‘World changers welcome’; underachievers need not apply

Credit: University of Glasgow

Laurie Clarke
Production Manager

Is the pressure to succeed too much for freshers students?

Your university career is marketed as a life-changing experience. By all accounts, these four years are a crucible that will forge life-long friends, standout skills, and a future fit for a “world changer”. Play your cards right, and you may just find yourself as another success story, marketing university life to a whole new generation of undergrads.

Ask your average boomer and they’ll likely tell you that university is a joyride at the taxpayer’s expense, or a liberal bubble which offers no preparation for the mythical “real world”. In many ways, coming to university is like finally sharing in the joke- as just two minutes on Twitter will testify, your average university experience is more like one prolonged breakdown.

So why is this the case? Surely university is supposed to be your opportunity to take charge of your own future; to finally exercise some freedom over your own education?

If you, like most undergrads, are arriving on campus fresh from high school, the main appeal of university is pretty obvious: doing what you want, when you want, for as long as you can get away with it. For the next four years you’re your own problem: fewer contact hours, no detentions, no curfews.

And then there’s the little matter of your degree. People love to tell you that you can’t get anywhere without one, and so here you are, on the cusp of the rest of your life, a world-changer in the making. Of course, after Freshers’ Week has met its sticky end and your first semester is well and truly underway, you’re met with the one hangover from high school that you never really outgrow: deadlines come for us all in the end.

If you’re lucky, you probably care about your subject. Maybe the mere thought of geology gets you going; I don’t know, but no matter the subject, you’re off to a good start if you can summon a spark of interest in your chosen field. You’re going to need it.

In reality, university is as much a marathon as it is a sprint; between racing to meet deadlines and pacing yourself for the year ahead, it’s easy to feel like you never truly clock off. By the end of the first semester, you’ll probably be no stranger to the odd all-nighter or rushed deadline.

The truth is that your newfound freedom has its pitfalls. Many of you will be taking care of yourself for the first time; add to that new people, environments and expectations, and you’ll find yourself with a pretty full plate. Taking care of yourself, it turns out, is pretty taxing – not to mention a thankless task. Perhaps as a consequence is this culture of “getting by” at university, which rests on the assumption that sleepless nights and counselling wait-lists are all just part of the experience. When you take for granted the idea that your degree comes at the cost of your wellbeing, you’re only setting yourself up for a future where you don’t know when to draw the line.

But cynicism aside, you are in charge of your own university experience. That’s why it’s so vital to make your time at university mean more than just your degree. The best thing about university is that it’s probably the only time in your life you’ll have so many opportunities thrust at you at once – and I’m not just talking about career opportunities. At the risk of sounding like a study brochure, university offers the chance to find the things you enjoy as well as the things you excel at.

Maybe you’re big into sport and get stuck in at GUSA. Maybe you love politics and you run in the SRC elections. Maybe you’re on the board at the GUU or QMU. Perhaps you just never miss a pub quiz. When you find yourself running out of steam for seminars and exams, these are inevitably the things that will keep you going.

The point is that you don’t need to change the world to make the most of your time at university. There’s no predicting where you’re going to end up by graduation, but when this time comes, you’ll be more than just a graduate. You’ll be someone who learned how to live in a new place; or someone who juggled a part-time job with full-time studies; as someone who learned their limits and tested their comfort zone; hopefully, as someone who knows how to look after themselves. If university teaches you anything, let it be to prioritise your health above all else, and to get that work/life balance in check.

By all means get your degree – just don’t burn out in the process. After university, you will never have to think about your grades again: so why die trying?