The pressure of expectation: living with an altered uni experience


By Sophie Hutchison, Third Year, History of Art

The Croft // With all the changes this year has brought, many of us are not getting the university experience we'd expected. Even in ‘normal’ times, though, there is pressure to finish uni with your life mapped out when in fact this is far from realistic.

I am trying my best not to beat myself up about the fact that I’m due to graduate in a little over four months and, well, it feels like I don’t have a lot to show for it. When I arrived at university, I pictured myself making hundreds of friends, going out every night and yet effortlessly getting firsts in all my exams and essays, my tutors fawning over me and my prodigious intellect.

I don’t think I’ll ever really get over the fact that Covid has taken away a whole year of my uni experience (hence the panic masters I plan on doing) – but even if the pandemic hadn’t happened, I’m not sure I would’ve fulfilled all of the lofty hopes and dreams that I had before coming to university.

TV shows and films set at universities and the general rhetoric around these years being ‘the best of your life’ certainly elevated my expectations of studying away from home, and even though I know now that the high hopes we often come to uni with aren’t always the most realistic, it still is hard sometimes knowing that they didn’t all come true.

In my second year (pre-Covid), when I wasn’t too keen on tagging along to a party, a friend of mine would always exclaim ‘but you could meet your future husband there!’, and, somewhat begrudgingly but enticed by the prospect of everlasting romance, I would cave and go. According to The Student Room, one fifth of students meet the person that they go on to marry whilst at university.

I feel more prepared for my future romances thanks to the quote-unquote ‘failures’ in my dating life that I’ve endured

My dating life has not proved so auspicious. After several break-ups and many dates leading nowhere, I certainly don’t feel I’ve met my ‘one true love’ (if they exist); or at least I hope I haven’t, as I can’t exactly see myself settling down with a few kids and a cat with any of my friends or former flames. Yet, I feel more prepared for my future romances thanks to the quote-unquote ‘failures’ in my dating life that I’ve endured over the past two-and-a-bit years.

Besides, when I’m ancient and looking for embarrassing stories to tell my kids about their mother’s antics in her golden days, I’ll certainly have plenty.

'In reality, I have had the best years of my life thus far' | Epigram / Sophie Hutchison

At the end of the day, though it’s easy to blame ourselves for not achieving all the wild goals we set for ourselves before university, whether that’s finding a spouse or finding the meaning of life, the uni experience we’ve had has been unlike any other. Covid has affected every aspect of it, preventing socialising, inhibiting motivation, and making learning and studying far more difficult.

Instead of sauntering around campus and cramming into lecture theatres or having library romances, most of us have ended up watching disengaging seminars through a screen, and I can only sympathise with first years who have been trying to make friends whilst banned from interacting with anyone outside their own flats. I often wonder about who I may have met and what I may have done had the pandemic never happened, but there’s not much use in thinking that way.

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So, no – I’ve not made thousands of friends, nor have I pulled a Mark Zuckerberg and established a multi-billion-dollar company alongside my studies. I’ve not found someone I’ll have a lucrative career in comedy with à la Bristol alumni David Walliams and Matt Lucas, nor have I found the person I want to spend the rest of my life with.

When I look at it like that, it seems my university years weren’t all they were cracked up to be. But in reality, I have had the best years of my life thus far – sure, they probably won’t go down in the history books as particularly noteworthy or impactful in the grand scheme of humankind, but I’ve enjoyed them and I’ve learnt a lot from them, and I know that when I eventually become a CEO or world-renowned writer, or whatever I end up being (and there’s plenty of time for me to get there), I’ll look back fondly on these years.

Featured image: Epigram / Sophie Hutchison