What it’s really like being from a state-school at the University of Bristol

‘Nothing quite prepared me for the culture-clash I was to experience coming from an under-privileged background’


Coming to Bristol from a state-school background, I knew the odds were stacked against me. To be questioned on what I study and which halls I reside in were questions I was anticipating during Freshers' Week, but nothing quite prepared me for the culture-clash I was to experience coming from an under-privileged background.

The well-established stereotype of the Bristol student is one that emphasises the middle-class background, private-school educated and intelligent persona of the individuals which make up the majority of the university’s admissions.

Personally, of these three main stereotypes I found the fact that most students were from financially privileged backgrounds kind of unnerving as it was a category I was not accustomed to.

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For this reason alone, I had a pre-conceived idea that I would experience hardship in forming friendships and just simply fitting into university, which is a feeling shared by many students like me; unfortunately, the stress of going to uni, paired with being the minority made the struggle seem a little more real.

Amongst the student body there are many divisions in terms of halls, sports teams and so on. Whether this is the case for state-school vs private-school is a matter of debate. I don't think there is an overt division between students from a particular type of school; however, different upbringings and experiences of students owing to their backgrounds did often serve as a reminder that we are all different.

It almost seems that someone’s academic background correlates with their wealth. Unfortunately, it also seems that when you are from a privileged school you are aware of and open to more opportunities; whilst the university and your course of study plays a role in this, the networks enjoyed by most privileged students from their parents/previous schools is unmatched and heavily contrasts the lack of opportunities students like myself actually grew up on.

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This motivated me in some ways to want to strive to do better for myself and my family, but there were definitely points where I felt it was unfair that I had to work a little bit harder to secure networking opportunities.

This added pressure of trying to do better for yourself by working harder just to be on the same level as the other students at your university is a pressure most students from similar backgrounds to myself are sensitive to. However, I do feel that this develops a person’s independence which is crucial both in terms of university and later, in your career.

For me, the most poignant division came from the fact that being from a lower-band state school had a domino effect on the opportunities I had growing up, which also was intertwined with the issue of money.

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Nonetheless I strongly advocate that your university experience is what you make of it. I am well aware that being from a state-school does put you in a disadvantage in some ways when it comes to social situations, but the university is sensitive to students who require financial help and do not discriminate in the opportunities they provide to their students.

The Bursary scheme is provided to those students who require it and is a good start in ensuring some financial stability to an extent. Opportunities like this are offered throughout the university, and just requires some research, so I would advise students who are planning to attend the university to really research what’s on offer to them.

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A final piece of advice for state-school students like me is that you should see your state school background as something to be proud of, rather than victimising yourself. It reflects the hard-work you endured to ensure you got into a top-tier university which many people from a similar background could not secure.

Let's face it, university is a fresh start and we are all at the same place, indicating we are all meant to be as everyone had to work their way in, it is not just given.