university

The future freaks me out

I started this blog on 6th August 2013. I’d just finished Sixth Form and was nervously awaiting my A-levels results, desperate to find out whether or not I had made it into university. QFL was a project that was about keeping busy. I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands and far too much to worry about. I needed a distraction. It was therapy.

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This time last week, I handed in my final year dissertation at university. I have one exam left before my sixteen years of education are over. In honesty, I’m not taking this particularly well. I do have some friends that want to leave. Everyone is a bit fed up of the work at this point, myself included, which I wasn’t really expecting, having loved studying up until now. The freedom that comes with earning money will be a huge change, of course, for the better. But I don’t want to leave. I’d redo fifty assignments for another three years. I don’t want to leave people behind. Or maybe I don’t want to get left behind.

I celebrated finishing my dissertation pretty hard. Three big nights out. I woke up at 7am Saturday morning, having gotten in three hours earlier. This wasn’t a normal hangover. I felt sick. But I also had cold sweats and my heart was racing. It was like waking up from a bad dream although I couldn’t calm myself down. In short, I had what I can only describe as a panic attack. In hindsight, it was likely caffeine-induced. My fault. I’d had coffees and jägerbombs and all sorts the night before, to try and perk myself up. So I crashed. Weeks of stress, followed by days of overdoing it, caught up with me. I sat wide awake for an hour and just wallowed, thinking, reflecting, worrying about everything. Talking to a friend about it later, he said something we all need to hear sometimes: It’s okay to worry about the future you know”.

I needed to get where I was Saturday morning because now I can get out. No alcohol for at least a week. A healthier diet. From tomorrow, I get up at a respectable hour. I’m writing a bucket-list of things to do before I leave. Revision starts for that final exam: my last hurdle. I’m going to buy a bunch of books I’ve wanted to read. Start watching films again. I have a few weeks left yet and I’m going to make the most of them, spending time with the people who make leaving so hard.

And, quite frankly, I think I need to start blogging again.

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Should first year at university count?

When you roll up on Day One feeling like an impostor of inferior intelligence to every anxious face around you, knowing that your marks this year won’t count towards your final degree seems pretty assuring. When you groggily wake up after a fortnight of Freshers in a hangover coma, this seems especially assuring. At the end of their first year many do receive that 40% pass with pride. After all, maintaining such an impressively low average seems an achievement in itself. But plenty of students, myself included, did lo and behold venture into the library this year (I didn’t actually take a book out mind you) and end up wishing that it did count, if only for a little.

The “40% mentality” annoys me. First year does count – it counts as much as £9,000. No one would ever willingly throw away such a sum, so why do most students? Sure, first year is about meeting new people, adapting to life away from home, and building up your alcohol tolerance. But you could do all of these things on a gap year – let’s be honest, it’s also about upping your game academically. Scraping a pass isn’t going to do you any favours here. You’re bound to do better second and third year, when it does count, if you can remember how to read and write.

I’m probably giving you the impression that I’ve sat at my desk, locked away in my room for most of the year. I have – playing Football Manager. Contrary to popular belief, attending a lecture or seminar now and again (I only had seven hours of them a week anyway!) doesn’t mean missing out on any of the “uni experience”. I had the best year of my life, going out two nights a week, playing for a sports team, meeting new people all the time. The reality is, the only thing studying really replaces is the afternoon nap you would never have considered taking before this year anyway. You shouldn’t sleep through £9,000, even if your lecture is at 9am.

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I think easing us in with a weightless first year is unnecessary and disparaging. No other environment grants you such a luxury. The real world is a high pressure environment. An employer wouldn’t refrain from sacking you any longer than a week, let alone a year, if you only handed in papers when you felt like it. Sixth Form was all about preparing us for university level work, so we don’t need a year-long practise run when we get here. What is there even to learn? You pick up how to reference in essays and how to work the washing machine soon enough.

I think the first year at university should count for something like 10% of your degree. Such a reform shouldn’t be made to motivate those otherwise careless and lazy students, but to credit those who would have put in the effort anyway (though subsequently it would encourage the former). First year should be worth enough to acknowledge the hours of study that made it up, but not so much that a jittery 2.2 can’t be raised to a 2.1 by the time you graduate. You might argue that it would be wrong for someone’s early homesickness to be the difference between them achieving or missing out on their dream of a First. It would be a great shame, but the reality is there are countless other factors equally influential and out of our control. The difference between success and failure can be said to boil down to anything: a stingy, hard-to-please marker, or the man flu you couldn’t shake for a month in second year.

Alternatively, maybe first year could be valued with financial incentives. At some colleges in Oxbridge, for example, the highest achieving first years are given the nicest rooms the next year. This sort of approach makes a lot of sense. The way universities are throwing scholarship money at prospective undergraduates in an attempt to lure overqualified students is immoral. These funds should be redirected towards the hardest working first years – students who actually chose to study at the university in the first place and weren’t bribed to do so. Giving £500 to anyone who manages a First and perhaps £250 to those that get a 2.1 seems like a good policy. Universities might even save money as some of the scholarships they offer to new students at the moment amount to thousands of pounds.

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Failing any kind of reform, I would urge employers to pay more attention to those invisible first year marks that most probably don’t declare on their CV. If you have two similar candidates boasting 2.1s the first thing you should be doing to distinguish between the two is to check whether either was guilty of the “40% mentality” in their first year – forget the DofE award. If one candidate did only scrape a pass while the other was pretty solid, you sure as hell know who’s going to be the one pulling sickies, and leaving the office mid-email when the clock strikes five.

 

I’ve had a ball

My fortnight of partying climaxed last night with our Freshers’ Ball. All week I had battled the infamous Freshers’ flu (it’s not a myth!) but for five or six hours all was well. Very well. Pulling myself into a suit, I donned a black tie and swapped that bottle of cough syrup for vodka.

The night started with pre-drinks and a photo-shoot of everyone all dressed up and looking fine. We took it in turns being the parents taking pictures of their children before the prom. Arriving on campus the makeshift venue was spread across four or five buildings with stands and carnival rides erected in the courtyard. The latter of which was hazardous. The more everyone drunk the more appealing the violent rides became which was of course a recipe for chunder.

First stop was the silent disco. With two channels on our headsets – commercial and cheesy – the result was a mash up of people slut dropping to Kayne, while others sang painfully along to the likes of Atomic Kitten. Taking your headset off for any period of time revealed this hilarious spectacle.

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It was around this time that my craving for a bag of candyfloss struck. That popular alcohol accompaniment. I finished said candyfloss in a matter of minutes, feeding it to my friends and I suspect anyone else nearby who looked hungry. A chance encounter with a school friend was nice at this point and we briefly introduced each other to the girls we were with.

The rest of the night consisted of trying to dance to the live acts including Subfocus, Modestep and Ms Dynamite who all had one thing in common – I had never before heard any of them. Dancing proved difficult with no personal space at all on the floor, wedged between newly acquainted grinding couples. I was forever looking out for my 6ft5 friend’s head above the crowd.

The last funny event of the night came after I was dragged outside by the girls who wanted some air (they should have tried wearing a suit jacket). I attempted to call my friend who we had been separated from for hours. Naturally, I pretended that I was lost and in mortal danger, in need of rescue, before assuring him to the contrary and asking where he was. What I didn’t realise until the next morning was that I had managed a conversation with him, without him. That is to say I had been chatting away to his voicemail, presumably inventing his inaudible replies. This made for funny listening when the voicemail has been replayed many times since.

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So my Freshers’ fortnight is over. This is not to say partying is however. Wednesday night is the “Big Night Out” – the South’s largest club crawl or something…

Anyway, normal blogging shall commence soon.

Drink responsibly!

Not so fresh Freshers

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It escapes me why they call one’s initiation into university life “Freshers”. Only two nights in and I can already tell you that I feel anything but fresh… So worth it though. If I survive the fortnight it will undoubtedly be engraved in my (partial?) memory.

Let’s be honest, it was all completely overwhelming at first. I was tired when I arrived to unpack at 2pm, so you can imagine how shattered I felt by 2am. I have the universal language of football to thank for my quick settling in. Within the hour, ten guys who had never met one another were sitting in a tiny bedroom watching the (embarrassing) Manchester derby, shouting at the buffering stream on someone’s MacBook. I can only hope to forget the result itself in association with my first day.

The other thing I will most likely associate with that first night was the power-cut that killed the club’s music and locked the tills. It turned out to be a godsend really. We were forced to leave our £3.50 double vodka and cokes in favour of £1.50 ones elsewhere. Result!

Here’s a quick summary of my ‘student experience’ so far, perhaps something to look back on in years to come. Food – I have cooked beans on bread (we hadn’t purchased our £5 value toaster at this point) and eaten it with my neighbours on my ironing board, which was placed in our corridor along with our desk wheelie chairs.  Laundry – Early days really. Does washing a stain out of my pink ‘Halls t-shirt’ in my sink count as laundry? We did manage to invade the cleaner’s ‘linen room’ by accident in search of the washing machines… Sleep – Minimal. On this note, I have quickly found an issue with being part-catered. We get breakfast cooked for us but they only serve until 9:30am. This coupled with the fact seven of us are sharing a shower equals getting up pretty early. Nights out – For the first one our halls donned makeshift togas (bed-sheets) and hit the clubs. I recall a girl clearly not with us requesting whether she might take off and ‘borrow’ my toga. I had to politely decline. We also insisted on walking back in the dark like the stingy students we are to save the £10 taxi ride. Goes without saying: we got lost. Second night was a ‘foam party’ at a Uni venue, a maxed 1,700 capacity club, for which wearing my flowery swimming trunks turned out to be a great idea.

I shall leave it at that as I know a diary entry isn’t the most thrilling read for outsiders. Also, I fear I might have a subject introduction talk somewhere soon…

To anyone expecting to be a humble Fresher themselves one day, allow me to impart two pieces of advice. Firstly, talk to everyone, even your rivals from other Halls if you can infiltrate their cliques, bear in mind they hardly know each other anyway. Secondly, bring fancy dress costumes.

That is all. Twelve nights to go. Wish me luck.