Comment Writers share their personal experiences of making the transition to University and tell us about what they found particularly difficult about the change
Unlike most first-year students, I haven’t taken what could be considered the traditional path of further education. I am 29 years old; I have had a career and the last few years I have either lived away from home or abroad.
From a 60-hour week of coordinating team members and running a business, to what felt like a million years of attempted self-organization, my transition back to academia was a hot mess at best. Yet, moving back home has been one of the hardest aspects of this current experience.
Yes, moving away from home to move to university is frightening. But so is moving back! As a mature student who has moved back in with my folks to study, I haven’t been able to benefit from the amazing social interaction that most students would get when they join halls, so I’ve thrown myself out there. I’ve joined societies, slid into group discussions and spoken to the people sat next to me in the lecture theatre, in hopes that I too can find the social benefits of university life. Confidence is key in this world and having a simple conversation has raised mine tremendously.
When you first walked into the University of Birmingham, it likely struck you the sheer volume of people there were. It might even have been overwhelming, which certainly describes my experience two years ago.
The daunting transition from classes of 20 students, to lectures containing over 200 is something that was unlikely to have crossed your mind amid your frantic rush to get everything checked-off of that ‘uni to-do list’. However, despite being surrounded by such an array of people, you may well have questioned where (or whether) you fit in. Taming that wave of overwhelming thoughts and finding a sense of belonging will take time and effort – that’s okay. I for one am not ashamed to admit that I spent my entire first year overcoming that small-fish-big-pond-feeling.
We become so comfortable in our small sixth form community, that we may struggle to start a conversation at University. So, we remain in our individual comfort zones. I urge you not to. Surviving the big leap from sixth form to University is really about taking those little leaps along the way – initiating a conversation in a lecture, speaking up in seminars or joining a society. Overcome those small hurdles, and eventually you will find that niche place where you fit in. With effort and patience, University can be the best time of your life!
For me, the scariest part about moving to university was the sheer size of the city that I now live in. I come from a small village in rural Suffolk (for those who don’t know where that is…well, you wouldn’t be the first) that has a handful of shops as its centre. For the most part, everyone knows everyone. So for me, moving from my tiny world of thatched roofs and local shops to the massive urban sprawl that is Birmingham was, to put it bluntly, a bit of a shock. When I accepted my offer from the university I had, of course, visited the city beforehand. But if anything over the last few weeks, I have found that no number of visits could actually prepare me for what it is like to actually live here. The number of people crammed into a small space completely took me by surprise. Everyday I meet someone new and yet there are still hundreds of unfamiliar faces around me. However, I can safely say that this change, although daunting at first, has really allowed me to spread my wings and realise fully what it is like to live in such a diverse city such as Birmingham.
First, remember that all first-years feel exactly the same as you do. They will all be wondering how to get to campus, how to use the washing machines and where the best nights out are – all three of these things certainly crossed my mind! Throw yourself into each of these questions, and enjoy the fact that university is new and exciting. Part of this is the fact that you get to focus on the subjects you love, whilst meeting people who love those subjects too. If people say they are not nervous, I would bet my degree that they are lying! You may feel stressed or homesick at times, which is ok and very normal. Remember that there are lots of support networks in place for you, like older student mentors, official university counsellors and your flatmates. In terms of lectures and seminars, go in prepared. Do the work set. The last thing you want is to be writing an essay ten minutes before the deadline hits. It’s stressful and very avoidable. So, there you have it.
For me personally, the biggest shock coming into university was how early they start talking about your career. My course includes a year in industry, so I do understand that university simply wanted to inform us but having careers network coming in during our induction talk stressed me out. I had not even had one lecture yet and there were people talking to me about how I need to build up my CV and need to start thinking about my third year. Honestly, it felt like I was expected to be superwoman: figure out how to live alone, how university works, what I want to do in my free time, and on top of that manage to build this amazing CV, and I had no clue what that was even supposed to mean.
I ended up going to some of the career fairs, they were interesting (with lots of freebies), but I figured out that they target mainly third and sometimes second years. Knowing that helped and made it worse at the same time because I still did not know how to build this amazing CV I was meant to have. What helped was being surrounded by people in the same situation, none of us having a clue about our career, and we ended up prepping our CVs together, or at least we tried.
Freshers’ week – a week with copious amounts of drinking, clubbing and the dreaded freshers’ flu has passed. My experience was somewhat unusual. After attending the freshers’ fair on Monday and visiting a friend, I sprained my ankle. A six-hour A&E trip on the first night of freshers’ week was not something I planned or enthusiastic about. Being on crutches made me think my freshers’ week experience would be lacking – but it was the opposite.
Doctor’s orders were to rest for two days and I envisioned Netflix marathons, but friends on my course visited me both days to keep me company and talk to me. They spent 6 hours at mine – just talking. When I was better, I was able to go to the societies fair on Thursday and Friday. Although I didn’t get to go clubbing, I had an amazing time. I had friends who were keen to visit me and keep me company and stay for endless hours just talking – they helped me go onto main campus when I was better to take advantage of the freebies and explore the campus and actually make the most of my time.
I felt so daunted, yet excited by the prospect of going to university with a little life experience under my belt. That I would enter and leave the same old me, only now getting the job I want. Naively, I thought that was it. So day 1, year 1 and year 2 caught me off guard to say the least. I joined the University of Birmingham as a mature and commuting undergraduate in 2017. The saying ‘age is just a number’ has never felt so patronising, as commuting to class in constant fear of being categorised the outsider. For the rest of year 1, I honestly felt like I had a flashing beacon on my head saying ‘old’ and ‘avoid’. It stayed for year 2 as I retreated further into my cave, hiding from every opportunity that could possibly come my way.
Now facing my final year, I am so eager and excited to throw myself into every experience I can manage. The more people I can meet and learn from the better. For even though we tend to look to someone older to be a mentor, peers that are younger are incredible reverse mentors.
University is nerve-wracking for any new or returning student, but especially a mature student. I know how easy it is to feel like a number defines you, even when you never anticipated it would. But I promise it does not. A mature student is still a brilliant student. Linear is not always the right route. I hope everyone and anyone realises this sooner than I did.