I have been at University for a mere year so far, which means that whilst I may not be the wisest and most experienced of people, I can remember the anxiety of the months leading up to it as if it was...well, a year ago. With that in mind, here are some bits of advice for those who are shortly to leave the nest, spread their wings, and live off ramen noodles.
5 - Go for a course you want, not one your parents want.
So, here you are, finishing school in about a couple of months/next year, and your parents and teachers have been asking you what it is you want to do with your life. Now, you may be one of those kids who knows exactly what they want their life to be like in 10 years, right down to the color of your future kitchen wallpaper, the breed of dog your kids will be growing up with, and more importantly the job you’re going to be doing to afford that bitchin’ floral pattern on your wall. But chances are you are pcurrently sifting through a pile of prospectuses for a bunch of universities featuring pretty buildings and suspiciously multiracial groups of students laughing on the grass on a sunny day, trying to figure out what exactly you want to do with the next three or four years of your life. So here goes perhaps the most important piece of advice I can give: choose something you like. Maybe you think there’s nothing you like: I can almost guarantee there is, and you just haven’t thought of it yet. Think about what it is you like, what interests you, and then make a choice based on that. Because the bottom line is you are going to studying little to nothing else for years. This isn’t school, you don’t endure an hour of Physics because you know History is next, and you quite like history. There is nothing else to balance it out. Even if you go to a University like mine where you get to choose two or three subjects, chances are they’ll be vaguely similar and you’ll probably have to narrow it down at some point. And if you’ve made your choice because your parents wanted you to be a doctor or an engineer, then not only are those years of your life going to suck, they’re going to be hard. Exams are approaching for me, and I’m finding it sort of difficult to motivate myself to do some studying, and what I’m supposed to study actually interests me. Trust me, getting the grades your parents want on a subject you didn’t choose is going to be a thousand times harder. You may have noticed I chose the scientific subjects as example of courses you might be forced into, and that’s because not a lot of parents are going to push their kids to be an aspiring poet. And they do have a point, given the current economic climate it’s going to be incredibly difficult for a kid who enjoys humanities to make a living. But the way I see it, no one has it easy right now. We belong to a generation that’s pretty much going to be screwed on all sides once they graduate, no matter what they do. It’s going to be hard when we have to officially Become Adults, so why not let the last few years we have before that be about something we love? And hopefully, with hard work and effort and dedication, you can actually end up being paid for doing that thing you love. And the fact is you’re never going to get to that point if you let someone else take this choice for you now.
4 - Enjoy Yourself
This may sound a bit obvious to a lot of you. Of course you’re going to enjoy Uni/College, that’s what it’s for! Well, not really. But we’ll get back to that later. This isn’t just about the stupid drunken shenanigans you’re going to get up to during the next few years. Yeah, those are great, and you are going to have the time of your life trying to remember them the morning after. But that’s not the point. The point is that you should only be doing that stuff if that’s the stuff you want to do. If your idea of a fun weekend is lying on your couch watching Netflix or yelling at some kid on COD about the things his mom did to you last night or reenacting life in a Viking village (yes, I know people who do this), then do it. Because the great thing about Uni is that no matter what your weird thing is, chances are it’s somebody else’s weird thing to and there’s probably a club or association for it. Then again, if clubs and associations aren’t your thing, then just don’t join them; spending your nights watching TV with your flatmates is a completely acceptable form of entertainment. There is a huge step between High School and University, and the most important part of it and that no one really cares what you do. No one cares if you’re cool or uncool, if you’re a decent person, chances are you’ll get friends and people will like you. Everyone just does their thing: I’m always amazed at how many people get involved and genuinely care about student politics, and the people I know that do find it incredibly rewarding, whilst I like to get off my ass twice a week and look like a fool in Zumba class. I’m not saying don’t party hard, by all means party the hardest. Do shameful things that your parents wouldn’t want to see. Just remember…
3 - Don’t enjoy yourself too much
So, after convincing you to choose whatever hippy course you feel like doing and to indulge in any weird or wild activities of your choice, I’m going to be the voice of reason here. Remember what you came for: you came for a degree. And it is incredibly easy to be sidetracked at university. The same freedom that’s going to make you have the time of your life is going to make it incredibly difficult for you to stay focused. Think it’s hard getting up in the morning to go to school? It’s going to be a hell of a lot harder when mom’s not there to hurry you up, you know that no one is going to check if you’re there, and your brain is being attacked by a sledgehammer because of when your friends suggested you all go out to the pub ‘for a few drinks’ last night and you ended up stumbling into your room at 4 A.M. You’ve just come from an environment where you’ve been pushed from all sides to succeed, now you’re on your own. And if you’ve come to Uni with the mere intention of barely passing each term and scraping a degree, then that’s great and I’ll let you get back to your bong. But most students in any medium to good university is going to want to do good, and to do good you’re going to have to work. It’s true, you can probably slack off a lot on your first year, maybe on your second, but the closer you get to your final year the less time you’re going to have for impromptu LOTR drinking games and such. So my advice is to not slack off completely as soon as you realize that you can. It’s great to know that no one will notice if you skip a lecture but if you do that too much you’re going to end up near finals facing a textbook full of unfamiliar long words because you’ve pretty much missed half the course. You can afford to go to all your lectures and still have ridiculous amounts of free time at University, at least in the first few years where little extra work is required. So go to your lectures, most of them at least. Maybe pick up the book once in a while. Because if you don’t, s**t’s gonna go down real fast near exams.
2- Don’t be afraid to try for a good University
Along with the choice of what subject you want to do, the most important choice you’re going to have to make in the next few months is which Universities to apply to. A lot of people will go for whatever their teachers suggest, or for where your parents or siblings went to, but the one thing I want to recommend is for you to try at least one university that you think is ‘out of your league’. I mean this of course within reason: if you’re a C student, no amount of ambition will get you to Harvard. But I find that a lot of students are scared to try for universities that they consider too good for them, when in fact a lot of the time they can be perfectly within reach. The rejection can be bad, but it is costs you nothing to try. In one extreme case, a friend of mine had always been an excellent student, but she believed that prime universities like Oxford or Cambridge were completely out of reach, that they were for utter geniuses. After a lot of convincing from both the school and myself, she applied and a couple of months ago got a conditional offer for Trinity College, Cambridge. Yes, she was an exceptional student: but the point here is that she had no idea how good she was, and would have missed the opportunity if she hadn’t tried. This happens a lot to good students who don’t want to reach to high because they’re scared of getting their egos bruised, but honestly I think it is worth it. Because if you get in, you’ve achieved something that you never thought you could have, and if you don’t I can promise that…
1 - It will be amazing no matter where you go
I didn’t get into my first choice university. Hell, I didn’t even get into my second choice. I got into my third choice, still amongst the 20 first in the country, but it was still a disappointment. But after a while, none of that mattered anymore, and it won’t matter to you either, because the university you end up going to will be your university. You won’t be able to imagine what life would have been like if you had gotten into that better one, because you wouldn’t have met any of the people that make up your entourage if you had. Realistically speaking, it is possible that you won’t have your dream student life from day one. If you’re anything like me, you may have to trudge through months of social awkwardness whilst you try to make friends and you’ll be a little bit lost because everything is big and different and confusing. But even if you have a rough start –and most people actually don’t- know that no matter what you do, it’s incredibly hard not to have fun at University. You will love it no matter where you get into, no matter how disgusting your flatmates are, no matter how much you want to shoot your lecturer in the face. Now I’m still young, I’ve just barely finished my first year, so maybe I’m not the most reliable of sources. But ask any adult and chances are they will tell you that those were the best years of their lives, and so far I can see what they’re getting at.