Before August 2016, I was supposed to take a gap year (a year out of education, usually after completing A levels and before starting university) which was more of a gamble that I lost. My poor grades meant I couldn’t apply for medicine and studying anything else wasn’t an option at that time.
In the UK, we apply to University through an online application process called UCAS which we send off near the beginning of A2 level or Year 13. Or so it was during my time, some things have changed since then. The deadline for medicine is in October while for everything else it’s around January/February. I can’t exactly remember. After that, it’s through ‘clearing.’ A process where you call up universities after receiving your grades and see if they will offer you a place on the subject of your choice (except medicine). But you do need to have a completed UCAS application to be eligible for a place through clearing.
I applied through clearing. Once I received my my grades and realised there’s no point in taking a gap year, I completed my application in two days and started making calls. Long story short: Lincoln was the best I could do.
I came to university without researching. I didn’t even attend the ‘open day’ held for students who were coming through clearing. That’s lesson number one: visiting university during open days. That way I would’ve been more prepared, mentally at least. It would’ve probably opened up a window for me to have met more people. Furthermore, had I known beforehand, I would’ve joined those freshers facebook groups where one can meet people from their course and accommodation. It’s just easier to settle in when there’s a visible ‘support group’ around.
During the first few weeks, I dreaded leaving my room. I have a terrible sense of direction and I had no idea what I was doing. My confidence levels after the results were incredibly low and I just felt afraid of everything. Which brings me to lesson number two: that feeling of dread will subside no matter how unbelievable that might seem at that moment.
I wasn’t in the best state of mind and didn’t have the courage to join any societies. Most people have their thing: Disney, Harry Potter, Anime etc. I just didn’t know what my thing was…or is. Lesson number three: join societies even if the plan to stick to it isn’t long term. Because attending that first social/event by a society can introduce opportunities one never saw coming.
I don’t drink and refuse to sesh (another term for clubbing/partying/raving) but literally 99% of the people around me do, even if it’s to an extent. Sometimes, I do have thoughts like maybe it would’ve made my life easier if I related to the habits of the masses. It’s not a secret that I am insecure about my personality and being in a situation of immense peer pressure didn’t help. Don’t get me wrong, the pressure in university is different than to being in high school. Most of which stems from FOMO or the fear of missing out.
That being said, lesson number four: life is too short to compromise values and beliefs that essentially make up one’s identity. It’s hard but priorities are priorities. In the end, no one’s going to look back and think: well, at least I fit in or at least those people I knew for like three years thought I was ‘fun.’ I wanted to be more involved with ‘internal affairs’ without having to drink or sesh, so I got a job which puts me at the centre of student affairs.
Another interesting thing I observed was that it takes longer than one might expect to really get to know someone. Even if things seem stable, for better or worse, things change throughout and quickly near the end of the year.
Lesson number five: don’t give up so quickly, things change when one least expects it to. Take small steps to change a situation but if something doesn’t work out, it was never meant to in the first place.
Lesson number six: for the love of anything at all, learn how to cook. Plan weekly meals to make life easier. Because I don’t eat things with alcohol or ‘meat’, I can’t just grab any ready made meal from supermarkets. Even worse, I am awful at cooking. But with practise, I’ve gotten better. I make weekly meal plans now and pin easy recipes down to try out. Pinterest recipes are life savers!
Lesson number seven: living in a private space, e.g. a studio, doesn’t mean living in isolation. There’s a fair split between people who get along with their flatmates and people who don’t. Usually, in second year people get to decide who they want to live with and have a better experience.
When I had to decide in November where I wanted to live for this year, I had only one close-ish friend and we actually considered looking at a two bedroom flat. Long story short, we are actually very different people and us living together would’ve been a recipe for disaster. Some people just need more time to find the right friends than others, nothing wrong with that.
Lesson number eight: many things will NOT go the way one may want them to. Just have patience, things tend to work out in the end. I lacked vitality and any sense of joy for the first five to eight months but things did turn out okay in the end. I don’t want to continue being friends with some of the people I’ve met. And not for any spiteful reasons either. We make different friends at different stages as we proceed through life.
Lesson number nine: not comparing experiences with others. It’s honestly pointless. Not everyone will experience the same things the same way and that’s just life.
Lesson number ten: no matter what happens, things will get easier. Including things like cleaning, cooking, adjusting to a new style of education etcetera etcetera. Some people are so focused on the social aspect, they forget the main purpose of being at an university. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having a good time, it’s so important to realise that education is the main focus and it costs a lot too.
Personally, I don’t think my experience is a particularly relatable one. But when I was going through it, if I had found something like this it would’ve helped me cope. Most people have a fantastic time and I am sure if any student is reading this, you will too.