It’s been a full two weeks since I donned the mortar board and gown and walked across the stage of Belfast’s Waterfront to collect a piece of parchment that I’ve been pouring my blood, sweat and tears into for the past four years of my life.
It hasn’t fully sunk in yet. For months, graduation felt like this far off, mysterious and almost mythical event – but now it’s been and gone. I can’t quite believe that I’m now a graduate, and that the ‘student life’ has come to an end for me. And as the stupidly sensitive, sentimental person I am (catch me hoarding cinema tickets from 2009), it’s got me reflecting quite a bit on my experience of university.
I’m by no means someone who’s ‘been there, done it all and bought the t-shirt’ in terms of the typical uni experience (for example, I never once lived in the Holylands. Shocking, I know). But, I feel like after four years of intense ups and down, I’ve seen a fair bit in my time and learned a few lessons. So, whether you’re about to start filling in your UCAS applications, or preparing for your dreaded final year – or even if you graduated when Beach Club was still a top student haunt – here are the four biggest lessons I’ve learned in my time as a student, in the hopes they might enlighten you all. Am I a motivational blogger yet?!
- Never let other people tell you what to do
And most importantly, never let anyone tell you who to be – not your parents, not your best friend, and most definitely not your boyfriend or girlfriend.
Oh, so your course mate says they haven’t started revising yet, so you shouldn’t either?
Oh, so your heart says you want to study English, but your parents want you to do Law?
Oh, so your boyfriend doesn’t want you to take that opportunity to study abroad, because they’ll miss you too much?
No, nope, and NO thanks. I know it sounds super cliché, but nobody else can ever truly know what’s right for you, and nobody else is going to have to walk your journey, or feel your feelings, or live with your regrets. When you’re awake at 3am the night before the exam and your ‘mate’ is fast asleep because they told a little white lie about their revision, or when you’re crying into a law textbook that you don’t understand, or when you’re 30 and your uni boyfriend is long gone and you wish you’d traveled when you had the chance… you’re only going to have yourself to blame. When in doubt, always go with your gut – and ALWAYS put yourself first!
- It won’t all be Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy
Sometimes it will be Difficult Difficult Lemon Difficult, actually. While the student experience is often painted as a euphoric haze of nights out, new friends and no cares in the world, that’s not always the case. If you find yourself going through hard times at uni, it can be easy to feel like there’s something wrong with you, but believe me, it isn’t plain sailing for anybody. You might fall out with friends you thought were for life, or break up with the person you thought was The One. You might miss your family, your home, and your old friends. You might spend nights crying alone in your room, or crying in the toilets in a nightclub, or crying in the library. Or more than likely, you might go through ALL of these. I most definitely did, and my 4 years of university have felt like more a climb of Mount Everest than a walk in the park. But the reality is, while the bad times can hurt like hell, you need them to grow. Once again, I know it sounds like a super cliché motivational speech from a High School Musical movie, but it’s the honest truth!
- Savour Every Moment
Notice I didn’t say ‘enjoy every moment’, because re: my previous point, not every moment is likely to be enjoyable. But in looking back on my time at uni, sometimes in hindsight, even the moments I thought were bad are times I’d love to go back to. Stressing in the library with my friends over imminent assignment deadlines. Turning up to a 2 hour lecture with a Starbucks and a stomach full of dread at the boredom ahead. Sleeping over at my mate’s because my flat’s heating had busted. All those little things – even the rubbish little things -make up life, so just try not to wish them away in too much of a hurry if you can.
And for the love of all things holy, please truly savour every night out– being able to party on a Monday night with zero responsibilities to face the next day won’t always be possible! And, you never quite know when your favourite night club will shut up shop for good, and those ritual once a week squad nights out will be consigned to your memories (RIP Box Nightclub, always in my heart xo).
- Everything Changes
If 22 year old me could sit down and have a chat with 18 year old me and tell her everything that would happen over the next four years, young me would be devastated – but she’d also be gobsmacked and amazed. I could have never believed how much I would grow, how much I would change, how much I would learn to be my own person, the risks I would take, the people and the incredible experiences I would have and the euphoric happy times, and heart-achingly sad times I would go through before getting my Bachelors of Science. As someone who’s always disliked change, I went into final year terrified. I had no idea where I’d be at the end of the year, and that thought scared the Bejesus out of me, really and truly. But you know what? Here I am, at the end of it. And rather than terrified, I feel full of hope. Because while so much has changed in the past four years, but I wouldn’t change a thing.