University Expectations vs Reality

Words by: Emily Schofield Cox

Having reality fall short of your over-hyped expectations is painful. I have a habit of having far too high hopes for everything in life, from the big to the minuscule, and it is what makes it hard for me to finish anything that I start.

It affects me in all aspects of my life: I was sorely disappointed when I moved to a small North Queensland town with a creek and found it wasn’t like Dawson’s Creek at all and I didn’t find my Pacey, and I couldn’t comprehend it when I was not immediately accepted into an internship at the UN after not learning any languages or having any experience with international relations.

My weird mix of overconfidence and unrealistic expectations can be dangerous. I thought that if I bought roller-skates I would be this talented little hipster fairy-child skating around the neighbourhood without a care in the world, leaving cut flowers in my wake and making friends with all the puppies in the world. That isn’t logical, I know that, but it is the bar I set; I was completely sure that that chain of events would fall nicely into place. I didn’t even think for a moment that I would need to learn how to stop on roller skates; I just went straight to the biggest hill I could find, launched myself off and knew in my heart that it would all work out. Cut to me with ripped pants, blood streaming from my knees and no new puppy friends. So I hung up my skates, because if I couldn’t fulfill my expectations immediately then I wouldn’t even try.

University was no different: it felt just like when I’d tried to write a novel under the assumption that I would be the next J.K. Rowling and instead essentially wrote a grammatically incorrect steaming turd with exceedingly bad spelling.

I went from high school sure that I would love university, that I would find ‘my people’ and discover my purpose in life. I hadn’t been too ‘weird’ in school – somewhere between the horse girl (we all know one) and the kid who cuts his own hair in class – and I had a good group of friends, but I was sure that in university I would find my thing.

I really had no substantial doubts that this would happen as soon as I started university — that I would sit down in the library to study and a group of unique yet like-minded people would spot me and approach to say, “Hey, you look like a really cool person who would make a great addition to our political-minded, funny, interesting group, so come with us right now to have a big, yet intimate, party at our beach house”.

Needless to say, that didn’t happen. The reality is that it is really hard to meet new people in university if you aren’t extroverted. For the first year of university I was trapped in a few high school friendships that were somewhat toxic and unchallenging. I didn’t want to still be gossiping about people I barely knew in high school with people I barely liked in high school. And yet, there I was.

The other unmet expectation that left me sorely disappointed with my first year of university was that everyone loved to learn and it would inherently broaden your horizons. I thought that all lecturers/tutors wanted to test your limits and that every class would be a creative writing class in some form, and group work would be fun. (Spoiler alert: group work is about as much fun as a colonoscopy, and is clearly the closest thing we have to hell on earth.)

I had clearly watched far too many American teen movies/TV shows that had left me poorly prepared for the reality. Most classes don’t test your opinions and values, or force you to see the world differently — instead, they’re much like high school classes wherein you base your learning on preparation for standardized exams and use whole forests for paper to write unfeeling research essays on.

For the first year of university, I was pretty depressed. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life, and I wasn’t enjoying the interim period of university.

It’s hard to admit to anyone, even yourself, that you don’t enjoy an establishment that is marketed as a validation of your intelligence.

I’m in the second year of my degree now and university is just one thing that I’m doing, not my whole world. And I’m not necessarily enjoying it more, but I’m enjoying the world around it a lot more and it makes it easier.

I have learned the differences between my expectations and the reality of university, and I’m all right with it.

My advice to people about to embark on a degree, or already in university and second-guessing it is to stick with it if it’s going to help you with life, because it is just a small section of time in the grand scheme of things — you’ll be out in the real world in no time.

And in the meantime, join clubs or groups that interest you, because you’ll find good people to hang around with. Go to some parties and drink too much and regret it, but also go to some live gigs and comedy shows, because they end up being the better memories. Don’t murder anyone in your group assignments, even if it’s really tempting, because they aren’t worth the jail time. Do your best in the mind-boggling exams and boring assignments, but don’t let their results define your worth to yourself.

University isn’t necessarily all its cracked up to be, but there is stuff to be learned and fun to be had. Just find the right people to experience it with, and don’t settle. Good luck.