What does it mean for students to 'have it all'?

The media stereotype of students is of banter-loving party animals who drink hard, shag hard and still get their grades at the end of it. This mischaracterisation is harmful, argues Ellie House, who wishes society had a more nuanced view of uni life

Students. Are we binge-drinking, Sainsbury's Basics-loving hooligans, or go-getting shiny-faced wonders of the future? Society cannot make up its mind about us: to the world at large, we're weird creatures, both more sexed-up than One Direction and more screwed up than Gordon Ramsey’s forehead. 

But haven’t we already exhausted the concept of student identity, from crippling debt to dissertation deadlines, and every other mouldy morsel of university life? Well not quite. With tuition fees soaring to £9,000, there’s one question everyone seems to have missed. If we’re paying that sort of price for the time-of-your-life lark, what does 'making the most of it' include? Can ‘the student’ down their shot but still score a first? In short, is it possible to have it all at University?

Now it doesn’t take rocket science to work out that if you drink three years away, you’ll be floundering in your own flab with a 2:2 (unless you’re irritatingly brainy). But how does an ordinary student balance the many aspects of university life and still have a bragworthy time? Having it all has been a long-running debate amongst the working mummy brigade, but nobody has ever really wondered what it means in student life.

University appears to offer the best possible environment when it comes to the having it all department - you've got so much time on your hands. Your average five-year-old probably crams more into their day than the student supposedly does, especially if you consider the queue for the sandpit. Third year Rachel Brooks says 'we don’t really have any excuse not to have it at all, especially as many students have less than 10 hours of lectures a week, unless you’re doing the sciences'.

Rachel has a point, because while there are always those few weeks of frantic exam revision, students have a heck of a lot of free time. Rachel admits that it isn’t that simple: “I was really unhappy living in halls in first year - I am probably biased because I’m not very good at the whole living-in thing, but being confined to a small room is prison like”.

Many things that are meant to make student life laugh-a-minute can also be the factors that contribute to some students' slumps.

Recent graduate Tom Pinder is not alone in recalling periods of unhappiness during university: “I was very close to going home or moving to a different university for the first 18 months. I only really enjoyed the last two years."

Similar thoughts are echoed by third-year politics student Rob Smith. "In first year I came very close to quitting, because I wasn’t sure the whole uni thing was for me. Now I just get on with it, I might as well as finish my degree."

Grabbing life by the golden danglies is surely that much harder when you’re unhappy, meaning having it all may appear unattainable. Third-year Kaylie Scattergood took a year out in order to afford tuition fees, but believes having it all has been hampered by the life she thought she had to lead.

“It’s certainly not what everyone makes it out to be. In my experience university has been like a massive episode of Big Brother, you may be forced to live with people you don’t get on with, and in the end you just have to make the most of a really hard situation."

Second year psychology student Claire Thomas found the boozy reality of university very different to the stereotype that most students come to expect; “I definitely thought it was going to be much better than it is. I still enjoy it but I think I had too high expectations as does everyone. People go on about it being the best time ever, and I just don’t feel that."

Perhaps it’s time to admit we are wrong about the cliched idea we have of the average student, who is nothing more than a banterous gimmick, a stereotype which fools ordinary people into the belief that they should be sinking pints at happy hour before hurrying to the library.

From the outside it may have appeared that I really did have it all during my second year at uni. I poured questionable pints at my local bar, insisted I was ‘all over’ a night out, and worked hard. I realized something had to change when I found myself sobbing in my dingy rented room, without really knowing why. 

Third-year Charli Stevenson believes 'you can have it all', but you have to be 'realistic' about what that means. So perhaps it’s time society stopped judging ‘the student’ solely on the latest fry-a-hamster scandal, and made way for a more realistic view of young people. This might enable students to achieve a more balanced way of life during their time at university, rather than feeling they are lacking because they aren’t riding naked on the fun train. Maybe then we can knock back the tequila because we want to, not because we have to. After all... YOLO.

Ellie House is a third year English Literature student at Lancaster university. Follow her on Twitter here.

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