University Might not be ‘The Best Years of Your Life’, and That is Okay
The idea that life at university is the peak of existence and one of, if not THE most important moments in your life is, needless to say, stressful.
University as an experience is highly romanticised by flimsy brochures
For those lucky enough to have secured a place at a university of their choice, the pressure to experience ‘the best years of your life' and make the most of every single moment can be overwhelming. University as an experience is highly romanticised by flimsy brochures; with words like ‘ambitions’ and ‘life-changing' being thrown around like confetti. To top it off, there are countless pictures of students reading textbooks on the lawn, and laughing together in the sunshine. In reality, the expectation that you’ll get to uni, have intelligent conversations with new friends, join every society and sports group that takes your fancy all while having lots of fun is pretty much completely wrong.
So, are these really the ‘best years of your life’?
Whilst these numbers could be linked to a variety of different causes, it’s easy to see how university life can affect mental health in particular. Don’t get me wrong, attending university is a fantastic place to branch out, try new things and of course fulfil the ever clichéd effort to ‘find yourself.’ Yet, in order to do this, you first have to accustom yourself to living away from home , learning to look after yourself, acclimatising to the dramatic increase in workload/academic expectations, deal with social pressures, try to make friends, keep in contact with your family and adapt to the complete lack of structure that comes with higher education.
It’s this lack of structure, in fact, that can be the downfall of many highly intelligent and capable students. At secondary schools, colleges and sixth forms, the emphasis is placed on your final grade; rather than the work needed to get there. As a result of this, teachers select the information on the marking criteria to teach their students what to do, when to do it and how to do it.
At university, however, students are given an entire academic library to get to grips with, and whilst there are deadlines on work, the majority of research and study must be done at home. This is, of course, a very freeing and self-sufficient way of studying, but when students take the leap from being ‘spoon-fed’ their syllabus to relying on self-discipline at university, it is only natural that many are left doubting their own abilities.
it is only natural that many are left doubting their own abilities.
Many universities have made an effort to recognise this and most do not count the first year towards final degree grades, however, with this comes the social pressure to ‘make the most of it.’ Lots of people think that if grades do not count, then surely first year's should be out living their best lives and enjoying every second, right?
With university comes an abundance of free time, which is technically for study, but actually ends up contributing to feelings of loneliness and guilt accumulated by missed deadlines and events. Socially, the university experience is known for being very alcohol based and not wanting to go out clubbing can make it even harder to make friends. Depending on your chosen accommodation, you may also be sharing your living space with strangers, all of whom likely come from different upbringings, with different behaviours than you are used to at home. Neither lectures nor seminars tend to be overly social events, and societies and sports clubs fill up quickly – making it even harder to find your ‘group.’
As well as the academic and social pressures of university, it’s also worth noting the pressures that we, as a society, put on students to enjoy themselves.
It might sound ridiculous, but being constantly bombarded with comments on how you must be enjoying the ‘best years of your life,’ and that this sometimes pretty dismal experience is a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’ can be incredibly hard to hear. It is easy to feel as though you should be going out every night, you should have made more friends, you should be coping fine with the workload and you should be having fun- especially when platforms such as Instagram and Facebook are filled with people seeming to do just that.
Like anything in life, going to university can be an amazing experience, and it can also not be. Maybe it will be the best years of your life (although that is quite a disheartening thought in itself) and maybe it won’t. It is definitely a privilege to be able to attend university, but that does not mean that you are doing anything wrong if you are not enjoying it as much as you thought you would.
My advice to you is to be gentle with yourself, manage your expectations, seek help when you need it and remember that the best may (and probably is) still yet to come