Going to university can be something that is expected of you, if your school is the type to push you in academics they probably expect you to go. There are of course other pressures such as family, friends, what you think society presumes you’ll do, and the classic fear of actually leaving education and going into the working world. I did A levels since they were the right form of higher education for me, and they basically prepare you for university a little bit more than GCSEs and are of course necessary to get in. There are other forms of further education such as the International Baccalaureate and BTECs but I know little about them and ultimately that is a choice to be made by the individual based on their area of interest. So clearly there is pressure to go, and the prospect is daunting, it can feel like you’re trapped between the fear of work and the fear of university, but it is important to make the right choice for yourself.
I was fortunate in that I always knew I wanted to go, and therefore it was a natural route for me. However I didn’t appreciate what I wanted to do and study at university until I took my gap year. I didn’t exactly chose to take a gap year, I needed an AAB to get in to my desired Sheffield University to do English and History and just missed it with an AAC. I could have gone through clearing but I didn’t want to pick a university I’d never visited, or rush the decision, so I took my gap year. It turned out to be the best thing that could’ve happened for me, I went to France to be an au-pair which was such a maturing experience, I had no grip on the language and it stressed the importance of language skills in the modern world. It also made me realise I’d have been miserable studying English and History as I would’ve been stuck studying genres and periods I had no interest in, simply to get a varied degree. Instead I came up with the idea to study European Studies which would incorporate all the things I loved, based around what is for me the most fascinating continent.
I found the perfect course and university for me and got an unconditional offer, so of course I thought everything was sorted and hunky dory. I had heard that university was difficult and anticipated feeling homesick because I am such a family oriented person, but I was not prepared for how much I would struggle come second year. I knew without a shadow of a doubt that university was where I was meant to be, that this is what I wanted to do and I had a firm grasp of what I wanted for my future. I’ve never questioned any of that enough for me to drop out or change my mind, but this last term has been the most challenging yet.
It is not the work that’s the problem exactly, it’s more my health and sleeping disorder (which I’ll speak about in more detail in a later post) which has been causing me trouble. I don’t want to go into too much detail for this post but it can be one of the most frustrating things in the world to know your potential and not be physically able to achieve it, because something it holding you back. But I want to communicate how I have felt since I’ve been at university and what is best to do to deal with it.
I went through the expected homesickness in first year, I expected to struggle with freshers’ week and feel like no one else was, and I did. When I eventually admitted I’d felt horribly homesick in my freshers’ week everyone said they were too busy with everything there was to do to feel homesick, and that was hard to hear as I felt weird for having the time to get sad. But perhaps that was because I’d been away from home before, in another country, so maybe I was more aware of the reality of how difficult it can be, and therefore felt it sooner. I found it got better with time steadily, the few weeks before the end of terms was harder as you had half an eye on when you were leaving, and I eagerly awaited Christmas as it is my favourite time of year. I also felt the post-Christmas slump as things were less new and the effort of cooking and cleaning for myself was more real, and exams loomed ever closer.
But the biggest mistake I made was underestimating how I felt, the first term I expected to feel low, and so it was easier to deal with. But the second term was in some ways harder because I felt low not simply because I was homesick, but because I was struggling to deal with life in general. Depression and sadness with little cause is still a taboo subject, and hard to admit, and I knew I was supposed to be having the time of my life, and I was. But I was also struggling and didn’t want to come to terms with it. A lot of my struggles are related to my health but that didn’t mean I couldn’t find help. I eventually decided to see the campus counsellor and it made me feel so much better I don’t know why I didn’t go sooner. Ultimately I just needed someone to talk to independently, and it worked wonders. So why is it so hard to admit? I’d urge anyone feeling that way to go for it, because if someone wants to mock or judge you for feeling low they can go fuck themselves and grow up while they’re at it. Half the point of university is the maturing experience and learning to look after yourself, and sometimes your happiness needs a little nurturing.
I’ve also struggled financially pretty consistently since I went to university, it is such an expensive experience and it took me a while to get a job. I still struggle now, maintenance loans are simply not enough to get by on, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to work in. I also make life harder on myself because I’m so determined to be self sufficient and not burden my parents. This is something I’d advise others to avoid. I know everyone’s situations are different but if you’re struggling with any aspect of university I strongly advise speaking to someone, as there is help out there. It is not worth going to Wonga.com and paying insane amounts of interest when there are other options. So speak to someone and work something more suitable out.
Ultimately don’t suffer in silence, university isn’t for everyone, but if it is for you you might still find it challenging in unexpected ways. But the more challenges you get under your belt now, the better you’ll deal with them in the future. All I can say is find the right course before you begin it, and keep communicating anything that is getting tough. University can be the best time of your life, you just need to be able to care for yourself through the rougher patches.