Student Life | Is University For You?

By Issy Goode - 19:52

Five years ago when my second year of college rolled around we were instantly hit with the pressure of making our minds up about whether university was right for us. 

Honestly, at the time I was daunted by the idea of going to university. I was constantly torn between a year out and submitting an application which meant that in the end I cut it pretty close to the UCAS deadline and in fact rushed things to the point that I actually applied to one of the wrong universities. And then I only found out that I had applied when they rejected me! Nonetheless, I'm glad I took the time to ponder but I felt like I wouldn't have taken so long had I not lacked support and knowledge. Only one of my siblings went to university and he studied relatively close by which allowed him to commute from home. So when it came down to it, he still didn't quite have the insight of university life that I was looking for. I looked outside of the family circle for a bit more support and that came in the form of the parents of my boyfriend at the time, who I'm still so grateful to. Without their help, I wouldn't have gone to Keele. 

So, I thought, how can I really use my experience to help you guys out? 

Well, I think it's important, having experienced the mind boggling toil of making a decision about going to university to share how I felt and what put me off, and furthermore how I reasoned my fears and made the big decision to leave home. On each point, I've added in 'what to research' so you know what to consider when narrowing your choices down to your UCAS Top 5.

Let's kick things off with the big one...

The Cost
My year were the first to be hit by the £9,000 tuition fees and it wasn't really something that put me off, but I know it does for many and quite often put parents off too. The tuition fees are paid directly to your university and you don't have to start paying them off until you're earning £21k+, and even then it's not a hugely noticeable amount. I've put my mind at ease with the loans I have from university, because they're not like any other loan. You won't have bailiffs around your house if you've not paid it off quick enough and despite what people may say, it won't have a real impact on you getting a mortgage in the future either. The cost should most definitely not stop you from going to university.

If you want to know more about student loans, I would have a read of this post and get your hands on Student Finance for Dummies. 

Aside from tuition fees there's of course also loans and the general cost of living. Your loans and grants are means tested, which means what you get is assessed on what your parents earn, which in many cases isn't fair. Your parents may earn more, but it doesn't mean they can necessarily support you. University will always cost money, so you'll need to see if you can afford to move away from home, what forms of financial support you'll have and if you'll have the time to work and study. The main thing is, if university is really an academic step you'd like to take, consider it as an investment (yes, a big one at that), because realistically you are investing in your future.

What to research when choosing your Top 5:
  • If there are scholarships for high achievers or low earning incomes that will financially support you and what qualifies you for these, and particularly whether or not you need to apply or you get them automatically upon meeting the qualificiations
  • The cost of living in the area - don't just consider Halls either, have a look at how expensive the local area is for renting a student house too because most universities don't give students the opportunity to remain in halls every year
  • What kind of work is in the area - many chains of supermarkets, restaurant and bars actually offer transfers for students - this means you can work for a certain company back at home, and during term time transfer to a different store/bar etc. local to your university. If you're unsure if working in first year is right for you, check out this post with lots of pros and cons. 
Whether to Move Away and How Far To Go
Some people don't always go far away for university, but the move out of your parental home can always be something hard to come to terms with whether you go near or far. You're growing up and whilst 18 is still a young age you still hopefully have some basic skills to survive alone. Most parents are always willing to make a visit and there's the likeliness you'll return home during the university holidays. If you'd like to move away to experience a new place, but don't want to be too far from family, consider a university that has some familial ties nearby.

What the research:
  • The cost of travel - this is something I didn't consider, stupidly, and taking a complicated 12 hour bus ride home cost me around £60, but a more relaxed 6 hour train journey cost me nearly £100. It's important to do your research!
  • The cost of keeping a car - if you're lucky enough to be bringing a car to university, make sure it's worth while doing so. 
    • Can you afford to repair it if it breaks down? 
    • How much does parking at halls or on campus in general cost per year? 
    • Can you really afford to keep a car running? 
  • Is it the right place for you 
    • Do the places you're looking at have everything you feel you'd need? 
    • Are supermarkets nearby and easy to access without a car? 
    • Are there places for you to relax and unwind? 
    • Does it have the right social scene that you're looking for?
Living Independently
For most, independence is one of the main reasons they look forward to moving out; I know it wasn't one of my worries and I was excited about it. However this isn't the case for everyone, so before you head off to university make sure you're prepared with the basics: cleaning, washing, cooking. If  having to live independently is affecting your decision, look at places that are closer to home so your family can easily come visit if you're struggling. My best advice is to simply understand that the chances are one day you'll have to live independently anyway, so once you get the hang of things independence doesn't seem remotely daunting, if anything, it's pretty liberating!

What to research:
  • I'll delve into this further below, but research the support systems that the universities have in place
  • If you don't already know how, practice your house keeping and cooking skills!
  • If you're not ready to go it entirely alone, look into what catered living the university offers
    • How much does it cost?
    • Are meals available on weekends?
The Support
People warn you that the jump from school to college is not something to be taken lightly, and the leap from college to university, especially if you move out of your parents home too, can sure seem like a tough new challenge, but there's so much support at university. You'll be able to get support from your lecturers, your personal tutor and your new friends. There are also other people and support services in place to listen to your problems whether they're personal or financial, petty or problematic; there's always someone who will be able to listen and help.

What to research:
  • What support does the university offer? I.e councillors, personal tutors etc. In Keele we have a 24 hour anonymous service where you can phone someone in the support team and just talk about what's worrying you.
  • Does the university have a student mentor programme? These are often a good way to meet a second or third year student who knows exactly what you're going through
  • What are the processes for long term absence including sickness, bereavement, maternity  leave etc? 
The Social Life
University is often represented as a place for heavy nights out and I admit I've been guilty of this representation too simply because for a good part of university, that was my experience. However, just because university is often seen in this light it doesn't mean that it's all there is. There's more out there in terms of socialising than just having a pint in hand. And then there's also the academic side of university life to look into as well, which is likely where you'll find a lot of your new friends. University entices a plethora of characters so you're sure to find common ground with plenty of people.

What to research:
  • What societies does the university have? 
  • Are the halls dedicated to people who want a quieter experience? 
  • How close is the accommodation to the Students Union or other pubs, clubs or bars?
  • Are their opportunities to study abroad and widen your experience both socially and educationally? 
A whole new bag of opportunities...
...Is how I came to see university. It's not just about academics and socialising, it's about educating yourself in independence, about finding new hobbies through societies, meeting new people who could shape your life into something entirely different, travelling the country or further either to study  or to visit your new friends. You'll be able to attend guest lectures, book launches, poetry readings, film screenings, and in general, experience things that you perhaps wouldn't have ever thought to go to. Your years spent at university can offer you so many opportunities and the best way to find out what they are, is to do your research.

Don't rush your decision to apply, think long and hard and take a year out if you feel you need to. Don't think just because so many people go that you have to as well, and don't apply this year just because your friends are if you're on the fence. It's a big decision and can often change so much for you, but it's not something that should terrify you. Be scared by all means, but it should feel exciting too. It's a new chapter in your life and you'll experience so many wonderful and fun things alongside studying a subject or subjects you love. Look fully into the places you're considering applying to, if you haven't already made a few visits do so soon and if you're struggling with choosing a course, think about the things you enjoy most and the career path you could get out of it.

If you don't think it's right, try to have a plan in place to ensure you get the most out of not going. I know plenty of people who instead decided to work their way up, and later came back to doing a degree or didn't do one at all. University isn't for everyone and it's hard to have your life all planned out at the ages of 17 and 18. It's a ridiculous expectation, but it's also part of our reality - so, don't rush and research, research, research. 

If you have any other questions, or comments about your experience of choosing to go to Uni, please feel free to comment below or drop me an email - missisgoode@gmail.com.
MissIsGoode

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