There is a fair chance that as Fresher’s Week and the new semester get under way, some of you out there will be feeling unsure, unhappy, or outright disillusioned…and that’s okay. It may not – and I hope not – be as drastic as really hating university. I was told at school that university was going to be the best three years of my life, and so I went with huge expectations. I found the reality totally different.
I’ve had two attempts at university. First, Fresher’s Week at the University of Glasgow dragged on, with only alcohol-related evening activities to break up the monotony. When lectures finally started, things didn’t improve. Apart from a couple of good lecturers, the hours were dry and not stimulating. Sometimes tutors didn’t even bother to turn up to the seminars. To top it off, most other people on my course were seventeen-year-old Scots who were getting their university education for free and simply didn’t care about it
It’s unlikely at Southampton that you’ll have an experience like that. But, you may have found Fresher’s Week hard. There are a lot of strange new faces, and it can be really difficult to start a conversation with a stranger. Everyone looks like they’re having a great time and you don’t understand how they can seem so happy.
One thing I wish someone had told me in my first term is that it is okay to not like university. I will reiterate this. After all, you’re the one who has to decide what to do about it. What is it you don’t like? Are you just finding it hard to adjust? Is it the course? The people? Is it the city of Southampton?
Here’s what you do. Give the university experience a go: don’t give up and decide that it’s not for you after just a week or two. Realistically you’ve got to give it until Christmas to allow yourself to settle in, get stuck into your course and meet the people who will become your group of friends.
There are a variety of solutions. If it’s the course you don’t like, it’s not impossible to change, although you may have to restart in a year’s time if it’s too far into the semester. Bear in mind, though, that the course may take a couple of weeks to get underway fully and it’s likely to get better the further into it you get. If it’s the lack of contact time – always a big shock after school – get stuck into your reading (it is interesting), and try joining a wide selection of societies. There really is something out there for everyone, and it’s a great way to meet new people. When I was struggling at Glasgow, volunteering in a primary school and joining the mountain-walking society really helped me to feel as though I was being constructive with my time. Again, if you feel like you’re struggling to make friends, joining lots of societies is a great way to meet like-minded people.
If it’s your flatmates who are making you miserable, you might want to spend more time in a friend’s flat, or you can change accommodation if you’re desperate. Southampton’s Halls of Residence are pretty good, as they give you a four week period at the start of term where you can swap into another block or leave and look for something else if you don’t like living there. Quite a few people do move around in the first couple of months as they begin to find out just what type of people they are living with!
And if you’re just generally feeling lonely, miserable or homesick, TALK to someone. One of the great things about halls is that there’s always someone around who you can chat to, and you can bet that they’ve felt the same way at some point. If you’re feeling really down, try calling the university Nightline (02380 595236 or free from halls on 25236). You’ll be able to talk things through with fellow students who have probably had the same difficulties, and get some support and reassurance. It’s completely confidential and is bound to make you feel a lot better.
As a last resort, if you really do hate university and none of the above have helped you feel any better, you can leave. It’s what I did, and I’ve never regretted doing so. However, it does raise the question of what you’re going to do if you choose this option. I transferred university, but I was extremely fortunate that Southampton was kind enough to allow me to go straight into my second year. This is unusual though, and if a different university will let you do this, you’ll need to have completed your first year and gained at least a 2:1. Generally, the university in question will want you to re-do your first year with them. It is worth noting the extra cost of doing this, in both tuition and accommodation fees, and in time. Alternatively, you may decide that further education is not for you: perhaps you want to look for an apprenticeship or job instead. Just make sure you have given Southampton enough time, so that you’re sure you have made the right decision. Once you have left university, it’s not that easy to get back into it again!
Just don’t forget: it’s perfectly alright to find the first few weeks of university difficult. Everyone will have a wobble at some point. It’s what you do about it that counts: look for the solutions that will make you feel better, because they are out there! Throw yourself into university life as much as possible: the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it. There’s no doubt that you’ll meet some lovely people and have some great new experiences – before you know it, it’ll be Christmas and you won’t want to go home!