Reflections of a Twenty Year Old Fresher

Students are constantly pressured into making rash decisions

The day the last of my friends left to go to university was one of the worst days of my life. How could I go from being the girl who had it all, to the girl who never even got a university offer? A string of sparking As and A*s, a part time job and every extra curricular under the sun had somehow left me high and dry, sitting alone in my own four walls as my friends partied it up across the country.

The day I told the admissions tutor I was going to stay on another year he dropped his pen in shock. We can get you “somewhere decent in clearing” he urged me, determined to implement the college to university mentality. Aside from being far to vain to accept a place in clearing, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and taking a year out, even if not entirely planned, was the right thing for me.

This doesn’t mean I wasn’t bitter. As the happy pictures and statuses flooded through my news feed I did the only logical thing and watched sadistically for drop outs. I’d get a vicious little bubble of satisfaction every time someone realised the course wasn’t quite right or in fact they’d made completely the wrong decision and wanted to be an astronaut. Yet as the number of drop outs slowly crept up into double figures, I pushed aside my jealously and started to wonder; surely this many people can’t be anomalies?

Whilst I am safe, happy and content as university this year, I’ve watched my new, younger friends with interest, only to find the same pattern emerging. Talented, qualified and high achieving young people all over the country are dropping out of subjects they realise they never wanted to do in the first place because of a system which never lets you stand still enough to realise what you really want.

I had a similar experience with my A Levels. Following advice from well meaning teachers and parents I picked an A Level combination of Physics, Chemistry, Maths and a token show of English.That doesn’t mean to say I don’t find Physics dull and lifeless, I just picked it because I was good at it. By the time I’d reached my second year of college I knew I’d made a mistake. Who really wants to work in a laboratory puzzling over things you can’t see all day? So I decided to take a year out. I studied Classics and English, travelled, got another job. I did some work experience and took a degree unit in practical writing and by the end of it I was certain I knew what I was doing was what I wanted to do forever.

Even at University I feel older. It’s only a year but I’m surrounded by people who aren’t sure they made the right choice, are here because they didn’t know what to do otherwise or are only sticking it out because they’ve shelled out so much to be here. I feel more sure and focussed in my determination, I know what I’m doing and how to get it; I don’t need to jump onto every single bandwagon that comes my way.

My sister is thirteen and will shortly have to choose her GCSE options. This will in turn affect her A Level choices, which in turn affects that of a potential university course and ultimately the career and life ahead of her. We’re all products of the education system, pushing us to make rash decsions and move as quickly as we can from one stage to the next.

I’m not saying we all need to take a year out and go and “discover ourselves maaaan”, but we should stop pressurising our children into making such life changing choices so early. Everyone should be allowed their own personal space, to realise what they truly enjoy and what they really want out of life. Whether that be astrology or gold smithery, that’s okay, and you can take as long as you need to decide.

Everything is better when you’re naked.

It’s a well-known fact of life that everything is infinitely better when you’re naked, and with a liberal dash of JD. Being one of those irritating “gap-yah” kids everyone secretly wants to punch, I rocked up for my freshers’ term at uni safe in the knowledge that I knew it all. What could twelve weeks in the grotty concrete jungle of Medway possibly teach me about life and partying which a year of intensive training had failed to disclose? Quite a lot it turns out.

It appears that university is one of those special places, a little microcosmic bubble far away from the real world, where you really do discover yourself, your life and how best to live it. And just because I’m a nice person, I’m going to share it all with you.

1.       Your course will become one big, happy and notably incestuous family.

As the kind of person with the mental age of a seven year old, I was excessively excited when a guy on my course declared that we were

One big happy and totally-not-incestuous family,

all like “one big happy journalism family”. With the F word comes the promise of incessant rounds of come dine with me, secret Santa, massive snowball fights and joyous group outings involving fireworks and skipping. What I wasn’t prepared for was quite how dysfunctional this family would be.

Within a month it already feels like you could start an “alcohol-induced-oopsy” trail and successfully link together everyone in your class. It’s somehow worse when you wake up groggy eyed and bleary the next morning to discover you do in fact know the person lying next to you. They’re on your course, have probably fucked half of your new best friends, and if you’re really unlucky, used to go out with your boss.

The problem is even worse in places like Cambridge, where in an effort to really give you a home from home, they present you with a ready-made college family, complete with kids, uncles and even Great Aunt Hilda. As you’re casually standing at the bar with your glass bottle of wine, it’s almost commonplace to hear someone declare they were sexting Becky’s dad or just banged their daughter.

2.       Monday really IS the new Saturday. But so is Tuesday. And Wednesday.

Trust me, we're loving life clubbing on Saturdays. .

Maybe I’m just a bit prudish, but there just seems something inherently wrong with the notion of getting so trolleyed you decide to shave your friends hair off into a mohican and draw massive penises where it used to be on a Monday evening. It also doesn’t seem to make any logistical sense when you’ve got a lecture on the intricacies of reporting the Spanish Civil War at 9am the following morning.

Ever the defiant non-conformist, it’s taken a fair few torturous weekend outings to finally make me realise the error of my ways. Chatham really isn’t winning any cultural awards at the best of times, but Saturdays really do showcase the best of what can only be described as the “local wildlife”. The very same club that was packed to the hilt with all those leggy blondes last Monday, is suddenly transformed to a half-empty wasteland full of creepy old men looking for a quick ’n’ easy fuck and women who quite frankly could probably write a book on all the different STDs they’ve had the opportunity to encounter.

3.       If you don’t have a cigarette every five minutes, you will die.

I’ve never really encountered smoking culture before. I don’t smoke, neither do my parents or my friends. But apparently it’s a life threatening compulsion; if you don’t get that next cigarette in now the world WILL end catastrophically.  It’s a tribute to the ingenuity of students that despite our “non-smoking” halls being equipped with more fire alarms than police at a student protest, they’re still averting imminent world crises every few minutes.

Within five minutes of being here a girl proudly described to me how she’d covered the fire detectors with condoms (which to be honest sounds like a terrible waste of good equipment) and the vicious banter of how can most imaginatively beat the system begun. Whether they’re hanging out the window five floors up or crouched under the extractor fan in the cooker hood, it seems that students are determined to get their bi-minutely nicotine fix.

4.       Naked is good, apart from when you’re in bed.

It might sound counterintuitive to advise you to wrap up before you bed down for the night, but trust me, it’s worth it. Fire alarms have a funny habit of going off at ungodly hours in student halls, and when you’re too far gone to even realise why that little white box on your ceiling is flashing and blaring ceaselessly, let alone locate suitable attire for outside rendezvous, the world is not a nice place. It’s especially not a nice place when you finally do work out what’s going on and forget to take your keys with you, leaving you locked outside, totally inebriated at approximately 5.14am.

On a side clothes-related note make sure you pack more pants than you know what to do with. If, like me, you’ve got more outfits than undies, the novelty of waking up only to find your last pair is in a crumpled heap on the floor somewhere soon wears off when the cold, damp reality of sink-washing and a blast of the hair dryer kicks in.