It’s getting a bit tired, right? That bitter stand-off between the wise adult (“University’s a walk in the park: wait until you get into the real world!”) and the indignant student (“You don’t know, man, you weren’t there…”). Exams bring it all to a head, too: so if you like a good students vs. non-students Facebook war, it’s probably time to grab the popcorn.
But is university really the easiest we’ll ever have it? Or is the stereotypical “student life” (a cushy existence of parental support and endless partying) complete bullshit? I’m leaning towards the latter. See, I’ve done both. After a year abroad in Berlin, I’ve got nine months of work under my belt. But did my stint in the “real” world leave me yearning for 9-hour weeks punctuated by blurred Cheesy’s nights and a few awkward deadlines? Pft, no way. Actually… I dreaded coming back.
I won’t lie: full-time employment is rough. You’ve actually got to turn up every
day, wear daytime people clothes… and if you fall asleep, someone will notice. But it
isn’t all bad: at The Local Germany, I ended most days satisfied that I’d achieved
stuff. I’d completed tasks, seen results… and when I got home at 5.30pm, I knew I deserved my evening. (Oh, another secret from the working world: the Friday Feeling is real.)
It all proved a start contrast to the previous twelve months.
My second year at Exeter left me ill. Diagnosed with anorexia and depression, I came scarily close to packing it all in and giving uni the middle finger. But I couldn’t – because I’d already invested over £25,000 of someone else’s money into getting this degree.
Being a privileged generation comes with pressure. And I don’t mean those 3,000 words due on Thursday: I mean the weight of having tens of thousands of pounds invested in you… because when something’s expensive, you want it to be worth it. How do we know if we’re doing enough to make us “worth” the investment? And what if we reach the end and find out we weren’t? Getting tangled in these questions ultimately started my downward spiral… and I bet I’m not the only one.
Because higher education gives you no answers.
You can get 70 per cent and feel untouchable for a week… but when the next assessment rolls around, you’re back on the tightrope. The one you stepped out on to impress family who “knew you’d do it.” What’s at the end? You haven’t a clue. But it’s probably better than what you left behind…
That’s a rubbish metaphor – but it’s the closest I could get to how this degree thing can feel. Anchored to the choices we made as teenagers by the thousands we’ve invested in them, we’re now wobbling towards a goal that’s painfully vague. Sure, we want that 2:1… but what’s next? In the working world, we’ll (mostly) take home a sense of having contributed to society – of having added value, and done what’s expected of us. At uni? Nah, there’s nothing solid to reach for. And if we can’t define the goal… when can we put the books aside for the night and tell ourselves “that’s enough”?
It takes guts – and extraordinary motivation – to put this much effort into reaching a goal you can’t even see. So if you want to moan about your exams, go ahead. Because yes, work’s bloody hard… but so is being at uni.
(And you’re doing great, I promise.)