Sitting here writing my dissertation, the final piece of coursework I will hand in during my time at university, I can’t help but reminisce over the past three years I’ve spent at Warwick. To say it’s been a rollercoaster would be an understatement; whilst I’ve definitely made some of my best memories I have also experienced such disillusion with the system that at times I wondered what even was the point in it all (this wasn’t helped by my 6.5 contact hours in final year, where all I felt like I’d gotten out of my nine grand was a very, very expensive library membership). Yet as cheesy as it may sound, I wouldn’t have spent the past three years any other way.
For me, university has felt like a long process of self-discovery. I came into freshers certain about my beliefs in God, in how the world worked, in who I was, only to realise six weeks later that I actually didn’t have a clue, and that I had a lot of learning and re-evaluating to do. The great thing about my History degree is that it forces me to examine a vast amount of information on a topic and come to my own conclusion on the issue at stake, and I began to apply this to my own life. Before university I’d rarely challenge myself about why I thought the way I did, and I came to feel like a sponge, having absorbed everyone else’s perspectives without realizing what I really thought. At first this triggered an immense amount of anxiety, which wasn’t helped by the stresses of university work itself. But then I began to take my previous beliefs about certain topics, such as relationships, creation, gender, and teach myself, researching articles and papers written by various professionals to learn as much as I could in order to form my own independent conclusions. I’ve learnt to become a heck of a lot more confident in myself and I’m not afraid to debate my ideas with people, in fact, I enjoy it. I’ve grown up an awful lot into my own person and become much more open minded to new things, which I think is definitely a positive.
I understand that my university reflections may sound pretty different from the typical aspects which people tend to look back on. But to me this feels like a defining factor. Another big thing I’ve learned is that my degree is not everything. When I interned this summer I spoke to various people who had graduated recently and not one had been asked at work what they’d got in their degree. This really helped me to put things into perspective. Over first and second year I would have many breakdowns over my work, feeling as if what I was doing wasn’t good enough. But looking back I couldn’t have worked any harder than I did, and shouldn’t that be what’s important? I’ve come to see that success doesn’t just look like a mark on a paper, and if achieving that caused such a detrimental impact on your mental health and wellbeing, was it really worth it? Now in third year I’ve come to learn to manage my time more effectively which has helped me feel less stressed, but honestly a change in perspective has helped so much more. At the end of the day you can only do as well as you can do, and that should be what counts. University is such a competitive environment and it becomes very easy to lose sight of what really is important, of which your work is a part of, but not everything.
What I’d recommend to anyone joining university is to find something else to work for other than your degree. Wherever this is a sport, a hobby, a cause you’re passionate about, just something that motivates you. Joining my university’s cheerleading society gave me something else to work towards, not only giving me the breaks needed from work but something that I was committed to and really wanted to do well in. I think this stops you from going slightly insane. And finally, I’d say only do what works for you. It’s not a bad thing if you don’t like going out all the time or drinking lots of alcohol (I don’t particularly) and coming to be sure in who you are is a great feeling. I’m no longer apologetic for not doing things I don’t want to do; I know what I enjoy and it doesn’t matter to me if that differs from other people. Take new opportunities when they arise, try out new things, but don’t stick with things you don’t enjoy just to make other people happy or because you feel like you’d miss out otherwise. You only (usually) get one chance to go to university, so don’t waste it!