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How to make the transition from school to uni, without losing your mind

How to survive the transition from school

Everyone at uni either has experienced or is experiencing the pros and cons of leaving the strict regulations of school behind and stepping into the more lax ways of life at university.

As well as the inevitable times of fun and partying, going to uni comes with its challenges. It's not easy moving to somewhere, having no idea what goes on or how anything works – and it certainly doesn't turn into second nature overnight.

Most of us are likely to experience the same things whilst trying to immerse ourselves into uni life.

The Awkward Phase

Starting university is a very odd time for everyone. It’s an awkward yet very significant transition from school and, whilst you find yourself still in the education system, you don’t necessarily have the same rules and regulations that accompanied that of a school education.

Truthfully, this can be very difficult. Lots of people go into their first year of university determined to defy every rule they had placed on them at school for no other reason than because they can. Lots of people see it almost as a ‘prison break’, if you like, and they don’t fail to take advantage of the new lack of restrictions they are tied down by.

Consequently, such people may be more inclined to take a turn down the wild side of life; the party-all-night, sleep-all-day, and barely-attend-lectures kind of lifestyle. Others, however, may be lucky and have enough self-discipline to inspire them to prioritise their academic life by attending class religiously, whilst also maintaining an adequate social presence.

Indeed, there are bound to be those who fit into neither of these categories straight away; myself included. I neither took the wild turn down party lane, nor did I go in to starting university with enough self-discipline to make myself do everything that my school teachers would have been proud of. But as the weeks went by, I learnt from my mistakes and I learnt how to strike a balance between study time and party time, as I’m sure most students do.

Finding that balance between appreciating the newfound freedom of university whilst also not taking it for granted is perhaps the first major step in the transition up from school, if not the most important.

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You're not just going to re-meet your school mates

Another important step that I found as I started university was learning to open my mind up to meeting people from all walks of life. Most schools are pretty closeted in terms of the people you’ll meet and the friends you’ll make. Okay, not everyone will be from exactly the same background, but largely they’re not dissimilar.

University, however, is completely different. It accommodates people from all areas and stages of life. Throughout last year I met some incredible people that I could never have imagined making acquaintances with before. Whether our paths crossed in the lecture hall or in societies where we had the same interests, or even outside a university context entirely, you'll be forced to open your mind up to all those people like and unlike yourself.

Some of these people will remain acquaintances, many more will become friends, from those there will be close friends and then, of course, there will be people you either never see again, or don’t wish to. But within all that you find your people. No matter how much you convince yourself that you won’t and no matter how much it seems that way within the daunting chaos and anticipation of starting university.

I wouldn’t have made it through first year without all my friends by my side. They all quite literally become family when you spend eight solid months with them and see and live with them every day of those eight months.

In the time that stress of impending deadlines gets too much, there's always sympathy, empathy and continuous words of encouragement and celebrations when you finally get through it all. In my first year, we went through everything together; from sitting on the top of Arthur’s Seat reading a book in the glorious sunshine, multiple trips to A&E, to lying on the floor in the corridor for countless hours nursing a hangover with several tubs of ice-cream, and staying up into the unearthly hours of the morning with cups of coffee on tap cramming for our exams.

You’ll always find your people and, not only that, but you’ll almost definitely make friends and family out of people that, before university started, you may not even have seen yourself mixing with.

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You have to go out and grasp the opportunities yourself

As well as opening up your mind to embrace the different sorts of people you'll meet, opening it up to embrace all that university has to offer is another essential task. The activities and societies that universities host are so often weird and wonderful, and things that you didn’t even know existed.

In my first year I tried things that I never could've imagined doing before; not just because I would've considered them beyond my own abilities, but also because I would've considered them beyond the barrier of my social competence. Things such as pole dancing, quidditch, ballroom dancing, various literature societies that encouraged drunkenness to inspire your writing.

Although such things may not seem like a particularly big deal to most people, I know for a fact that I would not have been able to do most of these things in the years and even months before I started uni. Such is the sheer significance of the confidence I built at university in a social context.

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Another important lesson that I learnt and that I can only encourage others to as well, is not to forget everything you were before starting university simply out of fear of not being accepted.

The great thing about uni, especially in comparison to school, is that it should help to inspire you to be exactly who you are and who you want to be. This is because the environment in which you find yourself at university is not only far bigger but also far more varied. University will undoubtedly change you, but use these experiences to shape you whilst still embracing your background.

The Freshers' Week Angst

Freshers' Week was a mess, not necessarily in terms of alcohol and partying (although inevitably that was a contributing factor), but in terms of how everyone felt they had to go out clubbing every night of the week and had to go to every social event that took place.

It wasn’t until after Freshers' Week was over that we learnt that not a single one of us wanted to do that and we all would've much rather stayed in and watched a film. Once we realised this, that was what most of our weekends thereafter consisted of. The social expectation we all had to go wild every second of every day was unfounded, and we all felt sweet relief upon the realisation that we need only say the word to have a quiet night in in the future. Thus, I would suggest just saying to your new friends that, actually, you might not go out tonight and ask if they would like to join you doing something more mundane: watching a film, going to find a society or even going for a walk around the city.

I think that most people in Freshers' Week are, for lack of a better word, terrified; and who can blame them? Being away from home properly for the first time, having seemingly boundless freedom, and effectively a clean slate, it is a pretty daunting prospect. Mix this with the excitement, nervousness and anticipation that undoubtedly comes with starting something new, everyone’s emotions will be going into overdrive.

In addition to this, people will, naturally, try to give off a certain persona embodying the way they wish to be seen. This, however, doesn't necessarily represent who they are, and it may take a few weeks for people to settle down in their environments and realise that they don’t have to try to be someone else to make friends. Thus, people may not show you their true colours straight away and this is worth bearing in mind.

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You'll feel every emotion under the sun in your first year

First year of university as a whole has quite literally been a roller-coaster. There were, on occasions, endless tears just as much as there was endless laughter. But out of the stress, the fear and the anticipation of it all being so real, it has helped me, shaped me, tested me, encouraged me, challenged me, pushed me. But most of all, it has made me.

As cheesy as it sounds, it has been the becoming of me in ways I never thought it would. Among many things it has helped me most with my social skills and my confidence. From not only meeting such a wide variety of people, but also just the sheer number of people you do meet, be it in the first week of the year or the last, thousands of people will cross your path.

For many, university indicates the first time being away from home and having to fend for oneself. For those who went away to school, there is no comparison between being away from home in a school environment where you still have guidance and rules to abide by, and being further afield without the routine lights out, specified laundry days, and sign in sheets.

Often, this realisation of such a self-sufficient transition does not hit until after the excitement and business of Freshers' Week, but may, for some, hit hard when it eventually does come home.

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All I can say is embrace everything. Life gets boring after uni; no more city-wide snowball fights, no more getting home at 5am before getting up for a lecture at 7am, no more greeting llamas when you arrive at your halls on the very first day.

It doesn’t last long so enjoy it whilst you can. University will be a different experience for everyone. But within that, there will be so many similarities. Namely, it should be a fun, warming and enlightening experience that you look back on with nothing but fond memories.

Before I started last year, everyone I know above the age of 30 said that they will be the best years of my life so make the most of them. Only one year down the line and I can already see this being the case. So I guess it’s now time to buckle up and ride through the next three years.