Alice Oseman’s ‘Radio Silence’ dropped earlier this year and among other things it takes on the pressure of having that ‘perfect’ university experience and the expectation teens can feel while deciding whether to apply for a place.
Drawing on her own experiences, she gives us this very real and considered advice:
HOW TO SURVIVE UNIVERSITY WHEN YOU HATE ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING ABOUT IT:
A comprehensive guide by self-professed education hater, undergraduate student, and novelist, Alice Oseman.
University. Everyone looks forward to going to university, right? Finally you’re getting out of school, you get to manage your own time, you get to study something you actually enjoy, you get to choose what you eat and what time you wake up, you get to join a load of fun societies and go out pubbing and clubbing a few nights a week – university is freedom. With a bit of boring work and stress chucked in, sure, but FREEDOM.
I know that’s what I thought when I was 17/18 and was applying to universities. I know that’s what most people I knew thought too. And I know that’s what most people I know still think now.
University stress is normal. Most people are stressed a lot of the time. Uni work is tough – there’s a lot of it, and without the motivation of a routine, making yourself do it is hard when it’s more boring than you anticipated when you applied. But despite that, in my experience most people would say that they enjoyed being at university.
You may have already guessed that I am not one of those people.
Things I hate about university include:
- The course. It’s boring. And useless.
- The impossibly large workload and the apathy of tutors towards mental health and stress.
- ‘The university experience’ – aka, drinking, clubbing, and extreme amounts of socialising. A shy introvert’s nightmare (Fresher’s Week was, quite possibly, one of the worst weeks of my life).
- The lack of routine. Getting up at 1pm and sleeping at 3am seems like fun at first, but once you’ve done it for several months, you just feel dysfunctional.
If you have read my second novel, Radio Silence, or know anything about it, you’ll probably know that it addresses the idea that university is not for everyone – not everyone enjoys it and you don’t actually have to go, despite what schools might tell you. However, if you’re already there, it can become increasingly difficult to leave if you’re not enjoying it, for a whole variety of reasons:
- You’ve spent a lot of time/money on it, and don’t want to waste that.
- The idea of starting somewhere new is scarier than carrying on with it.
- You don’t want to leave the new friends you’ve made.
- You don’t think you can succeed in life without a degree.
I totally sympathise. I’ve felt all of these in my almost-three years of university education.
I speak a lot about how much I hate university and I wish I’d never gone. But leaving university – the obvious solution – is not an option for everyone. And so I’d like to offer a few helpful tips that I’ve learnt to use to survive university when I hate absolutely everything about it:
FIND YOUR PEOPLE
You will not survive alone. Trust me. As a natural introvert and shy person, I find it very easy to shut myself away from everybody. In my first year, I sometimes went several days without talking to anybody at all – I’d sit in my bedroom and binge-watch TV shows. Having had the same school friends for seven years, I had no idea how to make new friends or how to discern who I’d get along with or how I’d find anyone like me – anyone who didn’t like going out drinking, that is. But I was lucky enough to gradually form steady friendships with some girls who lived on my corridor in college and a few others who did my course, and I’ve lived with them in a rented house for my second and third year. While it’s so easy to just survive by yourself, having no one to talk to is isolating and painful. Find people who are like you. Find people you get along with. Don’t stick it out alone.
TALK TO YOUR FAMILY/HOME FRIENDS
I talk to my family every day on Facebook messenger while I’m at uni, and usually text my home friends too. If you’ve got people back home, I’d really suggest making an effort and keeping in touch. University is such a tight-knit society that sometimes you just need to talk to people who are completely uninvolved with the people you’re surrounded with – just for a bit of fresh air! A stressful atmosphere where people can’t stop talking about dissertations and deadlines can get pretty stifling.
DO YOUR WORK
I know. I’m sorry. I know it’s boring and it’s hard. I know concentrating and motivation are difficult. But you’ve just got to get on with it. You’ve just got to force yourself. The more you put it off and the more you freak out about how much you hate it, the more intensely stressed you will feel about it. I’ve panic-written many an essay at 3am the night before it’s due because I’ve made myself so stressed about it that I couldn’t even bring myself to type anything. The number of times I’ve cried about an essay is truly monumental. But you get it done. You always get it done. You don’t let it win.
DO SOMETHING OTHER THAN WORK
I’m a terrible example for this one. I have not joined a single university society during my entire time at university. Well, okay, I tried. I bravely went to the creative writing society alone in first year, once, not really knowing what to expect, but didn’t enjoy it much so didn’t go again. I did the same thing with the art society.
Despite my failure, I’d really recommend trying out a range of societies and trying to find something that you enjoy that isn’t studying. If you can’t, you could always find something outside the university to do! I try to go to the cinema every couple of weeks, just to remind myself that I’m living in the real world and not Academia Land. Some exercise is always good too, and stress-relieving. Apparently. I wouldn’t know.
DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP
Universities always have resources if you’re struggling. If you’re ill, physically or mentally, or even if you’re just stressed, there will be someone of authority to talk to. A GP, a pastoral tutor, a counselling service, etc – there are options! They’re there to help and they’re there precisely for the people who are not getting along with university. Don’t be afraid to reach out and seek help. University, despite the wide perception that it is some kind of haven of partying and fun, is actually the Land of Stress and it can be very easy to slip into feeling bad.
To be honest with you, if I could go back, I would not choose to go to university. But that wasn’t the case, and I ended up sticking it out for the full three years, and I’ve had to find ways to cope with all the negativity that it has brought to my life.
To those of you in the same position – you can do it. You can stick it out. Seek help if you’re struggling and look after yourself, and soon the three years will be over and you will be free.
To those of you not yet there, still in school, questioning whether academia is really right for you – just know that there are other options. Believe me. Even if your school is telling you otherwise.
You don’t have to spend three years and £27,000+ feeling miserable.
You don’t have to go to university if you don’t want to.
‘Radio Silence’ by Alice Oseman is available now, and you can get it here.
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