My Relationship With… Open Days

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Saying that applying to uni is stressful is a bit like saying that Stranger Things is a little bit intense. To be honest, when I was filling out uni applications, I think I would have preferred fighting the Mind Flayer. The funny thing is, I’d actually gone through the process three times before, for three separate degrees, so you’d think I’d be used to it by now! But I actually wasn’t in the slightest and I think that’s kind of the whole point. Because whether you’re a high-school graduate just starting uni, or an academic masochist starting your Master’s (like me!), your stress level is, at all times, higher than Winona Ryder’s in every single scene of Stranger Things.

Maybe it’s because it feels like the impression you give the admissions team is everything. Maybe it’s because we’ve been socialized to believe that our academic performance defines our entire value as a person and if you can’t get into uni, then you should just go ahead and give up right now. Maybe it’s because we’re almost as scared of being accepted as we are of rejection, because acceptance means starting a whole new chapter of our lives, and honestly, is there anything more terrifying? That’s what I felt—plus so much more—when I applied for my MA at Southampton in May of 2018.

That’s why I wanted to work at the uni Open Days this summer, and why I wanted to be on the front lines at check-in. Because, let’s be honest, being a Student Ambassador is a uniquely weird (and fun) experience. It’s weird to be on display like that, to basically be a walking advertisement that screams, ‘Come to Southampton, and you too can be like me!’, knowing that the version of yourself you’re meant to be presenting is probably not the one that’s often found questioning all of your life choices whilst in a pub. But weirdly enough, that’s exactly why I wanted to do it.

Credit: Alyssa Caroline-Burnette

It’s a pretty long journey from ‘Are they ever going to let me in?’ to ‘Look at me representing the school!’ and I wanted to somehow convey that to the prospective students as they arrived. Granted, it’s a bit difficult to communicate all that through the simple acts of handing out tote bags and scanning QR codes, but at the very least, I wanted to be a friendly face. I wanted them to walk away from my check-in station with the feeling that they were welcome here, that Southampton was somewhere they could see themselves fitting in and being happy. I wanted to leave them with the feeling that everything would be okay.

Most of all, I wanted to show them that the happiness and confidence conveyed by the Student Ambassadors isn’t an act… but that it sort of is. That yes, I really am happy I chose Southampton and am proud to represent it. But I also wanted to show that the university isn’t populated by some magical clique of kids who’ve got it all figured out, as if the only difference is which side of the check-in table you’re standing on. I wanted to show that you can still be right where you want to be, still be representing the university, and still know exactly how these students feel as they wait to grow into their future selves.

That’s what I wish I’d known when I was looking at universities on Open Days. That no matter what phase of the uni process you’re in, it’s still about the journey. (I’ve really got to stop using clichés). But that’s the thing, isn’t it? As you’re about to start uni, you have doubts and questions. And while you’re at uni… you still have more doubts and questions. The only thing that changes is what part of the road you’re on, and what steps you’re taking to keep growing. Because no matter where you go to uni, it’s not going to fix you or change you or make you into the best version of yourself over night.

However, your time at uni can help you grow and mature and figure yourself out along the way. It can help you to achieve your goals and dreams. Through that process, I think the most important thing is to stay kind. To never fully lose touch with that anxious, hopeful version of yourself that looked ahead longingly at all of the things you now have. In doing so, it’s vital that we use that memory to reach out. To show others that no matter where we are, we’re all still growing, and we’re here to help encourage them.

That’s what I wanted to convey to each and every prospective student I encountered at our Open Days. However, given my overly-American enthusiasm and my tendency to act like a very friendly golden retriever, there’s a strong possibility that I just scared them all to death.

More articles in My Relationship With...
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  8. My Relationship with… The Gym
  9. My Relationship With… Shyness, Confidence and Identity
  10. My Relationship With… Graduation
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  12. My Relationship With… My Boobs
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