University. One of those words that brings up a plethora of stereotypical images. We all have an idea of what our university experience should look like – coffee dates with friends, studying in the library, heading out for a drink at a bar and clubbing into the early hours. But does every student’s life really look like that? Why are we always exposed to images of the ‘perfect student day’ and expected to live up to it? Why are we constantly told that ‘university is the best time of your life’, when in reality, this is not always going to be the case?
University is a truly unique experience, in every sense of the word. Where else would you be able to create your own working timetable (to an extent), study in cafes, go clubbing during the week and achieve a 10% discount on almost everything? Most of us will never get an experience quite like the one offered to us by higher education, but that does not mean to say that it is the best experience we will ever have. The typical ‘university lifestyle’ is undoubtedly suited to extroverts. There is a major emphasis placed on partying and socialising, and if the thought of meeting new people brings you out in a cold sweat, this can be hard to live up to. The pressure to have a jam-packed social calendar can be overwhelming, and perversely can result in less enjoyment of the social activities that you do go to.
For some students, however, socialising is the best part of university, and the overwhelming FOMO and guilt that comes with missing a party can be tough to take. It is important to remember that there will be other parties – uni nights out are not the be-all, end-all, and there are other opportunities out there. Balancing socialising with sleep, academia, sport, and societies is ultimately one of the hardest things to do, and so it is not surprising that it can all just feel too much at times. Generally, university is one of the first periods in life where we are entirely responsible for managing our own time – and it is certainly not easy! Mistakes will be made, parties will be bailed on, deadlines will possibly be missed – university is key in setting us up for a balanced and independent future, but it can, at times, feel like we have been thrown into the deep end.
And of course, we cannot discuss student satisfaction and university life without touching on the elephant in the room – the pandemic. A study by the Office of National Statistics in late 2021 found that the average student in an English university rated their ‘average life satisfaction’ far lower than the average adult population. The study also identified that rates of depression, eating disorders and anxiety were far higher in the student population than the adult population as a whole – an incredibly concerning trend. This is likely to be down to the increased stress, worry and isolation brought about by COVID-19.
So why – given that there are undoubtedly many difficulties, downsides and stumbling blocks associated with university life – do older adults constantly remind us that these days are ‘the best of our lives’? It may be something to do with fading affect bias; a theory which states that our brains tend to hold on to positive experiences more easily, and for longer, than negative ones. So when our parents tell us that they had the time of their life at university, just remember that they may be subconsciously filtering out the unpleasant memories.
On the whole, university is like life – there are ups and downs, and not every day is going to feel incredible. Taking time for ourselves and going with the flow are key for a balanced university experience, and remember: however you are feeling right now, you are not alone.
Image courtesy of Concordia College via WikiMedia Commons