Misconceptions about university: expectations vs reality

Nobody knows quite what they are getting themselves into when they start university. There are a huge number of expectations about university you have that often don’t turn out to be true!

When I arrived at York two years ago, I was really stressed about university and worried that I wouldn’t enjoy myself, but I was happy to find that there really is something for everyone. Here are a few common misconceptions that I have found to not be true.

Expectation: you have to drink lots to socialise

The university drinking culture is often one of the scariest things for people entering university, as many social activities seem to revolve around drinking. Whilst that certainly can be the case some of the time, there is plenty more on offer.

You shouldn’t feel pressured into drinking (or drinking too much) if you don’t want to. From film nights to board games to city tours, there is so much on offer that doesn’t involve alcohol right from when you start university. Don’t feel like you have to drink to meet people: you’ll find your friends whatever you get involved in. It’s your choice: and anyone who doesn’t respect that isn’t worthy of your friendship.

Expectation: the work is so much harder

I expected university to be a huge step-up in my workload. Whilst it often feels like this is the case, it does get easier. The key difference is not the difficulty of the work, it is the fact that everybody is learning to think in a different way, using the knowledge you already have.

Remember that everyone has come from a different academic background. It isn’t about making you struggle academically, it is about allowing you to recognise your strengths and where you stand. University is designed to help you make those steps at a measured pace.

Expectation: you need to make friends immediately

Often there is an idea that the people you meet first will remain your friends throughout your time at university. If you find it tough to make friends quickly or aren’t sure if you’ve found ‘your people’, this can be quite a daunting prospect. Happily, this is often not the case.

You don’t always stick to the same groups and that’s ok. You shouldn’t feel pressured to make friends with people that might not necessarily be good for you. It is really unusual that people stick entirely to the same friendship group they started off with. Don’t worry if you don’t think you’ve found ‘your people’ – chances are, other people haven’t either.

In addition, you can make friends all the time at university. It is never too late to join new groups and new societies. As you attend different modules and move around, you will meet new people and find ‘your people’.

Expectation: university is ‘the best experience of your life’ – if you’re struggling, you are an exception

Don’t buy into the idea that you have to be happy all the time, or that you ‘should’ be embracing everything at university: everybody has their struggles, and nobody is finding it easy all of the time! From academic struggles and concerns, to mental health issues, or even learning how to cook; everyone will struggle even if it doesn’t look like it. Some people are just better at presenting the idea that they are having an amazing time. Don’t suffer in silence: your university experience shouldn’t be built off other people’s expectations.

Ultimately, university is not always going to be about the ‘best’ experience’: it is what you make of it. Your successes are what you make of it, not necessarily what other people say they are. The pressure to always be having a good time will mean that you’re living up to ideals that don’t necessarily represent reality.

Look to new experiences and to new possibilities and explore them: your success is not defined by your peers, but by yourself.

Read more student blogs about what uni is really like

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Hi, I'm a third-year student studying for a BA in History and Politics. In my spare time, I like to read, debate and explore York.

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