Comment Writer Sophie Webb reflects on ageing through Undergraduate and Postgraduate experiences.

Written by Sophie Webb
sci&tech editor studying msc youth mental health :)
Images by Brooke Cagle

The undergraduate experience of university begins long before arrivals’ weekend. As I was coming up to my first year in 2018, I was overwhelmed by the various online packing lists, the “do’s and dont’s” of student life, alongside what type of mattress protector I would need. Endless information that I thought needed to be remembered word-for-word. Not to mention the apparently endless freshers’ Facebook group chats that it seemed necessary to join. 

Endless information that I thought needed to be remembered

The first week itself, if memory serves me well, was sensory overload. With a barrage of meetings, talks, fairs, taster sessions – there were not enough hours in the day to cram in everything that appeared to be required of me. This was on top of the discombobulation of leaving home for the first time, meeting new flatmates, and saying goodbye to family. I was so overstimulated by each day’s activities that I actually did not attempt the very thing that freshers’ weeks are famous for: a night out. I felt too much pressure to have a go at everything, and most of all, to have fun. 

Returning this September as a postgraduate, after two years away working, I understood that it was not the end of the world if I did not know everything before I arrived. I knew that if I had questions, I would be able to find the answers on campus. Roughly 34% of Birmingham students are postgraduates, so I knew that there would be other people in the same position as me. The second and third years of my undergraduate degree were interrupted by COVID-19, and this experience had taught me that any expectations for the university year can go out of the window at a moment’s notice. This time, I did not feel the need to over-prepare. 

Today, I am at a different university in a different city – not that Birmingham is too far away from Warwick. Yet, this still meant that I had a new environment to get to grips with, but instead of instilling me with fear, like when I had moved to Warwick I 2018,

I felt entirely liberated to have somewhere new to explore. So far, I have managed to experience only a tiny fraction of the city, but I have constructed a bucket list for the year ahead.

All the same events were running at UoB Welcome Week 2023 as when I was an undergrad: the same meetings, the same fairs and – of course – nights out. This time, I took a much more relaxed approach: cherry-picking the events which were most relevant to me, rather than trying to attend everything. I was able to make time to decompress, especially through collage-making in the Wellbeing Tent.

I think that there are a number of reasons why it feels easier the second time around. Of course, we learn from past experience, so we know not to make the same mistakes a second time. As an undergrad fresher, I definitely spent more evenings hidden in my room than perhaps I should have. Leaving home is a seismic shift, and it follows that the older you are, the less of a toll it should take; the emotional intelligence that accompanies with ageing and maturing makes it remarkably easier to respond to adversity.

Two experiences like chalk and cheese

So far, my favourite aspect of postgraduate study is the noticeably better-developed sense of self; my likes and dislikes, interests and hobbies. As an undergrad fresher, these facets of selfhood were new to me and changing constantly – in the autumn term of my first year, I must have trialled every society you could think of, just to find out where I would “fit in” away from the familiarity of home life. As an older postgraduate, there is little to no pressure to construct a new identity away from home, as you have had several years to develop this organically. 

I am grateful that I got the opportunity to experience freshers’ week twice, as my two experiences were like chalk and cheese. My missteps the first time informed the better choices I made the second time, so I would not have one without the other. 

For more articles on Student Life:

The Problems with Online Learning

Job Hunting Burnout

Reflections On My Degree