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What if University isn’t the Best Three Years of your Life?

What if University isn't the best three years of your life? Over the knee boots, Stradivarius boots, leather skirt, asos ribbed jumper, blonde balayage
What if University isn't the best three years of your life? Over the knee boots, Stradivarius boots, leather skirt, asos ribbed jumper, blonde balayage

University: the best three years of your life. Except when it’s not. It’s no secret that I struggled at university – you can read more about that here – and despite graduating with a snazzy certificate from one of the best uni’s in the country with a degree in Law and Anthropology, I still felt as though I’d failed. I blame that almost solely on the pressure and the expectation that your time at university will be the absolute peak of your existence. You’ll leave with best friends for life and three years worth of memories (mainly centred around getting drunk on £1 shots in the student union) that you can whip out at dinner parties until you’re grey and wrinkly. Yeah sure, an education is nice and all, but have you ever tried drinking a pint out of a shoe whilst an already-receding nineteen year old called Gary shouts ‘down it freshaaaaaar!‘? Truth be told, my experience couldn’t be further removed and I’m a little bit jealous. 

In its self, the notion that the best years of your life will be over by the ripe old age of twenty one or twenty two is a bit depressing. I understand the sentiment though; for a weird limbo period you’re an adult without the responsibilities of one. Nobody really minds if you live out of your overdraft because you’re out every night of the week or if your staple meal is 60p chicken super noodles. It’s kind of expected that you won’t have your shit together. Maybe that was my problem: I did have my shit together, perhaps a little too much. Having spent a year working fifty hours a week, paying rent, saving into an ISA and separating my whites from my darks and my colours, I really struggled with the lack of structure and routine. More so, I struggled with being surrounded by people who could study advanced maths, but didn’t know how to make scrambled egg. For many, university is the time in their lives that they grow up and I noticed that change massively in a few friends from first year to the end of third year. I was already a grown up, and I felt really, really boring.

What if University isn't the best three years of your life? Over the knee boots, Stradivarius boots, leather skirt, asos ribbed jumper, blonde balayage

I quickly lost my sense of self and of purpose and spiralled into a depression, allowing a cloud of blackness and overwhelming anxiety to take over my existence. It was really shit and whilst I was lucky to have a good GP, my university was particularly crap at providing any support. My attendance slipped and although I pulled it together in time for exams, the entirety of my registers for the three years reads a bit like a missing persons file. I learnt to get into my own rhythm and it went something like this: attend the bare minimum, study the bare minimum and finally work really fucking hard for a few weeks of the year, fuelled by a cocktail of Red Bull and Pro Plus and the determination to at least make the experience worth it on on paper. The best three years, my arse.

I didn’t really have any pals which in part was my own fault because the above lifestyle wasn’t particularly conducive to making friends. However I also felt as though when I did put myself out there I really struggled to find my people. I craved the girl gang I’d never had at secondary school (more on that here), or a big group of pals to go out with on a Thursday night but I just couldn’t find them. In hindsight, I chose the wrong university in that sense and I think if I’d gone elsewhere I’d probably have a different story to tell. There seems to be something a bit different about going to uni in London and it’s something I’ve heard echoed from several others, whether they graduated recently or over a decade ago. Really, you’re just another person living in the capital. Where other cities are more geared towards students, London is rather unforgiving. Most of the universities are not campus based so it’s very easy to quickly become detached.

What if University isn't the best three years of your life? Over the knee boots, Stradivarius boots, leather skirt, asos ribbed jumper, blonde balayage

Regardless of what your university experience looks like – and I hope it isn’t much like mine – it’s totally okay if actually, it wasn’t the best three years of your life. The overriding pressure to be having a really fucking fantastic time can be almost suffocating. I spent a lot of time feeling like (prozac aside!) there was clearly something wrong with me. I figured that it must be my own fault that I didn’t particularly connect with my cohort or leave with friends for life; I must have done something wrong, been wrong, put them off some how. Even now, it’t not a period I massively enjoy talking about because I don’t have the stories to tell, and the handful that I do feel a bit fraudulent because they were few and far between.

I don’t regret the three years I spent at university; education aside, I learnt a lot about myself. I left with a fully functioning business and more money in my bank account than I joined with, which almost certainly wouldn’t have happened had I been too busy chugging sweaty gym trainer beer. It is hard to shake that feeling that I did it wrong though. If you did have a wonderful time at uni then I am genuinely happy for you. If, like me, you walked across that graduation stage with mixed feelings (relief, mainly) after what definitely wasn’t the best three years of your life then I want you to know you’re not alone and you probably didn’t do anything wrong either. 

What if University isn't the best three years of your life? Over the knee boots, Stradivarius boots, leather skirt, asos ribbed jumper, blonde balayage

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22 Responses

  1. Oh Beth I can relate to this so much! Well, in a weird way. I knew right off the bat that the ~university experience~ (ie. getting bladdered every night and living on supernoodles) was just not for me, but I still definitely wanted a degree. Luckily I realised this early enough to resist the pushes from tutors/friends/everybody but my family to head off to uni, and started my degree from home with the Open University instead. Honestly it’s the best decision I ever made – I still get a degree, and it’s far more flexible so I can fit the rest of my life around it. It’s difficult and it’s lonely (she says, sitting at the dining room table with just a Stellar Evolution and Nucleosynthesis textbook for company), but it means I haven’t spent 3 years of my life pretending to be something I’m not.

    Your point about having your shit together when you’re not ~supposed to~ hit the nail on the head – some of us just don’t want to feel like we’re wasting our lives away on cheap shots and sticky carpets, and there’s a lot to be said for the mental benefits of having your life (somewhat, who am I kidding) in order. As for having a group of friends, I’ve a feeling you might be like me, and feel weirdly out of place in a group of people all your own age. I feel far more at home amongst a mix of different ages and backgrounds, and just knew I’d never fit in at uni. Uni in London seems especially difficult, but you’ve made it out the other side in a far better position than anyone else!

    Lily Kate x

  2. *finally that’s over* was what I was thinking walking across the stage! Reading above was like reading my own uni experience (minus that I did it in a completely different country, so I had the added level of crap to deal with in trying to ‘fit in’, be able to speak fluently on subject of foreign policy in a second different language, etc…) 100% you didn’t do anything wrong…some people are not made for university environments. I rolled my eyes when people came to lectures still drunk, I couldn’t pretend to be interested in the drama (did you see so and so sit next to so and so…) 🙄, but I couldn’t quit as Uni was my permission to live in England and to get the paper that says ‘congratulations, you have a brain!’…now we throughout the experience I withdrew even more and more into myself, left the lecture halls without speaking to anyone and spiralling into all sorts of negativity and self-hatred…when it was graduation time, I was so glad it was over and thinking about it, I am not against education, nor learning (I do a lot to improve my skills and learn new things all the time) I just will never do it in the juvenile environment of University.

  3. My story is so similar, if not the same, and I totally feel the same way about uni. Walking across the stage was overwhelming and exciting all at once. I was so happy to be done after 3 years but I was left so confused. I didn’t know what to do with my life and if I made the right decision with what I had studied. Society tells us to get a degree, save money and buy a house, and then get kids. It’s definitely not the case for everyone that life happens the way you think or in that specific order. For some life is a bit more complicated and with all the added pressure from friends, family and society to choose a good education can really screw with one’s head.
    The same way you struggled getting friends, I did too. It doesn’t come natural to me so I was happy when I at least got one (we’re still friends today). It is totally fine to not have had the best 3 years of your life at uni, at least you’ve learned a ton and you got a degree! It’s one life experience that I wouldn’t be without but I’m happy it’s over.


  4. I can completely relate to all of this! I didn’t go to uni but I did move away from home to Oxford for a year to study at a private college and education aside, I hated every single minute of it. Like you, I felt overwhelmed with anxiety and really wasn’t down for the whole clubbing and socialising thing! I think so many people paint an amazing picture about uni life when in reality, it’s pretty shit for some of us!

    Katy |

  5. I totally needed this post. I’m in limbo with university at the minute- I’m resitting a module from first year and wasn’t allowed to continue into second year until the rest of my cohort will be in their final year. I’ve been completely isolated as I’m barely in university now, I had no real uni friends to start off with and my acquaintances have moved on. It’s incredibly difficult when you’re constantly told university will be the best time of your life, when really, it’s not an environment that I find myself thriving in. I do best when I’m alone, I don’t like being constantly surrounded by people when I’m working and genuinely would like to listen to my seminar leader or lecturer. Unfortunately, university can become an environment where people don’t try. For example, in a seminar today I was writing out my corrections for work that we’d handed in, while everyone else was sat staring at their incorrect answers and doing nothing about it. I almost felt wrong and embarrassed for caring. University is incredibly tricky to navigate and I’m grateful that more and more people are speaking out about their less than amazing experiences.

  6. I can relate to every word here! They were the exact feelings I had during my graduation just pure relief it was over but glad I’ve got my degree in paper! Nothing wrong with us your right I was far more mature than most people from uni and I just couldn’t relate or mingle as well! Such a great read Beth thank you for sharing your story x x

  7. Couldn’t relate more! I went to Uni in London (University of the Arts) and didn’t have that ‘Uni life’ experience. It was too expensive to go out drinking every night and it was really hard to make friends. I did make friends with a bunch of girls on my course and in halls… But I only am in contact with one of them after 7 years since graduating! It’s really sad but I guess we grew apart!

    Life was very different after Uni… it was like, now what?! It was hard to get a job in my field but 4 years ago I finally got my dream job… so I guess it worked out for me in the end!

    Zoey |

  8. I can so relate to this! I was the party girl in the first year but it slowly died down cause I grew up and yeah I got less friends and my friends who I thought were my friends didn’t make the effort with me anymore. I started to knuckle down and I’m now in my third year and I can’t wait to graduate and leave. There’s been many ups and downs of uni but I can definitely relate, I went on anti depressants right at the end of first year cause I had completely lost who I was and where I was going with life. Such a good time to read this post. Thank you so much.

  9. I can totally relate to this Beth! Especially on first year I really felt the pressure of ‘doing uni right’, have the best time of my life and enjoy the student life to the fullest (i.e. get drunk on those shots every night). Now I’m on my third year and although I’ve learnt to let go of some of the pressures and I am still enjoying uni and my course I definitely wouldn’t say these have been the best years of my life. I think part of it is because university culture in the UK is quite different compared to that back home in Finland, and hearing the stories my friends from home tell about their uni experience are something I can’t exactly relate to. I also started my course when I was 20 and therefore older than most people on my course so it felt a bit like going back to school at first, and to be honest it still does sometimes. However, I’ve made good friends that are my support network and it feels like everything is becoming more and more interesting year by year. But I’m still very much looking forward to graduation and start working already. A bit over a year to go now because most undergrad courses in Scotland take 4 years!

    Thank you for sharing your experience Beth, I really think this will help a lot of people who are not having the best time of their lives in uni and feeling like they’re doing something wrong because of it! xx

  10. This describes my experience at university exactly!! Thank god it wasn’t just me who felt this way.

  11. I really hate how people make out as though your university years are the best years of your life. Imo, you decide what your ‘best years’ are. Plus, I really hated the clubbing/nightlife/stereotypical aspect of it. I’m an introvert and I came to university purely for academic purposes, so I really struggled with the pressures of being expected to fit in. I no longer speak to most of the people I met at university as a result.

    The Cosmetic Notebook

  12. I totally agree with this for me; I loved University but in my first and partly 2nd year I despsied University and spent days and weeks always thinking I’d made the wrong decision. Maybe, living at home was a mistake but it honestly felt wrong, and I felt on my own. University isn’t always the best option- I think it shouldn’t always be a path you should feel like you have to take as it’s not always the best route to take!



  13. It’s really refreshing to hear this – thanks for being so honest! I definitely think that not everyone is suited to a London uni and while it does work for some people, it can lack that “campus” feeling that you mention. Mostly because it’s such a huge city! It’s hard to make friends unless you have a specific club or society to be a part of – and even then it’s tricky. I think London can be a good option for international students because it’s easy to find a group of like-minded people through international student groups and things like that. Plus it might be the best chance to visit London! However, a lot of UK students I know decided to move away from London because they wanted to closeness of a campus uni.

  14. Wow, I didn’t expect to relate to this post as much I have. Down to attending a London uni and feeling like I’ve missed out on that tight-knit, student-oriented environment; struggling to find my ‘tribe’; fearing that I’ve missed out on what’s meant to be my ‘glory days’. I’ve just finished my second year, and it’s recently hit me all at once, making me feel regretful and pretty sad. I definitely want to try my best to put myself out there more in my final year (as much as I can), but at the same time I think I’ve definitely internalised the expectation that my uni experience was supposed to be like a movie – perfect group of best friends, endless memories etc.

  15. Me too Beth! I really didn’t enjoy uni. I was pressured into going in the first place, I should have stood up for myself really and pursued a career instead. I didn’t make any life long friends, no incredible memories. Just three years of me going ‘shit is it too late to drop out?’

  16. Thank you for writing this article. After having graduated nearly a decade ago I still can’t shake of the feeling that I didn’t do it right. I keep feeling guilt that I never found long term friends or my future partner like others in my family. It makes me feel like I have missed out or failed in life. It is comforting when others are brave enough to share their experience because it shows others they aren’t alone, so thank you again.

  17. I had a similar experience over a decade ago having attended a uni in London. The first week people seemed to have made their group’ of friends and somehow I just was not included in any of them. Other than communicating with class friends, often I would sit in lectures alone. In my third year, I became friends with a few girls but other than one of those friends who I still talk to, I lost contact with the others after finishing university.

    I still look back at the experience and feel like a failure because I don’t have the close group of friends that I think I should havehad or wonderful stories to tell, and as rightly pointed out, perhaps it is to do with the stereotypical view of university and what should be ‘achieved’ other than the education aspect of it. I regret not having left university after the first year (which another girl did because she did not like this particular university and transferred to another) but instead decided to go through with my degree to complete it. I think a university outside of London might have been a different experience altogether. Also, I was shy and quiet back then, which probably did not help either.

    I just don’t feel that we should have to endure such societal pressure.

  18. this was such a good read. unlike almost everyone in the comments, I actually haven’t gone to university yet! I am almost 18 so I will be starting college next year. While I am really excited, I don’t want to go in with extreme expectations. So thank you for sharing yours — just got a different and a more realistic perspective unlike those typical stereotype stories out there!

  19. hey beth, i just wanted to let you know that reading this was really reassuring. i’m going into my third year of uni and i’ve spent the past two years feeling pretty lonely and isolated – i’ve also really struggled to find a group i clicked with and i don’t have any close friends or super fun stories to speak of, and maybe it’s because of a london university or maybe it would’ve been the same elsewhere (i’m an international student). i’m going to keep trying to make the most of the time i’ve got left, but this article made me feel like less of a failure – it’s okay if things didn’t go exactly how i hoped!
    thanks again, i wish you all the best for your future endeavours!

  20. Sometimes I feel like we had the same experiences in life, except I left it to January of my first year to get help for my depression and that my university was really supportive. (Go Cardiff student support and mental health disability support). I was also able to get recordings of my lectures – most of them at least and mainly pulled it together by living in the library for my third year so I could finally get the 2.1 I wanted!

    I feel like I tried everything, I joined the rowing club to make friends and I made one very close one but not being the person who wanted to drink all night before a 6am session I fell out of the inner social groups at the club. Also being in a relationship didn’t help, I’m so happy that the two years since leaving have involved me living all over the world so definitely better than those 3 years!

    Glad it’s not just me! Thanks Beth xxx

  21. I can completely relate to this! Not quite the same story for me, as I definitely wasn’t grown up! But I spent my 3 years anxious I wasn’t working hard enough, worrying about finances and desperately missing my family and boyfriend!

    I made a small handful of friends I lived with and whilst we did have some fun times, I always felt I didn’t fit in as they had other big friendship groups, but they were my only friends. In hindsight I wish I’d gone to uni closer to home, but I am glad I had the experiences I did because it made me realise exactly what I wanted once it was all over!