I think we all have an idea of what uni will be like. For me, I thought it’d be like all the American movies – people passed out drunk on long, sprawling lawns, lots of drinking, loads of cool friends and hardly any work. From the first week of my first year, I realised how I thought uni would be – and how it actually was – couldn’t be more different!
I didn’t meet a bunch of cool friends who read books all the time and drank in trendy bars, and I probably spent more time sober fretting about a book or an essay than I did drunk! What I did was read a lot of books, study a lot of different subjects and realise just how important the friends I’ve had since my school days are.
Like I say, no two people’s experiences of uni are the same. Don’t just take it from me, take it from Josh.
Josh and I have been in touch since 2017, both writers for the since (sadly) non-existent Campus Society, a website connecting students from the U.K. He wrote a lot for the site, and continues to write content on his blog Hardly Hamilton– specialising in education, fitness, productivity, entertainment and lifestyle. He recently wrote about why you need classroom experience , and I’d definitely recommend giving it a read – especially if you’re considering going into teaching. We’ve written a collaborative post on his site so, if you liked this one, you can find that one here .
Josh is a teacher and content writer from the South-West, as well as a University of Birmingham alumni. He graduated in 2018, a year before me and – whilst I studied English Literature – he studied English and History. He loves good books, video games and has a passion for history. So, if that sounds like your thing, too, give him a follow on Twitter .
Here’s how our times at uni differed:
1. What made you decide to study your chosen course and at your chosen Uni?
Josh: I spent a lot of time debating which University to choose, since moving away for three years was such a huge commitment. I wanted somewhere relatively close to home, not too pricey and with plenty to do in and around campus. Birmingham is the UK’s Second City, the University is a fantastic institution and, with it being so close to home, moving there turned into a no-brainer. I did consider London, but have you seen rental prices in the capital? Extortionate!
As for my course? I’d wanted to study English Literature ever since a teacher invited me to a talk by an Oxford Undergrad when I was in Year 8. My love of History didn’t bloom until the following year – again, because of the fantastic guidance of my school. It’s incredible, the influence a good teacher can have on us as children.
You can imagine my euphoria when I discovered that Joint Honours courses in English AND History existed.
Jen: At first, I didn’t know if I wanted to go to uni at all. I wasn’t one of those people who always dreamed of going to uni. Honestly, I went to uni because I didn’t fancy starting full time work or an apprenticeship straight away! I picked a uni in my city because I didn’t think I was ready to move out just yet and I picked English because it’s a subject I’ve always loved and been interested in.
2. If you could’ve chosen another course, what would you have done?
Josh: I’d have considered creative writing, since I love creating fiction, or something to do with architecture or interior designing. I wasn’t interested in the latter at all when I was 18, but I’ve really come to love making a place feel homely ever since moving out. That might have something to do with playing Animal Crossing for over 80 hours since Lockdown began, though…
Jen: Though English was definitely my first choice, I loved Philosophy during A-Level so I might just have been tempted to do that. I might’ve been tempted to do Creative Writing, too, except the thought of presenting my work out loud didn’t appeal one bit!
3. What was the best thing you studied at Uni?
Josh: I had this fantastic module about transhumanism – body modification – which we studied through literature, including Ramez Naam’s Nexus and Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon. Both are fairly short, easy-to-read novels that consider what it means to be human, and I’d highly recommend both.
We were also asked to watch Limitless, Her, Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind and Black Mirror’s San Junipero episode. Setting these kinds of texts on a University course about such a fascinating topic was such an incredible way to get us all engaged from the start. I loved it. More of that please.
Jen: I loved the majority of my modules but a personal favourite was one of the final year ones about Shakespeare. Sounds boring to most but I loved reading the plays, thinking about how he’s still relevant today and watching modern retellings of Shakespeare such as Shakespeare in Love and 10 Things I Hate About You. Plus the module was taught by one of the loveliest tutors. Her passion for English and the module was incredible and, of course, I appreciated her giving me good marks in the end!
4. Is there anything you regret about your time at Uni?
Josh: Honestly, my one regret is about how hard I worked in my First Year. I averaged a 65 – a mid-2:1 – in all three years of my course, which I’m so proud of, but I really did overwork myself when I first attended Birmingham. The First Year of your degree doesn’t count towards a final grade – you just have to pass with a 40% or higher for most courses – so I wish I’d spent a little less time behind the books in 2015/16, and a little more time at the pub.
Jen: Whilst I definitely don’t regret working hard and enjoying my course as much as I did, I regret not getting myself out there, speaking to people and getting out of my comfort zone. I wish I’d spent less time fretting about essays and more time with a gin in my hand and no worries (or, more likely, less worries!). I think I definitely put more effort into the academic side than the social side!
5. What advice would you give to a prospective/current student?
Josh: Do as much reading early on as you can, don’t leave essays to the last minute but, most importantly, remember not to burn yourself out – take it easy!
Jen: Read as much stuff as you can on your subject – it’ll help and it’s interesting. Also take time to chill and say yes to whatever interesting opportunities come your way – both in the lecture hall and outside of it!
I have to say thanks to Josh for collaborating on this post with me. I hope you liked this post and – if you did – there’s another post full of questions and answers over on his blog here.
As always, you can find me on: