Dropping out of Durham in exchange for St Andrews was the best decision I ever made

The college system left me feeling claustrophobic

University drop out. It is not the phrase that you want to headline your CV, especially from a university as respected and liked as Durham. When all of your friends claim to love it, what do you do when you can’t take it anymore?

A large part of my decision to leave Durham was me and me alone, but there was a distinct coldness about my exit. I had told my senior tutor I was on some medication that could cause illness, depression or mood swings. Rather than providing any kind of pastoral support, this information was ignored and filed away. Once I’d made the decision to leave the very same tutor told me. “I won’t convince you to stay. You know when I left my first PhD…”

When you feel like you have no options, studying or anything else – that is not the kind of advice you need.

I made friends, but I felt trapped within college. There is a deep need for success at Durham, and people would often choose essays over friendship. Being busy wasn’t to be disturbed by being upset.

The college that everyone loved felt like a prison to me and I didn’t know what to do or where to turn. Where everyone would order a college drink, sing chants, or be proud to say where they were from, I didn’t.

For most people, the collegiate system offers friendship that may not be there in bigger campus universities. However, a sad inheritance comes when your college is smaller and further away. With a pool of just 700 people (with only around half living there permanently) that you do everything with, it is difficult to feel like you can leave your college. In St Andrews, the university-wide sport and societies give a greater chance for socialising beyond the walls of accommodation. To some, college gave a wonderful family and group but to me it was claustrophobic.

I simply didn’t feel the same ‘Trevs’ Pride (my college, Trevelyan) as them. I felt like I wanted to be outside of a college, to be part of a wider or even smaller group of people. Friends at Collingwood seemed to have an incredible time. It was bigger, rowdier and had more social events than Facebook could keep up with. A friend at Aiden’s also couldn’t stand it. The random placement in college doesn’t suit anyone. Where each college was built for specific student needs and there is no place to put a preference, it is possible you could be put somewhere that isn’t right at all.

By the time I’d spent two days in college without leaving my room, missing lectures/meals and socials, I decided I couldn’t do it anymore. I wrote a Word document to my parents explaining why I had to leave.

Fast forward two weeks later and I’d applied for St Andrews. It wasn’t my first choice. It was probably last. On a whim I decided to visit and it was a world away from my previous university experience. The combination of a fluid degree, allowing you to switch subjects and explore different options, and the supportive student services which gave the accommodation and support I needed changed how I saw university. Where I felt like I was in a prison in Trevs, St Andrews gave me choices.

To feel the happiness that I now feel elsewhere, I think maybe I have changed my mind. In future, I might well headline my CV ‘University Drop-Out’. Ultimately, it was the best thing that could have happened and it made me feel something I definitely didn’t feel before; happy.

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University of St Andrews