*Disclaimer: all opinions are my own. Any calculations made are rough figures and for more accurate information you should search for the official information on the relevant websites*
University is a period of any young adult’s life that they greatly look forward to. This opportunity for further education presents itself as a way to find yourself and further define the rest of your life it terms of career and lifestyle expectations. For many people it is the first time they have moved away from home and we relish the freedom this will give us. Often it’s just one massive three year party alongside lectures whilst you’re essentially living out the weird social experiment that is university halls. However, as much as all of this appeals to us, there are plenty of things that are left out when you’re in the process of university. I may only be in my second year but I know that these overlooked details can make or break your university experience. Before you make the biggest investment/decision of your life, maybe have a little look at the things you should be prepared for that not a single UCAS event will mention.
In days gone past, when our parents and even when our grandparents were teenagers, going to any university was a real honour and a mark of academic excellence (it was also free but let’s not go there for now). Unfortunately I feel that degrees have been devalued in the sense that they are now more of a rite of passage for our generation. I think this contributes to the way people act when they reach university. I’m not a party person. I did not come to university for a three year bender. I came to university to study for a degree that I feel will open up doors to my dream career, as cliché as that sounds. I worked my ass off during my GCSEs and Alevels and bagged myself a place at one of the leading universities in the UK, King’s College London. Turns out my preconceptions of university and what I was led to believe at open days and UCAS events have not been how it has turned out this far.
It’s all well and good having lots of free periods for independent study or whatever but I’d like to know what the hell I’m paying for when I spend about 85% of my time completely alone and no where near the lecturers? I take a humanities degree so my contact hours are between six and eight hours a week. Baring in mind my university schedules classes any time between 8am and 6pm (or some language modules have a finish time of 8pm) Monday to Friday, that’s a minimum of 42 free hours and a maximum of 54 free hours a week that I could technically be in the building learning. That’s a joke. Even if you did read absolutely every single article/novel/etc that you were set in every single module, no one on this earth needs 40+ hours a week reading time. How can they justify such low contact hours? On top of that you are essentially held to ransom because it’s nigh on impossible to get a part time job (which is essential for topping up your maintenance loan to actually afford the cost of living in London) because you might only have one lecture a day and you can bet they’ll schedule it at lunch time rather than out the way at the beginning or end of the day so you can work around it. Such short hours are also a nightmare because it’s hard to learn anything in the kind of depth you want to, or need to, in a tiny space of time when you don’t see the lecturer. If you think office hours are the time for that then you’re wrong because they’re usually scheduled at inconvenient times too and contacting anyone via email is also a waste of time because it only seems to be the odd one or two lecturers that can be bothered to get back to you. Maybe this has been bad luck of the draw for me, I don’t know…but either way I’m not exactly impressed and this certainly isn’t what I signed up for.
The ridiculous cost…
We all know university fees are beyond a joke in the UK. £9,000 a year and rising..?! I mean? Then we have the added issue that maintenance grants no longer exist so every single penny you are given is a loan which adds up to an extortionate amount by the end of degree especially once you add interest. For me, I’m looking at nearly £60,000 of debt at the age of 21 before interest is even added to the equation. That’s criminal. Now I’m not saying that I think university should be completely free, because I don’t think it should be, not with the way our economic climate is likely to go due to current political events. Uni is also optional, so of course you should incur some cost when you’re not being forced to complete this as you are with your pre-18 education. However I really do not know how our academic institutions can warrant charging the fees they do when a lot of their students aren’t even in the building most of the time and even after fees are paid we are expected to purchase new course books for everything we do. My £9,000 a year certainly isn’t going into staff wages because A. they don’t get paid anywhere close to that and B. they have government funding for things like that anyway. It doesn’t go into the cost of running the building(s) for the same reasons. And it doesn’t actually go towards my course either because I am still expected to pay for printing and the textbooks and the workbooks etc. SO WHERE IS MY MONEY GOING? Last year I had eight contact hours a week for twenty weeks. That means each contact hour I spent in the building cost me £56.25. Over £55 an hour for nearly 28,000 students. That’s over £1.5 million an HOUR if all 28,000 are home fee paying students which they’re not. So even without the excess cost of the medical students and the oversees students who pay much, much more a year than I do, from fees alone we’re looking at well over £250 MILLION every year for just my university. Don’t forget this is all before any government funding that may be received and before the many alumni donations that are received. That’s mind blowing and I don’t understand…
University is technically an investment in your future but before going I think you really need to consider what you’re getting from your fees and maybe if there’s another way that you can reach your career without putting yourself in tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt. Of course if your chosen career is something in law or medicine then this path is essential (and often more expensive, but these courses tend to have double the amount of hours than mine does) and you should ignore my miserable rantings for taking a humanities subject that doesn’t guarantee a specific career at the end of it.
You’ve definitely heard this one before but it really is important to say that university really isn’t for everyone. It may look all party party party but, as much as I don’t like this, I really do understand why people do this. University is often an incredibly lonely and isolating place. You’re not in lectures or seminars for very long, and even if you are you’re working rather than socialising. Societies don’t take up the over 40 hours a week you have spare and unless you have a job you only see the same few people every day. Halls is a weird place because once the nitty gritty hard work begins, you could go for several days without seeing another member of your flat because everyone is working hard on their own degrees. A lot of the time you only have the same four walls of your bedroom to keep you company and its depressing. I do not use that term lightly. My mental health spiralled to be quite honest. I didn’t realise just how unhappy halls were making me until I left and found myself a privately rented flat that felt like a home. That feeling is so, so important especially if you’re leaving your family home for the first time. The dynamic of living with maybe 6 or 7 different people is just a bit much. It’s not like a sitcom where everyone lives together and has a great time. It’s frustrating and full of personality and culture and lifestyle clashes. It can really get you down because it is absolutely nothing like the romantic notions we all have before move-in day.
All of this being said, I am still glad I am at university and living my life. Without all of this hassle, I would have never been able to move to London. Without the student loans we are lucky enough to be entitled to I simply would not be able to afford to move here on my own all the way from Devon (which let’s be honest is out the back and beyond).
I hope this has given you some things to think about. I really wish someone had given me a little heads up and some kind of warning before I applied to university because, knowing what I do now about my university experience, I believe I would have thought twice before making this step.