Throughout secondary school, my mind was filled with expectations about university. Everybody I know who had been to university was keen to inform me as to exactly how it should be experienced, everything you can do, what’s good and bad about it. As I arrived for my first day in September 2013, expectation was stitched into my clothes.
Looking back over the past two years as I have begun my final year and teeter on the precipice of the rest of my life, I cannot help but reflect on my time at university. The dominant question in my brain, however, is “Was it worth it?” I wonder how many final year students at this university and around the country are wondering the same thing. It is not a nice question to ponder, as it throws all my uncertainties about university into the spotlight and forces them to sing a song while the rest of my psyche looks on judgementally.
Looking at each year in isolation, it is easy to track my progress as a student. But progress doesn’t equal positive utilisation of time.
My 1st year experience was deeply unsatisfying. I struggled in my halls of residence to find people I could get on with, I struggled to academically engage with my course, which was a totally different experience from the highly pressured atmosphere I was used to at my secondary school and I struggled to trust the friends I had made with these concerns as I didn’t know them closely enough, which meant dealing with them alone. My best memories from the first term, and to a marginally lesser extent the second term, were when I skyped my closest friends from school and caught up with them.
There were positive aspects to balance the negatives. Joining a sports club at university gave me something to look forward to each week, and it is one of the aspects of university which I have enjoyed most throughout my years. I also managed to develop a core group of friends in my second term who I ate with and whose company I enjoyed.
2nd year was immeasurably better than 1st. Living in a house, despite initially being alarming, proved to be superb maturation. I was more comfortable in social circles and expanded my friend group. I became fitter and stronger and felt happy with the way I conducted myself. I embarked upon the dreadful process of job applications for internships and was lucky enough to be successful after much perseverance.
- Picture: National Broadcast Academy
I found opportunities to express myself more creatively through journalism, so much so that I’m considering it as a viable option after university. I was starting to think about life after university, but it was still quite a distant reality and I was able to spend my time enjoying the company of those around me and experience new aspects of university life which I had been unable to in first year.
Though briefer thus far than other years, this year has posed an entirely different kind of challenge. The prospect of graduating is a challenge which I suspect shall only be surmounted when it actually happens: no amount of preparation can teach a person what stepping off the lit, paved path of education and into the murky, slippery long grass of proper life. At every stage of life, we are informed about the next events by those who’ve experienced them. It is, however, utter conjecture as to whether we undergo the same experience. Reassurance stops beings reassuring and becomes vacuous, phatic chat.
My course drags on being as uninspiring as ever and considering this is why I came to university in the first place, do I have a right to be disappointed with my time here?
What have I actually gained from being at university?
Well not what I expected, at least not directly and the question of expectation and culpability is too complex to discuss here. To elucidate that complex sentence, I will leave university with a degree; it is unlikely to be the 1st I desired, but I have come to terms with that; I have been stimulated by certain ingredients of my course though being dissatisfied for the most part. It is severely tempting to classify my academic experience as a waste of time; academia has a more compelling case for being a waste than any other aspect of my university.
I have become fitter, stronger and am 5kg heavier from regular sporting activity, which is a feat of which I am proud, yet I could have done this at home, or anywhere for that matter. Though university has given me the free time to dedicate to this pursuit. Speaking of dedicating time to pursuits, I have watched thousands of hours of YouTube videos which have in no way contributed to improving myself as a person and of which I am not at all proud.
One of the greatest skills university has taught me is that I can now cook a mean beef stew and know how a vacuum cleaner works (this knowledge will be conveniently forgotten upon a return home I assure you).
- Picture: knowhow.com
I can see my peers on my course have also utilised their time effectively, and in such a diverse range of activities it gave me the perspective to see what university can really offer someone: I have seen people appear on University Challenge, stand up for international human rights and start up an organisation in Bristol from the inception of the idea, overseeing it through the most onerous stages of the process.
Without a doubt the greatest aspect of my time at university are the personal connections I have made. No amount of prescience and speculation pre-university can ready you for exactly who you’ll end up meeting and spending and I have met people at university who I suspect I will know for years to come. There is no way I can assert that university has been a waste of time when I have created friendships which will outstrip Badock, Woodland Road and the ASS.