When I was 18, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, I was desperate to go to university. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’d pinned enough on Pinterest to decorate my first, second, and third-year university bedrooms by the time I started college. Growing up, there was nothing that I wanted more than to go to uni and my stubbornness meant that for me, it was London College of Fashion or nothing. It was the only open day I attended, the one I geared my personal statement towards and the accommodation was one that I had spent hours online doing tours of. I was sold. The day I got my acceptance was one of the happiest days of my life and although the next four years that would follow would make me question every choice I’d ever made, I don’t think I would’ve chosen any other place to do my undergrad.
The thing is, there’s so much pressure on people to have the time of their lives at uni so when it all comes crashing down, you’re left feeling like a bit of a failure. With people receiving their A Level results in a couple of months, here are a few things that I wish I knew before starting.
Go at your own pace
When I took a year out in the middle of my degree and moved to Bristol (more on the worst decision I’ve ever made later), I couldn’t help but wonder whether it was just worth giving up. My cohort would’ve all graduated by the time I started my third year and the fact I would be graduating at 22 seemed like such a big red flag to me. However, in hindsight, taking that year out was essential in me finishing my degree, and with the majority of people on my course either my age or older, it didn’t make a difference to me in the long run.
I’m now halfway through my master’s, my sister has just graduated, and my best friend heads off to uni in September. All of us have done it at our own pace on our own timeline when we feel ready. Maybe you took a gap year or didn’t know what you wanted to study until now. Either way, don’t feel pressured into going when you turn 18 because it’s the norm because as it turns out, it’s not that normal at all.
Think things through
This sounds way deeper than intended but in reality, when I wrote this there were two main things that jumped out at me. Not long after moving into my halls, we met this girl. She was on my course, we got on well and she fit into the group of people that I was quickly starting to call my best friends (uni is fickle, but if you still with your friends past first year, they’ll probably be friends for life – I don’t make the rules). However, before she left she’d got into a relationship with someone, so their honeymoon phase was cut short. One day, after Facetiming him, she decided to move home. It was literally over that quick.
The second mistake was my own. It’s no secret that after having the best first year possible, I spent the next three years regretting ever going to uni. Most of my friends dropped out, I’d fallen out with my friend from home and our housing arrangement fell through at the last minute, so we found ourselves in halls again. Over the course of my second year, I was crying more often than not and became a recluse. I never attended lectures, didn’t step foot in the kitchen more than five times over the course of the whole year and fell £1500 deep in my overdraft spending every waking moment in Bristol at my friend’s house.
Due to a series of events, I found myself moving to Bristol when I should’ve been completing my third year. All in all, it took about two weeks for me to unenroll from my dream university and enrol somewhere else, and a further month for me to realise the magnitude of what I’d done. Whilst the move was supposed to improve my mental health, it made it a thousand times worse. Fortunately, I managed to get my place back at LCF the following September to finish what I’d started but if I’d given it more thought, I wouldn’t have had to leave in the first place.
The common denominator with both these things is that these decisions were rushed. Whilst I can’t speak for the girl on my course, I can for myself and 100% without hesitation I would never have moved. But hey, that’s hindsight for you!
This is kinda easier said than done, especially because I went through four years without really telling anyone how I was feeling at any given time. I struggled so much with uni and it’s frustrating because if it hadn’t had been for my anxiety I would’ve done better. As mentioned, my first year was incredible and I had some amazing opportunities; from partnering with ASOS and working two fashion weeks to interning at a magazine and having an incredible group of friends, I couldn’t have wished for more from my experience. When this began to crumble, I took it hard.
My overall attendance in the second year was around 18% and whilst I consistently got good grades, my wellbeing was not the one. I prioritised being at my friend’s student flat in Bristol over everything – I had a better “uni life” there than I did in London! Being in London became lonely and I isolated myself in my room. Constantly stuck between not sleeping and not doing anything apart from being asleep, I would take a minimum of six showers a day to just pass the time. If I felt up for it, I might treat myself to a meal deal from the Tesco downstairs, but my biggest fear was being in the kitchen with my flatmates who were alien to me. It was horrible but if I’d have told someone, it might have been different.
I always feel a bit of regret when it comes to my lecturers, although they didn’t really ever ask if I was truly okay. It was easier to tell them that I was ill then to say I was struggling, and the lack of student support was minimal. When I lived in Bristol, I went to a counselling session from which I left feeling worse than I did before! Now I’ve left, I’m more aware of resources to help students so I definitely would’ve taken advantage of them sooner.
This isn’t supposed to be all doom and gloom. I made some of the best friends at uni and I had the opportunity to do things I never would’ve had I not gone. Although I was put in some less than desirable situations, you really learn to become independent and it sets you up for life. Plus, you truly learn to appreciate the cost of a meal deal.