Ray: My university experience is actually still on-going even though I originally began my studies in 2009. It didn’t start well; I had to go through Clearing & ended up at Aberystwyth University way out in the wilds of Wales. Don’t get me wrong it’s a gorgeous place but it was 3 hours by train from home & I wasn’t exactly great at making friends. My course wasn’t what I’d hoped & I never even had a meeting with my personal tutor. I got pretty isolated and spent most of my time in my room on the internet (oh hang on…) so by the time I got into my second year my enjoyment for the course had plummeted and since I’d have to do a year abroad for my 3rd year I decided dropping out before I tanked my grades was the best option.
Fast forward to 2012 when I signed up to the Open University just before the fees hiked up to try and finish my degree the way I wanted, doing the modules which interested me. I recently started what should be my final module so if all goes to plan (and I don’t bugger everything up), I should have a Open Degree with Honours by next July. If I’m really lucky it’ll be a 2:1.
It’s been a slog, I’m atrocious at time management, particularly when I have all the free time in the world. Somehow I get more done when I’m working full time at a school, studying both for the OU & a TA diploma and trying to write a book - riddle me that would you kindly? If you are unfortunate enough to follow me on twitter then you might have seen the epic lengths I go to in procrastinating my assignments - I’m not exaggerating when I say that maybe 5 out the 7 essays I did for my module last year were almost entirely written either on the deadline day or the day before. I can’t imagine how I would’ve coped at a traditional Uni with a dissertation.
I wonder sometimes if I should have bothered with Uni at all. I went more because I felt I was expected to go, because I was “smart” and academically “gifted” although that basically means fuck all after the age of 12. For the most part I never got into the “student lifestyle” and it’s not something I ever really cared about. I cared more about the education aspect which is hilarious because I’ve since realised that I hate learning stuff only to be assessed on it and I’m a terrible student. Just let me read books on stuff, don’t ask me to write essays about it & certainly not essays in french. Don’t go to university because others expect it of you, go because it’s what you truly want to do.
Louise: Leaving home at eighteen was a daunting but exciting time for me. It was the first taste of proper freedom and I was going to relish it, I remember thinking on A Level results day. I was going to be moving 130 miles away to Norwich to study; I couldn't have picked a further away place to do my course if I tried. It also included studying abroad for a year, something that pulled me in event further when I applied.
But once I'd arrived in halls and realised just how far I was away from home and my creature comforts, the more daunted and scared I became. This wasn't normal was it, to feel overwhelmed by being alone for the first time, ever?
That first semester was hard for me; I was studying something completely new to me, I began to regret my degree choice and wanted to drop out. I found it difficult to make friends with people on my course because I felt I knew nothing compared to them. My housemates were constantly out clubbing and I preferred films and good food – still do. I never confided how I felt to anyone, even when I returned home at Christmas, I didn't want to be seen as a failure. I'm glad I didn't because university life did get easier for me.
It was only when I came to realise that I could really find out who I was whilst being on my own here in a new city, learning new things, meeting new people, having new experiences. And I did just that, explore. I found out what I truly am capable of. My year abroad only strengthen that. Those years – from the tender age of eighteen all the way to a ripe twenty-two year old – shaped me. And even though many people would say that I have wasted my time and money on a degree I don't even use, I don't regret it for one second. My life would be infinitely different without my time at university mixed in there.
Lily: My University experience is a bit of a tumultuous one that is very much still ongoing, as I’m a few weeks into my second attempt at first year. I went to University at 18 in Sussex near Brighton, fresh out of school. My first few weeks were fun but nothing outstanding, and I was finding it hard to socialise with anyone in my flat and all my other friends lived elsewhere. About 5 weeks in my mental health took a turn for the worst and I knew I needed to get out. It wasn’t the responsibility or looking after myself that was the problem - I’d basically been doing that since I was 14. But the pressure of academic work was getting with me and I was feeling increasingly isolated. So I took the decision to leave University indefinitely and go out and work. Six months in, whilst working in the United States, I realised I did want to go back and study, but not quite yet. I had submitted an application to UCAS in January to appease my Dad and so I accepted a place at a University in the Midlands, but deferred for a year to give myself some time.
Three weeks ago and nearing the big 21st birthday I moved into halls again, ready for a fresh start. So far it has been good - I get on well with some of my flatmates, and have quite a few other friends in my building, the work has been relatively interesting and I’ve been keeping busy. I won’t lie when I say I’m a little worried about hitting that 5 week mark again, but this time already feels different. I have friends in my flat, I know how to handle my mental health, and I just keep telling myself, if I managed 3 months across the Atlantic by myself, I can surely manage 12 weeks a 3 hour drive away from home right?!
In all seriousness though, University is about balance. Sometimes you just don’t feel like or don’t have the time to go on that bar crawl. Sometimes you need to take a break from that deadline and go and eat some chocolate cake. Listening to yourself and what you need, and talking to others is so important.