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Student Life

The other fear of missing out: What if you're not making the most of your studies?

With tuition fees at £9,000, students have to think more seriously about whether partying or studying comes first

FOMO is an affliction that has hit the student population hard. It means "Fear Of Missing Out", the social media-driven anxiety one feels over missing what could be, but inevitably isn't, the event of the year.

But these "ums" and "ahs" of whether or not to go out are actually pretty trivial, especially when compared to the less discussed aspects of FOMO in university life.

University allows a limited reprieve from the real world. Being a student provides formative years for adulthood and career which are unmistakably influential. That means there’s enormous pressure to do it right, to make the most of it, to not miss out.

Durham student Lydia Hill said of the academic side of FOMO: "On a pretty much daily basis I feel conflicted between making the most of university life in terms of immersing myself in academia, embracing the social scene or being an opportunist and engaging myself in extracurricular activity."

The real world can be daunting for students. The job market is barren and they’re not allowed to get drunk on Thursdays anymore. To actually secure a job, a good degree and a brimming CV are required. It’s important to stand out, and when 66 per cent of graduates earned a 2:1 or first-class degree last year, the pressure to excel is intense.

Sheffield Modern Languages student Pippa Hamey said: "Just having a degree doesn’t set you apart anymore and won’t guarantee a job. You need non-academic achievements to embellish your CV but competition for society committee roles can be tough... some courses have a demanding workload and this obviously takes priority."

Heading out of university, especially into competitive industries, students must be ferociously opportunist. That means finding internships that can boost you onto the first rung of your career ladder, taking on responsibilities within university committees, writing for student newspapers or starting things on your own initiative, like charity fundraisers.

Feeling it necessary to capitalise on every opportunity is stressful. University is supposed to be a pressurised environment but that has been amplified by the current difficulties in employment and the high proportion of people earning degrees. University starts to feel like a boiling pot, ambitious young people all jostling to look remarkable.

There is certainly fear in missing hypothetical opportunities, impressive internships or grades, and then there’s seeing someone else’s Facebook status announcing their recent appointment to your dream grad job. Comparison is at FOMO’s core, whether contrasting a potential self or successful friend.

The increase in tuition fees has made the question of value for money even more pertinent. Rosie Yates, a student at UEA, said: "You’re paying nine grand a year. If you want to pay that off, you need to come out of university with good career prospects. It’s not affordable anymore to go just for the experience."

Some students, particularly humanities, only have around eight contact hours a week. That’s a day’s shift in most jobs. It leaves a bewildering amount of free time which employers expect candidates to have filled. Generally, humanities degrees also suggest vaguer career paths than others might. Conversely, students of the sciences will probably struggle to cram anything more into their timetables.

The reality of FOMO is that it is impossible to grasp every opportunity and overloading usually leads to neglecting things. University might seem to raise the stakes of that, but it’s also the perfect place to be. There are abundant opportunities to gain experiences and explore different options. No future employer expects candidates to have bedded down in the library every night, or burnt out from heading up a dozen different projects at once.

The best mantra to keep when FOMO encroaches is the same as in the working world: commit to just a few things based on genuine interest, do them well, and don’t forget to enjoy it all.