10 things I wish I’d known about uni

I had plenty of older friends who went to uni before me. Some went abroad, but mostly they scattered themselves around towns in the North of England, and they had the best time. I mean, the best time ever. They couldn’t stop talking about it. I listened, my eyes on stalks.

Rather than become jealous or resentful, my excitement grew. I couldn’t wait to drink, and learn interesting things, and take drugs (disclaimer: I didn’t, not once, but that’s another story), and do horrible things with unsuitable people.

As it happened, I look back on my time at university with nothing but regret. Here are ten things you should know before you decide to go to uni.

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Don’t go if, er, you don’t want to 

I’m being serious. Do you want to go to uni? Think carefully. Back in the summer of 2003, after an exhausting (but brilliant) two years at college, I carefully mooted the idea to my mum that I wasn’t ready for uni, and I’d like to do a year of work before making my choice of degree. She told me that was out of the question, and that I had to go, or my work ethic would up and leave me. Something like that, anyway. End result? I lost all enthusiasm, disinterestedly chose a uni, and a course I thought ‘might do’.

I have no doubt that if I’d done a year of hard graft in my local BHS, uni would suddenly have seemed a lot more exciting by the following September. Basically I needed some perspective. If you do too, for the love of God, get some. Then think about uni again.

Research your course

Don’t just assume it’ll be fine. See what past students have to say, read online reviews, look at other courses you might love. I did a combined course and the two separate disciplines worked together like cheese and cabbage.

Quick aside: The two departments hated each other, and then grew to hate me, as they saw me as some kind of half-and-half bastard lovechild.

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Get involved

I didn’t get involved. With anything. And there was a lot available to me; sports, film clubs, writing for the college magazine, getting a job on campus. I did none of it. Doing something which helped me get to know my uni a bit better would have paid off dividends, and I would have met several more people.

Think of your career

I wanted to get into journalism. And my uni had a great media department. And guess what I didn’t do? That’s right – gain experience and make contacts. I didn’t make any attempt to contribute to the magazine (see above), and I didn’t talk to my lecturers about work experience, internships and placements.

A note to all graduates – especially English and Media grads – your course will not open any doors for you after you graduate. There are a million others like you. Getting to know people and getting some relevant experience will.

Be single

I had a boyfriend for two years of uni and it limited my options in so many terrible ways. If you are not 100% in love and committed, don’t bother. Really. You’ll find someone else to get off with that evening and that will be that. *Dusts hands*

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Cook properly

I lived off Dolmio heat and stir carbonara sauces. I was unhealthy and unwell most of the time. Please learn to cook and look after yourself by eating the right things. It’s much cheaper, you’ll feel so much better, and you won’t look like a provincial tit at dinnertime.

I was always a bit worried about people nicking my stuff, but the only things which go missing are eggs and chocolate. Keep them both in your room. Trust me when I say your brown rice, quinoa and broccoli is very safe in the communal fridge.

Dress appropriately

A horrible fact for you – I once went into a seminar with a pair of (what I assumed to be) clean knickers holding my (unwashed, booze-soaked) hair back. Maintain standards at all costs.

Work out

I went for a half-hearted run during my third year at uni and nearly passed out. My convalescence at home consisted of three fags smoked in quick succession with a double gin. I didn’t look great. I didn’t feel great. I didn’t start running again until 2010, when I discovered that being a bit fat was a bit shit.

If you can’t afford the gym membership, just get some trainers and some decent running gear and run for half an hour a day. You will feel SO much better. I cannot stress this enough.

Think about your career (Part II)

Admittedly this fact should be further up this list but I wanted to spice things up with the ‘knickers’ story and, whatever, fuck you. If you only take one thing away from this, it should be think about what you want to do after your degree. Do you actually need a degree? Really? I will use journalism as an example.

The journalism qualification all employers care about are taught by the NCTJ. These courses teach you all the skills you’ll need, such as shorthand, court reporting, crafting effective, well-written stories and all the things a single module at uni may or may not teach you. You can focus on broadcast or magazine journalism, and you’ll be taught everything you need to know.

They’re also several thousand pounds cheaper and take much less time.

Basically what I’m trying to say is don’t do a three year degree if there’s a relevant qualification out there which teaches you everything you need to know for less money in less time.

Think about afterwards

When my housemates and I graduated, we meekly handed in our notice to our landlord, and just went home to our parents. Game over. It never crossed our minds to get jobs in London and carry on living at our cheap, lovely, spacious house in New Cross Gate.

If you get the relevant work experience and you’re always making decent contacts, there’s a good chance you’ll graduate and be able to find a job in your chosen field relatively quickly. If you can avoid it, don’t run home. You will end up doing something unglamorous in admin. Stay in the big cities, stay in the thick of it, stay around your friends.

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