It’s that time of year once again: when thousands of new students descend on our universities and begin a new chapter in their lives. For many this will be an exciting time, though one no doubt tinged with nerves. Such a transition can often be jarring, and in many ways quite uncertain.
Even with the advice of teachers, parents, and siblings, the transition to university is hard to mentally prepare for, and as such we seek solace in our shared collective vision of what university is meant to be.
There is undeniably a pressure that exists to ‘do university right’. You wont find a physical embodiment of it; a flatmate at pre-drinks egging you on, or an overzealous professor hounding you to read more. Rather it instead exists as as a embolus feeling, a sentiment drilled into us by wild tails from older friends, the golden glow of cinema and the pestering voice of social media.
We’re told time and again that university will be the best years of our lives, that we must grasp every opportunity that comes our way, and that we’ll miss these times when they’ve passed. We’re led to believe that every day is filled with new and engaging experiences and every night filled with wild misadventures, and that this will become our new normal. We’re sold the promise of halcyon days and told to settle for nothing less.
Do these mythic days exist? Certainly. We’re forever destined to look upon the past with rose-tinted spectacles, to remember the good times with great fondness and forget the bad. I have no doubt that most, if not all of you will look back on your time here with great fondness with many years to come, but it may not be for the reasons you expect.
There are those out there who will spend every night partying, and there will be those whose minds are greatly enriched by the course that they’ve chosen, but for the vast majority of us this is not the case, and nor is it realistic to expect this. There will be days where you slave over coursework you couldn’t give a shit about, or days where you do nothing but wash your clothes.
These are mundane and boring tasks, but these are what make up our day to day lives. We’ve been sold this fanciful vision of university life and told to try and follow it, and this can often lead to disappointment. We reach the end of year and look back with regret, telling ourselves that we should have gone out more, or that we should have worked harder, forever chasing this dream we see and hear from others.
The reality is this: there is no ‘right’ way to do university. Say what you will about the importance of a degree in the modern world, but university is truly about the development of one’s self. That development can range from attaining a first and becoming a president of a society, to simply learning how to cook a dish or operate a washing machine properly.
These are all achievements, and these achievements help us to develop as people. Sure some of them aren’t the most exciting, but they are achievements nonetheless, and should not be sneered at.
If I can offer you only one piece of advice, it’s this: don’t harbour any regret. Push yourself to try new things and expand your horizons. After all, that’s what university is for. But don’t feel regretful for passing on a night out, or not reading that one book. You’ll have lost nothing in the grand scheme of it all. For in reality, the only right way to do university is your own way.