From envelope to Exeter: Starting university

From envelope to Exeter: Starting university
University is just around the corner, which means a whole new batch of eager young freshers. With A-level results out last week, future freshers are starting to prepare themselves to head off to university. Though most freshers are excited to leave home and start a new adventure, it isn't always smooth sailing for everyone. Connor shares with us his experience of going off to university after his A-levels only to realise he wasn't quite ready and ultimately deciding to defer for a year. (written by Connor McGovern)

Results day

Is it really four years since that fateful day? I’m talking about that day. That day when, surrounded by my peers, many of whom were drowning in anxiety and perhaps a little over-exaggerated hysteria, I sauntered into the school hall, whose smell of cheap wax and Wotsits I can still smell to this day. There, lined up before us, were three folding tables, with a smiling woman from reception behind each one. After she sifted through the envelopes in her box labelled ‘J – Q’, and handed me mine with a saccharine smile, I realised that somewhere inside the envelope in my hands were the four most important letters of my life. Four letters which were rather unfairly now the pinnacle of my academic life. Four letters, which, behind my back, had in a way begun paving the way for the rest of my life. It was strangely monumental. ALevel-Results-Day Well, I’d like to put that much weight on that moment I opened my A Level results, but I’d already received a text message from the University of Exeter first thing that morning, so I suppose I didn’t need to subject myself to the smell of crisps and awkward conversations with the headteacher that afternoon. ‘Congratulations!’ the text read, telling me that I’d already secured my place. It took a while to register, as I rubbed the sleep from eyes, before deliberating falling back into bed or heading down to find out how I’d really done. I did the latter, of course.

Off to university

Fast forward a month or so, and I was off. I’d be lying if I said my stomach was completely calm as we passed that ‘WELCOME TO EXETER’ sign on the A30, the car laden with everything I thought I needed for a new life. It was here. School had gone. College had gone. Now I had been packed off, hundreds of miles from the life I led before, to a new and alien city where I knew nobody – the tadpole in a pond of belligerent koi carp. There was a pressure, whether I liked to accept it or not, to throw myself headfirst into the opportunities that presented themselves, and to instantly like and accept everything (and everyone…) I was going to meet in the following weeks. Some people are enviably lucky in their first few weeks at university; that is, if you consider endless tagged photos of them getting outrageously wasted on 2-for-1 Sambuca with people they didn’t know the week before ‘lucky’. But the truth is, I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t ready. I felt inadequate, unprepared and horribly uncomfortable. I had become tired of languages and exams and I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm to even eat or sleep, let alone attend lectures or down those 2-for-1 Sambucas. I don’t even like Sambuca. It’s hard to explain, but it felt as though my mind was simply empty and as such, I was in no good place to continue with such an important phase of my life. freshersweek I can say now that back in September 2011, I wasn’t ready for university. So I left. I gave myself a year away from books, essays and classrooms to think about what I wanted to do, to consider my options and to think about my future. At the time I felt like a moderate failure – I could somehow hear the voices of my teachers as they shook their heads in horrible disappointment that a student who secured such good grades wasn’t at university.

Giving uni a second shot

Although 2012 was mostly spent dithering, I think deciding to hit the A303 again that September and return to Exeter was the best decision I have ever made. Once more, the car loaded with stuff (most of which I had culled after realising that a stereo really wasn’t that necessary), we passed that sign as we did the previous year. Again, I felt nervous, and rightly so – I had a lot riding on this second shot at the university bullseye. But this time, it was different, and more importantly, I was different. Now, as I await the final year of my degree with a mixture of excitement and fear, I am proud to say I am at the University of Exeter. I’ve met so many people, learnt and experienced so many things and learned huge amounts about myself – all of which I would never have done had I pusillanimously plodded through first year with mounting misery, and certainly not have done had I not had the conviction to decide to go back. university-lecturer Starting university is hard. I don’t care what people say. It is. For many, myself included, it is the first taste of life away from the apron strings and all this responsibility, independence and expectation is overwhelming. Coupled with workload and being alone in a new environment, and you have a lot to deal with. So, it’s important not to let yourself have too many expectations of the shiny ‘uni life’ – it’s only one extra unnecessary stress and you’ll only end up disappointed or depressed. Besides, I’ve met a surprising number of students who shrug off their first year with indifference and say their university lives got much better in time. If I’d carried on the way I had back in 2011, I dread to think what would have happened to my ability to work and even my health. What I’ve learned is that there is nothing wrong with not going to university. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with even entertaining the thought that it isn’t for you. What’s wrong is not having the courage to act upon it. And 2-for-1 Sambucas – very, very wrong.