Being working-class and coming to university, I had the fear of not fitting in. When writing my UCAS application, I was unsure whether university was really for ‘people like me.’ However, I quickly discovered that York has a diverse student body with people from all walks of life. I loved getting involved in a massive range of different activities and meeting like-minded people. If I could, I would do it all again!
I’ll start with the not-so-great stuff. In all honesty, and imposter syndrome is a very real thing. Imposter syndrome is loosely defined as being out of your depth, doubting your own abilities, and feeling like your success is down to luck rather than your own achievements.
Students from all backgrounds can find themselves feeling this way. For me personally, this stemmed from being working-class. My general life experience had been very different to that of my first-year housemates. This led me to feel quite alienated early on. Students can find themselves asking (I certainly did) “do I really belong here?”
To answer this, yes you do! Everyone at university has earned their place. If, like me, you don’t find your friends for life in your first-year accommodation – don’t panic! It may be that you don’t fit in with the first group of people you meet. Don’t let that put you off!
If you find yourself feeling like this, the best thing to do is to reach out to someone. Talk to your family, friends (new and old), your college mentor or academic supervisor.
If you have worries about making friends, join a society! There are over 200 to choose from, so there will definitely be at least one that matches your interests. You can even set one up yourself! Student groups really are the easiest way to meet new people and make friends.
My main involvement at York has been volunteering for Nightline, which is an anonymous service run by students for students (I’ve now given up my anonymity to promote the service!). Through this, I’ve met some wonderful people.
In my second year, I joined the Working Class and Social Mobility Network as the Communication and Campaigns officer. There I met some amazing working-class students and supported them in organising events like the ‘York Has Class’ conference. The Working Class Network holds regular events including socials and talks, where you can meet people with similar life experiences.
It’s one of seven liberation groups at the University, which work to create opportunities for those from underrepresented backgrounds: Working Class, Women and Non-Binary, Mature students, LGBTQ+, International Students, BAME and Disability.
At York, we also have a Student Expert Panel, which I’ve been a part of for two years. It’s a panel of students, from different backgrounds, working to ensure the representation of diverse student views and experiences at the University. I can honestly say that York staff works hard to ensure equal opportunities for all students, and it’s great to be a part of that.
Living on a student budget can be difficult for everyone. But it can also be awkward to explain to your housemates that you can’t really afford a second takeaway or another night out. I came to university thinking that it would be overwhelming to manage my finances and still have a good time.
Luckily, there is financial support available, as well as plenty of work opportunities! Think on-campus bar and cafe staff or student ambassadors. Many students work part-time around their studies.
If your household income is below a certain threshold, you automatically receive the York Bursary. The sum of this bursary is taken off of your accommodation costs in the first year of your studies, and goes straight into your bank account in years two and three. There are also plenty of scholarships available. For example, I applied for the York Futures scholarship this year and received £1000 to fund a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Course. This is a scholarship designed to enhance your personal and professional development. You can apply for any amount from £250 to £6,000, whether it is to cover an interview outfit, driving lessons or to fund an internship abroad! I really recommend checking out the available scholarships at York.
If things get tough, there’s also plenty of welfare support available. Think college teams, academics, your supervisor or Nightline (the student phone line). There will always be someone you can talk to.
My biggest advice for anyone who is afraid of feeling like a small fish in a massive pond is to reach out to people, utilise the resources I mentioned and be proud of who you are! Being working-class is not something to hide or be ashamed of! Be yourself and cherish your roots and your community. I promise, you will find yourself thriving at university.