Should I stay or should I go?

This Student Life: Week 7 at the Manchester student house; Leona has decided maths is not for her. But she's not sure what is.
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The Independent Culture
IT'S THAT time of year again. People wander happily down the street with bags of tinsel or carry conifers over their shoulders. Yes, it's that Christmas tree moment, and it's not passed our students by. But they're doing it in their own way.

Robbie explains. "There's a deserted hotel near to us which has just been knocked down, and in its garden is an avenue of conifer trees. Alistair, Rosie, Dave and I went there with my meat cleaver and chopped one down and brought it back." They hauled the six-foot tree over an enormous garden wall, avoided oncoming police cars, and dragged it home in the moonlight.

Its new home is a bucket of bricks in the kitchen. It'll be lucky if it lasts until next week. Still, there is a plus side. "I sprayed it with half a can of fly killer because it had all these greenfly and spiders over it and I nearly killed the tree," confesses Robbie. But at least all those other nasties in the kitchen will have got blasted too.

And it's not exactly the best-dressed Christmas tree in town. "We haven't got around to buying any decorations," says Dave, "so we've just improvised with cans of beans, ice-cream pots, bags of crisps and shoes. Anything that was on the floor at the time, really." Martha Stewart would faint.

Meanwhile, Leona is feeling a little cut adrift, much like the Christmas tree. After two terms of trying to stick it out, she has given up on her Maths and Management course. "I finally decided to give up college a couple of weeks ago, because I wasn't organised enough to do the work. The management part of the course was fine, but I hadn't done maths since A level, and it was way too difficult. So I got into the habit of not going to lectures."

Leona fell into that old student trap. You're not at school anymore with nagging teachers. You're not at work where if you don't do what you're supposed to, you're out on your ear. At university anything goes, as long as the essays keep coming in. When it comes to motivation, you're on your own.

Her tutor and head of department noticed her absence and suggested she take the rest of the year off and start again next autumn. "At first they were supportive," she recalls, "but then I didn't turn up for a few meetings so I think they ran out of patience.

"Maybe I'm just not suited to being a student," she considers. "It's not that I don't have any sense of responsibility. I've had jobs where I've always turned up on time and been conscientious. I've never had a problem there. It's just being at university that has made me lazy."

Trouble is, Leona rather put the cart before the horse. She didn't get the grades she wanted at A level, but definitely wanted to go to Manchester University. She had to go through clearing (a system which finds courses for students who didn't get the grades required for their original choices) and was finally offered a course in Chemistry at Manchester. That didn't work out, so she then got a place on Maths and Management.

Leona realises she's made a mistake. "I just chose whatever course was available rather than what was best for me. And I chose difficult courses. If I decide to try for another degree, I'm going to look for a good course rather than put the college first." And there are other options. "I don't even know if getting a degree is the right thing at the moment. I might take a year out and get a job. I might even go abroad for a while."

The whole trauma has made her feel slightly at odds with the rest of the house. "I feel like I've failed because everyone else is working so hard on their essays," she says. "This is the first time I've ever been in a situation where I don't know where I'm going."

The person she turns to is Tash, who always comes up with good suggestions and understands how Leona feels. "Everyone else says, "Why don't you just go to your lectures?'," explains Leona. "They can't understand what I'm doing. Tash just listens and tries to give me good advice."

Although Leona wants to stay in Manchester, she's beginning to realise that her best bet might be to go back home to her little village near Coventry and start all over again. "Most of my friends at home have gone to university," she says, "and so there would be nobody around." Still, Leona's got some big decisions to make and some priorities to sift. If she really wants to get a degree she has to go home, re-evaluate why she wants a degree and decide on a course that would suit her. After all, a degree is for life, not just for Christmas.


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Art History