Three years (and a half) ago, I was completing university. University for me was not exactly the experience I thought it was going to be – but then when is it ever? We have our preconceptions about things; we experience them; and we learn from them.
When going to university, there are many expectations that students have about what they are going to experience there. Some of these expectations are met, and some are not, but at the end of the day, what adventures you find yourself having are down to the type of person that you are, and the company that you keep. There are a fair few stigmas attached the word “university”: binge-drinking, casual sex, drug-taking, and the vision of young adults living amongst a mountain of empty pizza boxes, mouldy Chinese takeaway leftovers, and cigarette butts. Whatever experience you think you are in for, here’s some things that you should know before going to university:
1. University is an invaluable experience. You are suddenly somewhere new, without the comfort of familiar friends and family, and you have to start your life over from scratch in this unknown place (assuming you have not gone to a university twenty minutes down the road from your parents house). Your mum is not there to cook you dinner, wash your clothes, or clean your room any more. Your dad is not there to empty the bins, do the food shopping, or fix your broken shelves. No, all of this, and more, suddenly becomes your responsibility, and the responsibility of those you share your accommodation with.
Living without your parents teaches you how to manage living in a house. It teaches you that food does not just find its way into your fridge without you going out and buying it (and lugging it all the way back home); that the fridge/microwave/oven needs to be cleaned or you will find mould growing where you don’t want to; that bins must be emptied or you will find yourself living with the filth that you wish to dispose of; that you have to do regular clothes washes; and, easiest of all to forget, that your bedsheets do need to be washed. Honestly, they do. And probably regularly, knowing the things you are likely to do in that bed (eating takeaway curry in it is the example I’m thinking of).
There’s also dusting and hoovering that needs to be done, and, worst of all, scrubbing the toilet, and unclogging the plughole in the shower (which is worse if you share a bathroom with others instead of having an en suite. Far, far worse). You also have to replace things: soap, shampoo/conditioner/body wash, toothpaste, fairy liquid, cleaning sponges, washing powder, and the most important: toilet roll. God forbid you forget to replace the toilet roll.
It also teaches you how to live amongst other people. Not only other people, but people that you probably won’t know whatsoever when you move into student accommodation in your first year. You will have to learn to live with these people, whether you like them or not, and to overcome any problems that may occur throughout that year (distribution of chores, flatmates stealing your food, the guy in the room next to you playing hardcore metal music when he gets up for lectures at god-knows-what-time, the girl in the room opposite you having extremely loud sex at until four in the morning…the list goes on). There’s also negotiating how the chores are evenly divided. Which brings me onto…
2. There’s always that one guy who doesn’t wash up. Or if he does, he does the most appalling job of it, and then it’s going to have to be done again and you may as well have done it yourself in the first place. Hopefully, you can have a polite but assertive conversation with him, and it won’t happen after said conversation has taken place. More than likely, though, it’s something you’re going to have to put up with, however frustrating, because some people just don’t change. And yes, it will make you grind your teeth in frustration for the whole year.
3. Yup, there’s plenty of alcohol consumption. It’s true: being a student means that binge-drinking is common, but when I came to university I envisioned everyone going out practically every night and getting so hammered that they forgot their own names, where they lived, and what species they were. This is something I wouldn’t have been able to deal with, as my hangovers are pretty horrific, and I was dreading having to either venture out sober or turn down invites, stay in, and look like the most boring student ever to have existed. The reality, in fact, is that the first couple of weeks are filled with alcohol-fuelled antics, meeting plenty of new people, dressing up, and vomiting on street corners, but afterwards, things calm down a little for the majority. I, and most people I knew, went out clubbing or to parties about once a week on average. Students do, however, find any excuse to go to the pub in the middle of the day, and I did know a few people who were a bit overzealous with the wine in the comfort of their own homes. Also, another thing I learnt was that as you get older and progress up the education system, the appropriate time to start drinking seems to get later. When I first started drinking in the later years of school, 7pm was the drinking time. This progressed to about 8pm in college, and then rose to between 9pm and 10.30pm at university. And last but not least: drinking games. You will become familiar with a variety of these, the most popular probably being Ring of Fire, where you will swiftly learn that your alcohol tolerance is nowhere near as high as you thought it was.
4. You should budget your money. This is another invaluable lesson that living at university teaches us, although most students seem to ignore their financial situation and delve into their overdraft, and after spending all of that wonder what the hell they are going to do. Don’t reach that point. It gets ugly when you are scraping together pennies for a loaf of bread, stealing sugar from Starbucks, and eating your flatmates leftovers. It’s depressing when you cannot go out and do anything for weeks in a row.
Look at your bank balance at the beginning of each term and divide by the number of weeks until your next loan comes through (and include holidays if you are not getting a summer job etc). That gives you a budget for each week. Keep track of how much you are spending – even if it is just on a “notes” app on your phone, so you know when you do hit your weekly budget. It works, and it works well, so just do it. Trust me.
5. The internet will be your best friend and your worst enemy. You will be on it. Constantly. You will wake up, turn your laptop on, and tell yourself that you will “just check emails and Facebook notifications” before getting on with some work. Four hours later you are alternating between various social networking sites and other websites of interest. You may then write the title of your essay but then rewarded yourself with another two hours of browsing. What should have taken you a couple of hours to write will take a week. I’m not exaggerating.
In other words, the internet will take over your life and you will never see sunlight.
6. Because of your internet addiction, partying, and avid watching of movies and TV series, you will not get to bed until the early hours of the morning. Ever.
7. Walking to Tesco in your pyjamas is perfectly acceptable. Always. End of.
8. Being ill by yourself. This is quite a scary experience: mum isn’t there to make you a cup of tea, bring you medicine, and call school for you to tell them that you will not be attending class. You will have to force yourself out of bed to make a cuppa, send an email to your tutors, and drag yourself to the pharmacy (or persuade a friend to grab you some on the way back from lectures). Your mum isn’t there to reassure you that you will be okay, and you will probably end up searching Google for your symptoms and convincing yourself that you are dying. BUT
9. Your mum is always only a phonecall away, so don’t panic. I cannot count the number of times I called my mum to list my symptoms, ask for recipes, or question her on how to boil an egg.
10. You will gather a collection of unexplainable bruises. This will happen every time you get drunk. And sometimes when you don’t. Sometimes you will vaguely remember how a certain bruise was created, but for the most part you won’t. You may wake up with a bruise on your leg. One that is all colours of the rainbow. You haven’t been out since Saturday, and it is now Wednesday. Where did this bruise come from? You will never know.
11. The “freshers fifteen” might exist…or it might not. It is always, tediously, talked about. The weight gain at university. Is it true? Is it a myth? I have no idea because I was suffering from anorexia at the time and I wasn’t monitoring the weights of anyone else. Maybe some people put on a bit of weight because uni students don’t feed themselves properly, drink frequently, and sleep a lot. But really, it’s okay to put on weight. I imagine that actually it may be a coincidence that people put on weight at uni and it may just be that at that age your body is developing from a child’s body to an adult body, and with that almost always comes with weight gain.
The only thing I would suggest with uni and food is that it may be easier to eat pizza every day, but it’s really not awesome for your body. Keep in mind that you do need vegetables, fruit, and protein as well as dairy, fat, sugar, and carbs. There are thousands of recipes on the internet for those with a low budget. “Nosh 4 Students” is also a good book to buy before embarking to university. Basically get a varied and balanced assortment on food into your bellies, but don’t stress about it.
12. Casual sex is a thing. Yeah, it happens. But it depends on who you are as to how often that is. Some of my friends have been in relationships for all or the majority of the time that they have spent at university. Some have had a few one night stands. Some have had more than others. And there is an odd few who have really pushed the boat out and their number of people who they have bedded is now soaring sky-high, and past that, to the universe, and beyond.
It all comes down to what you want to do. At the end of the day, your body is your body, and whatever you want to do with it is your business.
And last, but not least:
13. You can still have a banging time at university if you are already in a relationship. When I went to university, I was in a serious, long-term relationship. My partner was studying at a university which was an hour away by train, so logistically it worked pretty well. We alternated going to each other’s every weekend, and we were together until the second year of uni. This did not mean I had a crap time in my first year. It didn’t limit me from doing anything except sleeping with other men, which, funnily enough, didn’t appeal to me when I had a partner who could satisfy my needs far more than any one night stand could. I still met new people and made new friends and got blind drunk with them and passed out beside my bed at 4am. I still explored new clubs, pubs, bars, and cafés. I still went to the cinema and to the mall, and to restaurants with my new friends. I still went swimming, and baked, and took photographs. It’s just that sometimes I did these things with my partner as well.
Ultimately, life is what you make it, and the same applies for your university experience. Whatever you do, or wherever you go, just make sure you are prepared. Especially when it comes to toilet roll.