University Life- is it all debauchery and debt?
Updated: Feb 26
Having done well academically at school, it was an unsaid expectation that I would go to university after college and an act of God, I gained a place at the University of York in 2017. After bringing in my 18th on a boozy trip to Prague and armed with my Ikea kitchenware and well-wishing bottles of Prosecco, I left all respectability behind in suburbia and arrived in York as a fresher. At the time, I simply saw uni as an extension of college and frankly the main skills I honed in first year included but were not limited to; the art of attending a 9 am seminar still slightly drunk after a heavy one at Salvos and how to cook a meal with an element of nutritional value (believe it or not the novelty of beige meals wears off!)
Like the infamous gap year, there is a pervading cliche that people go to university to discover themselves. I was told repeatedly that university would be one of the 'best experiences of my life' and as I hurtle towards the end of my second year I can't deny that my time here has been unforgettable - although there are definitely some vodka-infused memories that make amnesia preferable! I have made friends for life and studied with the best scholars in the country. More importantly, university has given me independence and a sense of self that I would not have found anywhere else. But I have also felt most out of control and lonely during my time here. The expectation to be having fun constantly, especially as a fresher often had the opposite effect and there were times I felt I was somehow 'wasting' my time here by not being drunk at least three times a week.
The colossal transition from home to uni life took me a while to get used to and juggling my new friends, my studies and my extracurricular's sometimes felt impossible. Learning to be independent in a completely new city whilst living with six other strangers was difficult but it was the making of me if I'm honest and I now I am confident that I can handle anything life throws at me.
I have had the time of my life here, but I can't help but feel modern universities are a corporate business which value profit over the wellbeing and education of their students. Spring term of my fresher year brought 'the longest ever strike in UK higher-education history' which wiped out at least four weeks of seminars and lectures. I was simply left to my own devices, and despite the efforts of over 126,000 students who signed petitions for fee refunds, I continued to pay for services I did not receive, as did students at over sixty-four universities nation wide. While I empathised with my tutors, I could not help but think of the disparity between their extremely comfortable income and my lack thereof. Ultimately, I was paying them for a job they were simply not doing. When asked by my supervisor if I could understand why he and his colleagues had gone on strike I felt compelled to support them but cannot help feel let down as I will never gain that study time back.
Today in the UK, more young people are attending university than ever but attending university has never been more expensive with tuition fees at an eye-watering £9250 per year for most undergrad courses. That's £27,750 without maintenance loan costs for a three-year degree but as a humanities student, I have never had more than ten contact hours a week. I have struggled to understand why a degree such as History with English Literature could possibly demand the same tuition fee as a more intensive, resource-based degree, in say, Biomedicine. It is easy to feel that humanities students are not getting their money's worth!
The manic enthusiasm from my college tutors urging everyone to apply to university was well-intended but I cannot help but feel it was misplaced. Amongst my generation, there is definitely a social expectation to attend university but not everyone has skills that can be advanced in a lecture theatre! The idea that university is the pre-requisite for a successful career is simply not true and many people enjoy a happy and lucrative career without the expense of uni. My advice would be to take charge of your own future and not to feel pressured to take a path somebody else has chosen for you.
By showing the good, bad and the ugly of uni life, I hope I have shown a more realistic experience to anybody contemplating making the leap to the not so hallowed halls of higher education!
- Ellie x