It’s not always easy starting at university, especially when you feel like you don’t fit the profile of a “typical” student. Here’s how taking part in extracurricular activities can really make a difference to your experience.
Embracing your background
The moment I secured my place at York to study Philosophy felt extremely rewarding. At the same time, it was daunting knowing I would be leaving home for a long period of time. I come from a small village outside the city of Durham, and went to a local state comprehensive school where 17% of students were on free school meals.
On arriving at university, I found that I enjoyed the intellectual rigour of a subject I was passionate about. Despite this, there were many moments where my background caused me to feel out of place. This came in various forms. My accent left me feeling that I wasn’t worthy of a place at a Russell Group university. I didn’t feel like I fit the stereotype of a student that would attend such a place.
One of the biggest obstacles that was stopping me from enjoying my university experience was my own hesitance in accepting my background. I’ve learned that not only is university is a time for students to study a subject they enjoy, but also an opportunity to meet like-minded people who share common interests. The more I held myself back, the less I could develop interests and seek opportunities outside my degree.
That’s why, in June 2020, I founded The 93% Club York. This society is part of the UK’s first and largest network of state-educated students. We aim to address the educational divide between students from state and private schools. Here at York, we account for 82% of the student population. We’re seen as the first social mobility society on campus that aimed to level the playing field.
I approached this process as an opportunity to find students like myself, who felt alone in coming to university. More importantly, it was necessary to find unity amongst one another at a challenging time. I founded the society as restrictions decreased morale and interaction.
Alongside establishing The 93% Club at York, I was also involved as Head of Non Law in the York Law Society. With this role, I aim to help increase equal access to the legal profession. I had the intention of pursuing a law career in the city after I graduated, and felt passionate about challenging stereotypes and increasing opportunities for the least advantaged. I wanted to show how diverse backgrounds can make students feel just as competitive in the job market.
Running a society
Within the first couple of months of running the society, we gained a rapid campus presence. We appeared on York Student Television (YSTV), York Vision, Nouse and even BBC Radio York. Our commitment to helping our members led to recognition from the Lord and Sheriff in York this past summer. And we established a mentoring programme supporting local A-level students in York.
Founding this society in my small bedroom in Durham during lockdown presented many challenges that I faced along the way. I found myself being super passionate about this cause, which led the society to four award nominations at the Love York Awards in 2021. We won “Outstanding Contribution to Student Well-being” after 250 nominations. Alongside all of this, it also led to my appointment as Chief of Staff in the national charity helping with day-to-day management.
How extracurricular activities positively impacted my studies
Looking back at my time at York so far, founding The 93% Club York has been the highlight of my university experience. I started the society as my own coping mechanism for dealing with imposter syndrome. But I learnt that once you are able to embrace your background believing that you are capable, and be daring enough to seek opportunities to expand your interests, you will most definitely enjoy your university experience.
Although you will face challenges along the way, it’s important to note that every experience is a learning opportunity. The opportunities I sought have impacted my university experience in many positive ways. Problem-solving, maintaining resilience, and being able to prioritise tasks are now all part of my skillset. With all of this in mind, I was able to apply them to my studies when I was approaching my deadlines too!
So whether you are looking to apply to York or you will be joining us this September, remember that there’s a place for everyone, no matter your background – and be bold enough to expand your interests outside your degree. Seeking opportunities during university has impacted me positively, and I’m sure, will do the same for you regardless of what you study.