Deciding whether or not to go to university is an incredibly difficult decision, one I’m not sure I ever really made. It seemed the normal route: school, university, job, little did I know there were other paths to success.
Before my final results day, I had sent off my UCAS application multiple times, changing my course and personal statement each time. My course choices really did vary and so did the universities I was applying to. From counselling to creative writing (eventually studying Animal Behaviour and Welfare), I wasn’t even sure whether I wanted to move away from home. Every time I thought I had settled on a decision, I felt unsure of it a few days later. In the end, I decided to withdraw my UCAS applications and just see how I felt on results day. I had experienced somewhat of a rough time at sixth form and so wasn’t expecting great results. However, come results day I was in for a surprise. I had achieved amazing grades and really felt proud. I rushed home, clutching my brown envelope to tell my Mum.
Without really thinking, I opened up Google and searched for animal based degrees. There was nothing else that called to me anymore; I was too indecisive. I had loved animals my whole life and it was the only thing that felt right. The first thing to pop up was my previously mentioned degree at Hartpury College, a countryside university based in Gloucester. I had never even heard of it and had no idea what my course would lead to regarding a job, but I phoned them up and within half an hour my near future was determined. I was going to university.
Suddenly there was so much to sort out. Somewhere to live, student finance, even small details such as buying cutlery for my new flat. There was no accommodation left on site, and so the university recommended a company that rented flats to students in Gloucester town centre. Looking back, I think I would have had a completely different experience had I lived on university campus, but never mind. I did the typical whiz around IKEA a couple of weeks before, browsing Amazon for the books I would need and before I knew it, I was leaving. I had joined one of the freshers pages on Facebook and had spoken to a couple of people on my course. This is something I would definitely recommend as it was such a relief to know who to make a bee-line for come freshers.
My flat was a short fifteen minute drive from uni, but I was disappointed to discover that my fresher page friends all lived elsewhere. We all had cars and so it wasn’t a problem, but I felt nervous about being plunged into a new place where I didn’t know anyone. I am shy when I meet new people but hiding in my room wasn’t an option if I wanted to settle in. I hadn’t really been apart from my family and friends before and saying goodbye to them all, especially my brother, was difficult. I had a whole day alone to unpack my things and get to know my flatmates before I could actually relax (with the help of alcohol, of course) and go to the freshers event on campus. I found it really hard to step outside the border of my tiny bedroom, not knowing how to start a conversation with these new people. I had made a cake to break the ice and that seemed to help. Somehow, I tiptoed out of my room and spent ages making a cup of tea in the kitchen, praying for somebody to come across me and spark a conversation, which thankfully, somebody did. We made small talk in the day, but the time finally came when I could go to the freshers event with my course friends. I clicked with a few people instantly and I can honestly say without them, my time at university would have been a lot shorter.
Soon enough, freshers was over and we were into day to day student life. During the first few weeks, I was surviving on the food I had stocked up on at home, going out most nights and never missing lectures. I was bewildered with my new life but it wasn’t long before I started to feel different. The glow of a new place, new friends and a new education all started to fade. The flat I lived in was disgusting, with mould sometimes growing on the plates in the sink. The lectures were difficult and very science based. People had told me that university was easier than A-levels and it was quite a shock when I realised that these people were wrong. So wrong. I was finding it difficult to fit in with my flatmates and the social life wasn’t as active as I had expected. On my first day, I had been shown around the campus, being introduced to the host of animals Hartpury owned. Below is a sweet lady I met at the university dairy. I had thought ‘Wow. This is for me’ but after the first couple of weeks, I was cooped up in sweaty seminars rather than interacting with the animals that I was so passionate about. I was disappointed to say the least and wondered if the dream I had of being around animals would ever materialise. I volunteered at a local farm to get my fix of furry friends which helped to keep my spirits up.
I had made a few close friends on my course who kept me going, but I missed home and my old way of life. I missed my old friends, my own bed and unsurprisingly, my dog. I wanted to settle in like all my other friends had; but it just never happened for me. You are fed such an incredible view of university by school and the media that it never stands a chance of living up to your expectations. I was beginning to regret my decision, but I carried on. I passed my first term and felt relieved, telling myself I could do it. I was handing in assignments on time and getting okay marks, but I was barely keeping my head above the surface. It was only when I got tearful to my Mum when I went back to my flat after a lovely week at home that it really hit me how unhappy I was. Despite this soggy episode, I carried on through the second term, but hardly attended lectures. I was much happier being on the farm, grooming the goats and mucking out pigs whilst educating the public about the importance of being kind to animals. At the beginning of the term I realised this wasn’t how it was meant to be. I was spending so much money on this supposedly amazing opportunity when I wasn’t even attending lectures anymore. Apart from when I was at work, I was hiding in my room. I had become a quiet, agitated person that was desperately unhappy. I was fearful of being a failure or a disappointment to my parents, but in turn had let my spark go out. I felt that my personality was being crushed by the pressure of fitting in. I missed the old me. I had found comfort in the small things, the farm that I worked at, my part time job in a diner and my sweet friend, Will. But it was all wrong. I was supposed to be having the time of my life but instead I was existing in a box room living on soup.
Finally, I decided enough was enough and packed my bag to go home and break the news to my parents. I had researched other options and had my argument ready. I’m not sure what made me so afraid to tell them because they agreed that I was unhappy and wanted the best for me. I felt so content back in my own bed, knowing everybody on my street and feeling like I could be myself without judgement. I applied for a couple of apprenticeships in dog grooming and landed one within a week. It was official. I was leaving university.
It wasn’t hard to move home. I was afraid of adjusting again, losing my freedom and living at home whilst all my other friends were loving their lives at uni. I enjoyed a last night out with my friends before packing up my car with all my belongings, hungover to say the least. I would miss the freedom of coming and going as I pleased, but I missed home more. I was worried I had wasted a year, but I had learnt things about myself that I wouldn’t have learnt at home. I wasn’t leaving disappointed, but hopeful. I was ready to get my life back on track. The student life unfortunately hadn’t been for me, but I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t tried. Although I sometimes wonder what I would be doing had I continued my studies, I know how much happier I am away from uni and back home. I made the right choice for me.