The uni experience has been romanticised by the media – it needs to change

For the sake of freshers’ mental health the university conversation needs to have balance

University is sold to sixth formers, society, and the world beyond as the Shangri-La – a perfect utopia whereby life approaches perfection; where student living offers a haven in which the constraints of school and college cease to exist and total freedom and personal happiness is tantalisingly close.

I love university but I find both the expectations of those around me and the portrayal of it in the media concerning. It sets students up to fail before they’ve even arrived. The depiction of university in movies and TV series is closer to urban legend than reality. We need to open honest conversation about what it’s really like. If you feel like dropping out of uni, take this as a sign to give it one final go.

The portrayal of university in the media plays into the wider problem

Freshers start university with the belief that almost instantly they’ll find their best friends, a perfect work-life balance, have robust mental health and somehow be able to afford the student lifestyle. If they don’t have all these things instantly, they feel like a failure.

For many, moving into halls reminds them of the toxic social dynamics they’ve longed to escape from at home, and the number of people I know of which are deep into their overdraft is concerning. Let alone the awakening that occurs once you’re placed in a box room with views onto a brick wall, all for £200 a week and you may wish you never went. In fact, it’s normal to question if university is right for us.

The pandemic made university more of an endurance sport than carefree fun

Perhaps I’m scarred by the Covid-era of university whereby most of the past two years of education has been delivered online. The brief taste of in- person teaching experienced towards the end of the second academic year felt like a parallel world to the months of lectures endured online. First year was a wipeout.

The opportunity to live away from familiarity is perhaps the greatest draw for a lot of prospective students. It’s a slice of freedom that few have experienced before. But a lot of people just don’t get along with the peers that they’ve been placed with in accommodation. This is okay and perfectly normal. Really good mates usually come a little further down the line at university. However, the expectation that you’ll instantly be surrounded by a great social circle doesn’t help when it isn’t going that great. Students feel like something is wrong with them when they haven’t met their best friend at freshers.

Mental health can suffer whilst living away from home

Without the network and support of home, mental health at university can take a toll. Students are left disappointed because they find that university may negatively impact upon their self esteem and anxiety levels. It’s true that some degrees are harder than others and workloads can feel more relenting and overwhelming with each successive year. Juggling getting a degree and keeping yourself mentally and physically healthy can at times feel like a struggle, and finding time and space to be alone and recharge is crucial to make sure you don’t burn out.

In the wake of the pandemic and isolated lockdowns going to uni really is the best thing that you can do socially. You do make friends for life. We need community more than ever before but we need to separate the huge expectation placed upon university from the reality of it. I feel that the narrative surrounding going to university needs to change. Ultimately, for the sake of freshers’ mental health we need to stop romanticising the experience. It’s okay if it’s not okay. Uni can feel really hard and it can simultaneously feel like you’re part of something really good.

Students stay in education because they love the student bubble

University is a platform into the wider world. It’s a privilege. No wonder that in the blink of an eye the three years are over and students feel as lost leaving university as they did starting it. We stay in education for a reason – to prolong the student experience and prevent the bubble from bursting with the realities of the working world taking hold.

The university conversation needs to have balance

Life at university can feel like a dark hole one day and a blissful student existence the next. For many students the pressure to keep up socially and financially can lead to burnout. The expectation to juggle multiple demands and have fun whilst simultaneously coping with a lifestyle that has little routine can become too much. It would do us all a favour if we talked about how to cope with the harder sides to university as much as we focused on the good parts of it. The conversation needs balance. With university, it’s valuable to remember that it won’t all come at once.

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