“It would be a waste to come to university and not take advantage of the extracurricular opportunities on offer,” James, 18, ar- riving at Warwick this weekend to study Law, told me.
James is not alone in this view. Emily, 18, also arriving to study Law, echoes his sentiment: “I see myself doing as many extra-curricular activities as I can possibly fit in”, while Amarjot, 18, arriving for PPE, says “I’m going to try to fit in as many societies and clubs as possible.”
When I bumbled down to the societies fair back in 2011, a bunch of hungover flatmates in tow, I barely even knew what societies were for, let alone which ones I wanted to join. I credit this with the reason I had signed up to both the Wine and Whisky and the Chocolate and Cheese societies within the first five minutes (sorry, health), and almost every single other society by the end of the fair.
I had signed up to mailing lists for the societies of languages I didn’t speak, foods I didn’t like, and movements I didn’t even understand.
My problem was manifold, and ran a lot deeper than a basic lack of decision-making skills when confronted with friendly people who were older and wiser than me and had clipboards.
I had arrived at university with the rough idea that a degree was what I “should” do (I imagine, I thought, to “get a job”, however that worked), and that I liked what I was studying (most of the time). Wider ideas of employability, the famed social life, and a “university experience” had barely filtered through.
Luckily, armed with a nutty flatmate who immediately signed me up to hitchhike halfway across Europe with no money (Jailbreak), and an inner nerd who would not be silenced until I was doing at least one thing extra-curricular that felt a bit like extra work, I ended up having a bonkers but brilliant first year: hosting radio shows, writing for the Boar, dancing with CMD, surfing every few weeks with Warwick Surf, fighting the patriarchy, and, shall we say, experiencing the wine and whisky side of things “in my spare time”. I had completed further Spanish qualifications, travelled to Asia, and sent off more applications for internships than I thought possible, a place at a top publishing house for my holidays.
By the end of my first year, I was becoming a case study for the statisticians who were starting to place Warwick in the upper echelons of the employability graduate tables.
I was knackered but ecstatic, busier than I had ever known a person could be, and still spending hours of my day drinking tea and building dens out of duvets in the corridors of Rootes.
When I think back to how clueless (not to mention aimless) I was, I realise now I got lucky. The societies’ sign-ups came thick and fast and I was lost enough (and friendless enough, as we all are on day one) to attend everything that came my way. Others in my year group were not so lucky – many started societies for the first time in their third year, had never played a sport until term ended, and watched opportunities to get involved whizz past them, regretting not having been the ‘Yes’ fresher.
While you were all packing your bags and filling your cars to come here today, some of your new classmates took time out to speak to me about their expectations of Warwick. I sent everyone the same questions – “why have you come to uni?”, “do you think it will make you more employable?”, and “do you think you’ll join any societies or sports clubs while you’re here?”
The responses flooded in and I was amazed – every single fresher-to-be who I spoke to was clear in their reasons for coming, keen to get involved in everything, and super savvy to employability.
This is no coincidence. For the first time ever, almost all Warwick students are paying the £9,000 fees. The Class of 2014, the just-graduates, were the last year group to pay the £3,000 fees, which may go some way to helping explain why many of my friends weren’t so bothered about getting involved in anything other than a fight with their snooze button.
You guys are different. You’ve read that Warwick beat Oxbridge for employability, you know about securing graduate jobs, you understand the material need- ed for a CV.
Above all, you want your money’s worth. You can pay £9,000 and get a smattering of contact hours a week and a big drinks bill, or you can get both those, plus week after week packed with new hobbies, people, experiences, and skills. Catherine, 22, arriving for Film and Literature, told me it wasn’t just her degree she needed: “I think the university experience as a whole will make me more employable and I’d imagine that [extra-curricular groups] will stand for as much as a degree on my future CV.”
Sam, 18, coming to study Theatre and Performance Studies, said, “I tend to find that it’s what you do outside of the classroom that becomes the most helpful later on.”
James agreed: “Employability is, in my mind, one of the key reasons for coming to university, and the University of Warwick in particular. I hope that my time at the university will give me the skills and qualities to make me a more employable candidate in an increasingly competitive market.”
It’s a keenness and excitement that has come from an often negative place. Like many “young people” today, we’re getting pretty expert at hunting down that silver lining. Sam told me “I think that employers look so little into what’s actually studied in a degree so it’s the things away from that that can make you stand out.”
It seems the keen go-getter attitude we’re becoming known for, might just be a basic survival instinct.
As you haul your suitcases through the doors of your new homes, the last thing you’ll be thinking of is your CV, and rightly so. But what you should be, and might be thinking of are the experiences that await – experiences that you can only have at university. What’s more, experiences that will make your university experience really truly some of the best years of your life.
If you’re like me, and aren’t so clear why you came, and aren’t so sure you want to do anything, and don’t really get employability: don’t worry. There are no two people with the same Warwick experience. Someone’s surf competitions down in Cornwall are another person’s Warwick Anti-Sexism campaigns. One student’s tennis practice is another student’s chess club. For many, other students’ society and sports clubs time will be their essential library time.
Above all, any student’s experience will be brilliant. Your first year is a blank canvas for you to find your feet on, and create your unique footprint. Warwick is not the same now as it will be when you leave in a few years’ time. It is waiting for you to mark it – whichever way you choose.