everything is spoon fed and repeated parrot fashion – there’s no room for independent thought but then it is demanded of us when we reach uni. I’m glad you’ve managed to cope with the workload and don’t feel alone, we all struggle with it, some more or less than others, that doesn’t make us any less intelligent though! X

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