7 Things You Won't Think About Any More When You Go to University
It’s easy to imagine that the things that preoccupy us in the tense, pressured last couple of years at school, when it feels like all the decisions that will shape the rest of your life have to be made in a matter of weeks, will preoccupy us forever.
That we will be haunted by the wrong choice of firm and insurance university on our UCAS form. That a botched Spanish oral will be an albatross around our neck. That messing up the debate team final will be something we will never, ever forget.
It is true that mistakes made in the last couple of years of secondary school can cause you more grief than the same thing a couple of years earlier – for instance, if that Spanish oral error causes you to go down an overall grade and leads you to miss your university offer. However, once you make it to university – whether that’s your firm, your insurance, or through resits or Clearing – you can rest assured that many of the things that caused you stress as a secondary school student will be entirely forgotten. Things like:
1. Your results in school exams
Depending on where and when you went to school, you’ve probably sat a good many exams before you get to university. There might have been SATs, CATs, internal school exams, GCSEs, AS-levels and A2-levels. So if you’re deep in the last two, try and think back to how you did in, say, exams you sat at the end of primary school. Do you even remember taking them?
After a year or two at university, you’re likely to begin to feel that way about some of your bigger school exams as well. After all, employers will care much less about the odd lower grade at GCSE or A-level if you come out of university with a 2.1 or a First. No one is likely to ask you about school exam results (and if they do, that reflects badly on them, not on you) and in the long run, you’re likely to forget not only your exact GCSE results, but also what subjects you did them in.
That’s not to say that worrying about these exams when you’re in the middle of them isn’t worthwhile. It’s just that each set of exams is at its greatest value when it lets you progress to the next set; when your GCSE results let you take the A-levels you want, and when your A-level results let you get into the university you want. But once you’re there, their importance fades, and minor things like a module grade that disappointed you, or the AS subject you had to drop, will be all but forgotten.
If you’re in any way a competitive person, there’s likely to be someone else at your school who is a particular focus of competition. Perhaps they’re in most of the same classes as you, or do most of the same hobbies. You see them day in and day out, and you know you’re about evenly matched intellectually. Perhaps your rivalry is friendly, or perhaps it’s not. Either way, you feel that your grades matter less than whether or not you beat them in whichever subject it was. Straight A*s in three subjects are great unless they got straight A*s in four. And so on.
For competitive souls, this will all seem very familiar (for uncompetitive types, it’s probably incomprehensible, and you should skip ahead to point 3). And you might start to wonder if this will last for the rest of your lives, especially if you’re going to the same university. Will you always feel like you have a challenger nipping at your heels?
In a word: no. Even if you’re going to the same university for the same subject (which is unlikely enough – the world has quite a wide choice of universities in it), university study isn’t like school study, where you’re all working on the same tasks from the same curriculum. You’ll choose different modules, taught by different professors. Competition won’t be a matter of comparing like with like any more, and so it will become increasingly meaningless. By the time that you reach your final degree classification – which you could compare – chances are your secondary school rival will be an indifferent presence in the dregs of your Facebook friends list, and hearing of their successes will make you feel mildly pleased for them at the very most.
3. Your old school in general
When you’ve spent up to seven years of your life in one place, it can be hard to remember that it’s not really the centre of the world. Shifting your mental definition of yourself from “pupil at Your Old School” to “student at Your New University” can take time, and there will be moments in your first term when you write a great essay, and the first thing you think of is that you’d love to show it to a favourite teacher from school. Whether you loved your secondary school or hated it, immediately after leaving it’s hard not to be defined by it, especially if it’s one that other students at your university are likely to have heard of.
However, unless your school has a significant tradition of alumni engagement, it’s likely to drop off your radar pretty quickly. You might scan the occasional alumni email for news of friends you’ve lost touch with, or show up to Speech Day if you happen to be in town. Beyond that, your old school is likely to be at most a source of anecdotes (“did you play pranks on your last day too?”) and when you pass by it on visits home, you’ll be surprised by how small it looks.
4. The other universities you could have gone to
If you applied to university through UCAS, you’ll have chosen no fewer than five possible universities that you could have attended, and if you followed our advice, you’ll have visited most or all of them as well. That means that there are four universities to which you will have given a good deal of thought but won’t attend as an undergraduate. You’ll have pictured yourself joining their societies; living in their halls of residence; studying with their renowned lecturers. You might have gone so far as to figure out practicalities like the trains you’d take to get there or noted good cafes near your faculty. And all of this knowledge will entirely be forgotten for all the universities you don’t go to.
It’s easy to imagine if you don’t get into your first choice university (or even your second, third or fourth choice university) that when you enter whichever university you do end up going to, that it will be tinged with regret. We’re not going to say you’ll never regret the road not taken. But the vast majority of students, once they get to whichever university they end up attending, fall pretty thoroughly in love with the place. Universities have more in common than not, and most of your dreams of how your student experience would be will be just as much fulfilled by one university as another. Most people won’t even be able to remember all the universities they applied to after a couple of fun years as an undergraduate.
5. Sports that you’re bad at
Sports at school are usually pretty limited. If you’re going to school in the UK, it might be a choice of football, rugby and hockey, plus tennis and some athletics in the summer – all of which reward a similar range of sporting talents, such as good hand-eye coordination and being able to run at a reasonable speed. If you don’t have those, you can end up feeling pretty left out of sports at school – and if sports are a major part of the life of your school, that can be isolating.
Universities love to talk about their sporting opportunities and facilities, so you might be worried that it will be more of the same. Rest assured that this is very much not the case. For one thing, university sports are wonderfully varied. Are you bad at sports because you’re not much of a runner and you can’t catch a ball to save your life? If you’re reasonably lightweight and flexible, you might want to try your university’s climbing club. If you’ve got good upper body strength and a steady hand, consider archery. The kind of sports available at university are so widely varied that if you want to get involved in sports, you almost certainly will be able to find something that plays to your strengths. This goes for other hobbies – music, drama or arts and crafts – as well. And if none of this is to your taste at all, there’s always enough going on somewhere as large as a university that you won’t feel left out.
6. The ages of your friends
When there’s a long series of significant birthdays coming up – 16, 17 and 18 – how old you and your friends are feels very important. Students with September birthdays who got their driving licences before everyone else stand out, and it would be unusual to have a friend who’s in their 20s. Given this, if you’re likely to be starting university slightly later than your peers – maybe because you didn’t get the UCAS offers you wanted, so chose to reapply, or maybe because you did a Gap Year – you might be concerned that you’ll seem weirdly old compared to the people you’ll be studying with.
Thankfully, this is an unfounded fear. Most university courses are full of mature students, who can be anything from just a couple of years older than the standard intake to retirees getting a degree for fun, and anything in between. Different people take different routes to get to university, and so spending time with people of different ages is normal. Plus, if you get involved in student societies, you’ll meet people who are at lots of different stages in their academic careers. Once everyone’s over 18 and so has almost all of the same legal rights, other people’s ages become increasingly irrelevant.
7. Blending in
Secondary school can be a tough place, with stringent if unwritten social rules. That might be in terms of style (the right phone, the right bag) or taste (the right films, the bands) or any other area in which a group might self-impose conformity. Hopefully by the time you’re in the last couple of years of your school career, you’ll largely have grown out of this kind of Mean Girls behaviour, but sadly that isn’t always the case – and when you spend your every day in a class group of maybe 25 or 30 other people, that’s hardly surprising.
University isn’t like this. For one thing, the groups you spend time with will be much more varied. You might be studying History with one set of people, living in Halls Block F with another set of people, attending kickboxing club with a third group and volunteering for the students’ union with a fourth. Each group might have its own different microculture, so any kind of socially enforced conformity is doomed to fail.
Beyond that, people at university don’t usually want to blend in. One of the great joys of going to university is living in a community full of people who are like-minded in their attitude to studying but hugely diverse in most other respects: in background, culture, religion, nationality, taste, style and anything else you might care to think of. Trying to blend in – at least to the extent that might be normal at secondary school – would be an impossible task even if anyone much wanted to attempt it.
Is there anything else that you don’t think you’ll be worrying about any more when you go to university? Let us know in the comments!