Approaching the end of her second year, Life and Style’s Estelle Dragan reflects on how her first and second years at university have been different experiences
So you’ve completed first year and it seems that all you have achieved is mastering the art of the hangover, the ability to cook a decent enough spag bol, and somehow managing to pass your exams without actually knowing what the hell your degree is even about. Don’t get me wrong, first year was an absolute blast. But it takes transitioning from first to second year to realise that it was about time to leave the playground and really get yourself together.
The fresher hype seems to fail to warn that first year isn’t all fun and games. In a post-A Level exam frame of mind, all I could ever think about was how excited I was to go to university and be able to party for a whole year without having to worry about my academic performance. Little did I know that keeping up with the constant hard-core drinking would be just as intense as studying. When I think of first year, the first thing that comes to mind is ‘my head hurts’ or, to put it more deeply, ‘who am I?’. Going from being used to the comforts of your own home to suddenly being bombarded with thoughts and feelings you have never experienced can be a little unsettling. From personal experience, second year is the year to be hyping about.
One of my biggest struggles with first year was knowing where I stood, both with people and with myself. Ironically, despite constantly being surrounded by people, it seemed common to feel isolated. When living in halls, it can be easy for everyone to seem like they’re your friend, only to find that people are often simply passing by. Being thrown together with a bunch of strangers who you’re expected to live and get on with is a lot of pressure for young adults. The pressure of feeling like you have to pinpoint exactly who your friends are can make you feel like you’re in a social race too, especially when house hunting season creeps up and you’re left in a panic about organising living arrangements with people you barely know yet.
If first year has left you feeling a little lost and conflicted about your university experience, concentrate on what is to come, because things will no doubt feel a lot steadier in second year. Fellow second years have agreed that it wasn’t until coming back to university after the summer that they really started to feel part of a friendship group. FOMO finally gives you a break when pressure to go out so much to meet new people lessens. You find yourself piping down with the messy nights out too, only to find, to your greatest surprise, that there’s more to Brum than the Duck and Scholar and Stuesdays!
In terms of living arrangements too, second year offers so much more stability. Not only are you living with your kind of people who you were able to choose, you also start to feel more at home. Last year’s lifestyle felt like a very long school trip to me. I hated the feeling of coming home to somewhere that didn’t feel anything like home. No more regular 3am fire alarms, no more excruciatingly loud parties down the corridor. Not to mention how much more exciting house parties are than going next door for pres to find that every flat is a replica of the last.
Feeling more settled also means that that second year adds more structure to your life. Whereas first year priorities revolve around where pres are going to be that night, second year is the time to really start getting your head down and fixing yourself a routine. Although the pressure of second year assessments counting towards your final degree may seem daunting, it actually boosted my sense of belonging as a student. Being forced to go from slobbing around all day in a hungover puddle of self-pity to hitting the library regularly made me feel more organised, more with it and actually interested in my degree. You are also given much more freedom with your course by choosing your own modules, enabling you to start refining your areas of interests. Although the work load is more intense, studying doesn’t seem like as much of a chore when you’re exploring your own spheres of expertise. It’s also the year where you can find a real balance between work and fun. Going out with friends is still very much a regular occurrence, but without fresher’s flu waiting for you at the end of the tunnel.
Once university life feels homelier and more structured, your confidence will start to build organically. The “I want to get involved but I’m scared because I won’t know anyone” attitude will fade and university will open up new extra-curricular doors. University is about so much more than merely acquiring a degree, and it’s so important to make the most of these opportunities. With a clearer sense of direction, second year is when people often start to feel like they’re working towards their future plans and careers. This is when getting involved by joining societies, sports and undertaking volunteering work will seem a lot more productive and worthwhile.
Second year may be a jump from first year academically, but the perks definitely outdo the struggles. A lot of people seem to drop out of university in first year due to feelings of disillusionment and isolation. I strongly believe that if there was more warning about first year’s struggles and more reassurance about second year’s relief, university drop-out rates would fall significantly. First year experiences definitely aren’t representative of university life as a whole. With first year giving you settling in time and final year being about preparing for the ever-daunting real world, second year is the middle child who steals the balance of the two.