Second year: the middle child syndrome you never expected to have

Because we deserve some attention too

It’s May, meaning the end of the academic year is nigh (insert the world’s largest sigh for the world’s most confusing year). It was during a conversation about said confusing year when I made the off-hand comment, “being in the second year is like being the middle child”. And, in my usual over-thinking fashion, I ran with this thought until I was able to create an entire article on it, just for you.

The first years: the baby

You’ll have heard it before. You’re simultaneously the running joke on campus and the most envied. You have the joys of Fresher’s Week, get to discover all of your favourite bars and club nights, only needing a pass to get through the year. The world is your oyster (well, as much as it can be in a post-pandemic world) and you’re arguably everyone’s favourite year at university.

The third years: the eldest child

I may not be in my final year, but from what I’ve heard, it’s a lot of stress, tears and longing for the first year. That doesn’t mean all of your third year is one bad thing after another. On the contrary, you have the future to look forward to, graduation plans to make and some incredible memories to look back on. All eyes are on you to secure a strong result, and the questions about what you’ll be doing post-uni are endless. It’s tough, but it’s worth the attention.

this is actually me in second year, but I imagine this is what I’ll look like for most of third year too

The second years: the middle child

And lastly (because realistically, that’s the natural order when we think of university) second years. Remember us? If you have made it past this year, you probably can’t pinpoint one specific thing that made your second year. And if you’re in your first, you probably haven’t actually thought about it yet. Second year is neither disappointing nor thrilling. Here are some characteristics of middle child syndrome that second years also go through, because if you hadn’t realised yet, we are all one neglected child just trying to survive the year.

1. Feeling misunderstood

We’re an underrepresented bunch. We have some of the energy of our younger first year counterparts but the added advantage of the wisdom a whole year at university brings. This does not mean we know how to be an adult – before we get ahead of ourselves – we just know which bars are the good ones and when is the best time to show up to all of the clubs (freshers, you’ll get there someday).

2. Feeling neglected

Typically middle child syndrome can include feelings of being neglected. And boy, if anyone’s felt neglected this year, it’s uni students. We rarely got the advice we needed to hear from Government press conferences, and most universities scrambled to make sense of the cryptic rules and regulations that were eventually provided to them. But who was talked about? First years were in the news when no fresher’s week came around, leading to a disappointing start to their year. Meanwhile, third years have been struggling to get confirmation on what will happen with their graduation this summer (and let’s not even try and break down the current post-graduate job market).

It’s truly unfair, and no one can take that away from them. But you know what else is unfair? Spending the entirety of your second year in your home, unable to see your friends for months, with no real support from university services. Second years got lost in the rush to fix everything, our only consolation being that we may eventually get back outside. Second year may not have much to it, but it is usually a year of going out before you crackdown in third year. Not this time though, and now we’ve all rapid aged into middle-aged folk who like to be in bed by 8 pm.

3. We are rebellious and people pleasers

My time as a second year may have been skewed by strings of lockdowns, but luckily some things never change. Another marker of middle children is their tendency to act out or to please those around them. And how are second years any different? We’ll do anything to go back to our first-year selves, including stealing cones and drinking way past our limits just to feel something. However, we definitely try a bit harder than we did in first year too. Our sudden awareness that our exams and assignments actually start to count towards our degree means that you may catch us doing the kind of all-nighters that don’t include alcohol but coffee instead, as well as library visits (it’s close enough to the Engine Shed to feel like we’re at Quack, it’s almost bittersweet).

Our bollard all dressed up for Christmas

So, next time you see a student walking towards the library with their eyes looking longingly at the freshers stumbling out of towers, take a moment to consider that they may be a second year, in desperate need of recognition, maybe even a hug to remind them that they do exist. Second year, it’s been a weird one, but I appreciate the time and experiences you have given me, even if no one else saw them. You’re not all that bad, it’s just not that fun being the middle child.


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