With my final year of university looming and I was asked what I would tell someone who was about to leave school. I remembered what I was told university would be like, and the things school left out. Here are several points I wish I had been told before starting the tedious UCAS prelude to one of the most important chapters of your life.
Many leavers are pushed down the university path before they are ready. Christina, a third year university student, recalls that “one of my friends went through the whole UCAS process even though she knew she didn’t want to go but did it because everybody else was.” University isn't for everyone and students should take advantage of other choices but some schools want that extra tick during inspections.
Some of the most influential people I know never went to university or took several years out. Those who took a gap year say that it was the best thing they ever did and those who didn’t go, wish they had. They allow a break from textbooks, a chance to mature and see what else is available. Sadly, some schools still look at it as a lazy option.
In the last years of school, classes are focused on UCAS applications but kids are seriously thinking about their future as early as 13, when you can’t possibly make such a decision; there is no way you have seen the possibilities out there. The main complaint I’ve heard is that the variety of courses available beyond the typical school subjects or law and medicine is not encouraged. Sheona for example is a third-year student: “Biology was the one thing I had an interest in in school and I thought 'hey, I could do a degree in this!' but I didn't realise how much stuff I would have to study that I genuinely didn't care about. I wish I'd have thought more about what I could do.”
There is more focus on having a career afterwards rather than studying something you actually enjoy. Teachers can also have a great influence on your degree choice but remember they do not come to university with you. If you do your degree well you should get a job regardless, plus you probably end up doing something you enjoy. If you apply and hate your course, it's not the end of the world. Many are guilty of just sticking it out so not to cause a fuss but it’s surprisingly easy to change course in first year and it’s much easier to realise this sooner than later.
When it comes to picking a university, choose a university which has a good reputation with their students as well as the league tables. Meeting new people and discovering who you are is one of the best reasons to go to university; otherwise all you gain is a bit of paper with your name and a crest. The Times Higher Education World Rankings use 'performance indicators' whereas their Student Experience Survey is calibrated from undergraduate surveys. For example, ICL is eighth in the world in the rankings but only 71st for student experience.
University has become a huge investment; it was recently revealed that the cost of a degree could be £100,000. I think this is the main reason to make sure you make the right choice. Despite the fact you are suddenly being shipped off to live by yourself, few schools seem to tell you that overdrafts and credit cards are not free money. It is important to learn the basics of budgeting before you head out and schools should spend more time on these life skills than perfecting personal statements. If you get a part time job you’ll be more lucrative as employers are more interested in people who know the world outside the library.
If you make good friends at university they are probably going to be in your life from now on unlike the hundreds of new ‘friends’ you meet in your first few years. Sometimes you don't meet your good friends until third and fourth year when the classes get smaller and fill with similar people. Don't be deceived by the fact you are great friends means you will be great flatmates, everyone has different living standards and they don't always correspond to yours. Choosing good flatmates is one of the most important choices in enjoying university but nobody gets it right first time.
University is what you make of it; stop being who you think you should be and just be yourself. Unlike school everyone finds a niche even if it isn't straight away. Don't stress over lectures too much in first year. I'm not saying don't go or work hard, but you probably aren't going to miss much that you can’t catch up on. This is a prime time to join more societies than humanely possible and add drunken toilet best friends on Facebook.
You have all of third and fourth year to slave away and complain about how little money and time you have, as that's when the grades start to matter. Finding the perfect balance of the work hard play hard ethic is the secret to getting the most out of the experience. Don't hold back and just make the most of what's on offer to you, never again will you have such opportunity right under your nose.
Rose is currently studying Biology at the university of Dundee but anyone who knows her knows that she can’t stay still for long and always has an adventure planned. Read her blog here.