It’s that time of year again when thousands of excited students are packing their suitcases and heading off to university. Whether as a Fresher or a final-year student, it’s a time of excitement, anticipation and, perhaps, nerves.
12 years ago (wow – that is a really long time!) I was one of those students myself, preparing myself for a new lifestyle at Nottingham Trent University. I always knew I would go to university. It was just kind of expected of me. I was the eldest and did pretty well at school. My dad never had the opportunity to go to university and so I always felt like I was somehow paving the way for future generations.
I should probably warn you now – this isn’t going to be your typical university story, full of partying, late-night cram sessions and a graduation ceremony. Spoiler alert – I never finished my degree.
By the time I finished my A-levels I was pretty fed up with school and studying. I had developed a real love of performing and hoped for a while to audition for a performing arts school. My parents weren’t quite so enthusiastic about this plan and eventually convinced me to concentrate on a more academic route.
I didn’t work half as hard at school as I should have, and came out with some pretty sub-standard A-Level results. Still, it was enough to see me safely settled at Nottingham Trent University, on a Spanish, Italian and Media Studies course. One of the definite benefits was the fact that I could stay at home, which as well as being cost-effective, suited a very anxious 18 year old who didn’t fancy living alone.
I honestly don’t remember if I was excited to start university. I do remember missing my induction to the library because I had been out the night before and couldn’t be bothered to make the journey into town. This was pretty much a taste of things to come.
If I was being brutally honest, I would be forced to admit that I always felt the course was a little beneath me. To qualify for the course, you needed to have a grade D or above, in the subject you wanted to study which just didn’t seem very impressive to me. I myself had achieved a Grade B in Spanish, but I knew that if I’d tried harder I could have done even better. After a few weeks it became clear that the course material wasn’t as challenging as the A levels I had just taken and I began to get bored. I’m not sure what I had expected from university, but this definitely wasn’t it.
The only saving grace was meeting a new friend, Sarah, who became my lifeline during my time there. We had most of our classes together, we’d hang out together in between classes, we’d travel to and from home together (she lived really close to me) and eventually, we started skipping classes together.
My first year at uni was spent catching ridiculously early buses for over an hour to get to the campus and deciding whether to actually attend the class or go shopping and spend my student loan (this would usually depend on if I had outstanding homework). Then I’d hop back on the bus (or two) and get home roughly at the same time most people are finishing work.
It wasn’t exactly the stereotypical university experience. There were no Freshers activities, no late night partying and I didn’t join any clubs or societies. Eventually Sarah rented a room in a student house, and I spent most of my time there, avoiding the uni campus.
At last, the first year came to an end and I anxiously awaited my results. Knowing that I’d not worked half as hard as I should have, I was very concerned. I didn’t need to be. I passed my first year comfortably but my results were nothing extraordinary. I can’t say I felt particularly proud of myself.
By this time, I was almost certain I didn’t want to continue with my course, but I’ve never liked looking like a quitter. It’s a trait I still have today.
My second year began and I moved into the student housing with Sarah. I started to feel a bit more like a “proper” student. I would do my own food shopping, my own laundry (sometimes). I went to the student nights at the local nightclub. But I still didn’t really feel like part of the community. My academic life went from bad to worse.
While some of the curriculum was still monotonous and boring, other parts were ridiculously challenging – like Italian culture where we were supposed to read and analyse an Italian novel, with not much more than a GCSE level vocabulary.
We also began to prepare for the third year – the much anticipated “year abroad”. For most students, this was the best part. A whole year spent on the continent, living in a new culture. I dreaded it. If I wasn’t enjoying myself in my own hometown, what were the chances I’d fare any better in a foreign country, with no friends, where I barely spoke the language.
It was around this time that I got a new boyfriend (who would later become my husband). He was older than me and had done the whole university thing. I would often speak to him about my worries.
I went home for Christmas and had a long chat with my parents. I told them that I didn’t want to return to university. I don’t really remember their response but I imagine they were surprised. Everyone knew I was going to finish university – it was just the way things were always meant to be. There was one big problem. I had to pay the rent on my student house until the end of the year unless I lived there or not. I needed my student loan to pay the rent. So back to uni I went. We agreed I would stick it out to the end of the year before making any major decisions.
Another personality trait I have is that once I’ve made my mind up about something, I tend to stick with it. I’ve noticed this over the years. I take a long time to decide to quit a hobby but once I’ve decided then nothing can change my mind.
In February, my boyfriend gave me the opportunity I needed. He offered to pay my rent for the rest of the year and I would pay him back gradually. I left my course the very next week. I spoke to my Head of Faculty about my decision. He’d always said that they chased up persistent non-attenders. When I asked why nobody had ever spoken to me about all the classes I missed, he said that I’d been passing all of my tests, so there was no cause for concern. For me, it confirmed I had made the right decision. What kind of course was I on if I could pass all the tests while only attending one third of the lessons?
Do I regret my choice know? Kind of. I regret not making the decision to do a course that actually excited me. If I’d done a degree in Performing Arts, not at a stage school but at a university, I may have had the best of both worlds. Maybe I should have moved to a new town, so that I had to embrace the lifestyle a bit more.
I do wish I had my degree. It feels weird knowing that I could have one, but I just didn’t quite make it. Recently, my Dad and sister both got their degrees through adult education and watching them graduate was bittersweet. I never got to do that.
But I’ll never say never. I still hope to complete a degree one day (maybe more than one!) but I’ll do it in my time, on my terms.
Are you off to university? Are you a fresher or a veteran? What was your university experience? I’d love to hear your stories – leave me a comment below.