7 Scary Things to Do at University
Going to university is a unique time in your life.
It may be the last time in your life that you know exactly what you’re going to be doing for the next three years, when your holidays will be, and have free time to enjoy as well. But it’s not just that. Our society has expectations of students; there’s a lot you can get away with doing as a student that you might not be able to do again. That makes it a time of tremendous opportunities.
But opportunities can be frightening too. If you’ve only just left school, the amount of freedom and independence – but also the amount of responsibility for your own life – that you have as a student can be daunting. It can be very tempting to stick to familiar routines and treat university life as some kind of extended sixth form that just happens to come with larger buildings and more library time.
Inevitably, some of the scariest things you can do as a student can be the ones that are most worthwhile, and the ones that will create the memories that you’ll treasure for longest. To make the most of the scary and exciting opportunities you’ll have as a student, here’s what we recommend you do.
1. Ask your most intimidating professor for feedback
Everyone ends up with at least one scary professor at university. Perhaps they’re the one with a reputation for never giving anyone more than a 2.1 unless they’ve basically reinvented the field of study. Or in tutorials, when you’ve given what you think is an incredible answer, they raise one eyebrow and say, “could you expand on that?” Or there’s nothing that they do to make themselves intimidating, they just seem so astonishingly expert in everything that you can’t imagine ever knowing as much as they do. You know that kind of professor – they’re the one you would never, ever dare to approach for feedback for fear that you wouldn’t make it out of their office alive.
Yet they’re precisely the person you should be talking to if you’re serious about improving your work.
After all, you’re not at university to make friends with all your professors; you’re there to learn from them. That’s not to say that the nice friendly ones don’t have anything to teach you – it’s a fallacy that scarier teachers are better teachers, and it’s often easier to learn from someone who’s kind to you. But the scary professors are also likely to be the ones who will give you no-holds-barred feedback that is perhaps harsh, perhaps too critical, but that is also honest, rather than trying to spare your feelings. You can learn a lot more from an essay that’s marked a 2.1 with three paragraphs of damning criticism than one that’s marked 2.1 with a smiley face and a comment saying “great work as ever!”
2. Take on a fundraising challenge
There’s a long tradition of students doing ridiculous things to raise money for charity. It might be getting sponsored to break world records like the number of people in a Mini (currently 29) or in a phonebox (currently 14). It might be Rag Week activities of going around the town dressed in animal suits shaking buckets for charity. It might be competing to see how far you can travel away from your university with no money at all.
The great thing about this long tradition is that it means as a student you can get away with doing much stranger and crazier things to raise money than you might able to in later life. Even something relatively tame like being sponsored to shave your head might raise eyebrows in a strait-laced office, but it’s par for the course at university. And it’s not just about what’s socially strange; you’re likely to have a lot more spare time as a student. If you’re taking part in an outdoor sleep to raise money for the homeless, it’s a lot easier when you don’t have to be at work at 9am the next morning.
So make the most of the opportunity! Whether it’s a big physical challenge like trekking across South America, a social challenge like living below the poverty line for a week (and donating what you save to charity) or something completely different, when you’re a student is the best time to go for it – and do some good for charity while you’re at it.
3. Make friends with a stranger
Another thing that’s much easier at university than at perhaps any other time in your life is making friends. At university, you’re surrounded by hundreds of people of roughly the same age and with roughly the same aims and interests as you, and what’s more, most of them will have arrived in the city where you’re living in the past three years. At school, and later in life, you might find that the interesting people you meet already have well-developed circles of friends and don’t necessarily have the time to get to know anyone new. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to make friends later in life, but it’s harder than in university, where most people will have left those well-developed friendship circles at home and will be keen to meet new people.
Making friends with strangers is scary for almost everyone, but being able to forge a new friendship is a tremendous skill to have, and it’s never easier to learn than when you’re at university and people are open to it. That’s especially the case at the very beginning of your first year, when everyone wants to make new friends but most people will be too nervous or shy. If you have the confidence to do the terrifying thing of starting conversations, asking if people want to hang out and getting a group together to go out for lunch, not only will you find that people will be receptive, they’ll probably be grateful to you for making the effort. And once you’ve done it once or twice, you’ll have learned the skill of making new friends (which you might not have done since the start of secondary school nearly a decade ago), and you’ll know that you can do it again in future, too.
4. Volunteer at a homeless shelter
Going to university brings you into contact with a huge variety of people that you might never have met otherwise – people from different races, different classes, different countries and different backgrounds. One way to continue expanding your horizons is to do something to meet and improve the lives of some of the most isolated and ignored people in our society: the homeless. There are lots of ways that you can do this, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen or a food bank, or taking part in a charity soup run where you go around the city and give out hot food to the homeless, rather than waiting for them to come to you.
We’re so used to seeing homeless people as a threat, as potentially violent or likely to steal from you, that getting involved in this kind of work can be scary indeed. But you’ll soon learn that though many homeless people will be facing challenges such as drug or alcohol addiction, or mental health problems (or more often, both), they are not all that different from any of the other diverse groups of people that you will meet at university. So not only will you help make a difference to the lives of vulnerable people, you might learn something yourself, as well.
5. Do something big on your own
Gaining your independence is one of the bigger, scarier parts of going to university. If you’re no longer living at home, suddenly all kinds of things that your parents might have taken care of will be your responsibility: communicating with your landlord, getting your washing done, paying bills, cooking, cleaning, and all the other aspects of daily life as an independent adult. At the same time, many people never get by entirely on their own: perhaps they live with their parents growing up, then move in with friends at university, then with a partner on graduation. Complete self-sufficiency can be a frightening prospect, but university is a great time to prove to yourself that you can cope on your own.
You don’t need to live on your own to prove this, of course; you can have plenty of independence while living with friends if that’s what you prefer. But it can be worth pushing yourself to do something on your own that you might usually do in company, whether that’s going to the cinema alone a few times, doing a long road trip by yourself, or even going on holiday solo. Later in life you might want to do these things alone and not be able to because – for instance – you have children to look after. Being a student gives you the chance to learn how to manage for yourself and feel comfortable in your own company, so that the times in future when you’re on your own won’t feel so frightening.
6. Try a hobby that you’re not naturally good at
If you’re a high achiever, there might not have been many times in your life when you’ve stuck with something you weren’t good at. You’ve probably chosen the subjects, the hobbies and the sports that you’re best at, rather than the ones that you struggle with – which is entirely natural. But at university you’ll have the chance to try all kinds of new hobbies at university societies. That could be archery, knitting, target shooting, capoeira, yoga, chess or just about anything else that comes to mind.
It’ll be tempting to stick to things you already know how to do, or that you’re confident you’ll be able to do well, but that’s a mistake. If you’ve never really struggled with anything, it’s a good idea to find out what that’s like and how you’ll cope in a low-stakes setting, and taking up a hobby at university is the perfect opportunity. You can either use it as a chance to learn how to enjoy something without being the best at it, or challenge yourself to become really good at it despite not having natural ability. Either way, you’ll have developed a valuable skill – when you enter the world of work, it’s inevitable that you’ll encounter things that you aren’t naturally good at, so it’s good to learn either how to enjoy them or to master them.
7. Go wild camping
Ever spent a night in the wild? If you’ve never been a Scout or Girl Guide, and your family favours caravans, B&Bs or luxury hotels, you might never have spent a night without knowing that there’s a water point nearby and good mobile signal available. Even if you’re not normally a fan of the great outdoors, there’s something exciting about the sense of going off-grid, even if it’s only for a weekend, cooking your own food over a camping stove and washing in streams or from water that you’ve brought with you.
This isn’t necessarily easy, especially if you don’t go with someone who’s done it before. You’ll need to plan much more carefully than for a normal camping trip, including looking up where wild camping is allowed near you, and whether there are any particular hazards you should keep an eye out for. There won’t be a campsite owner you can turn to if you have difficulties with your tent. As a student, it’s relatively easy to take off for a couple of days to get some fresh air away from the university library; you could even bring some lightweight reading with you for studying in complete peace and quiet. It might seem silly, but knowing that you’ve survived in the wild – even if the wild is only a few miles from the nearest town – can be deeply satisfying.
Do you have any other ideas of scary things to try at university? Let us know in the comments!
Images: reese witherspoon as cheryl strayed; car dashboard; serving food; woman fundraising on a bicycle; scary female professor; two guys sharing information; knitting; emmanuel college; girl getting on a train;