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20th Century Fresher

By Michael Wyatt, on 25 October 2018

Today, student writer Michael tells us about his experience of starting university two years later than planned. 


“Growing old is mandatory, but growing up is optional”

– Walt Disney


Are you a UCL fresher? Are you older than 18? Don’t worry, a lot of us are/were.

When I arrived at UCL two years later than planned, needless to say, I was apprehensive. I was conscious of the fact that I had not been socialising with people my own age for a while and I’d been out of education for enough time to believe my brain had gone dormant. I’d convinced myself that everyone was going to think I was “old and boring”, and as a result make no friends and regret the time I took out after school. I was wrong. 

If you are about to start at UCL and become a ‘UCL fresher’ after taking a year (or years) out prior to this, hopefully this post will settle your nerves a bit. Trust me, you’ll be fine. Your brain has not collapsed in on itself; you’re not a dinosaur and you’ve gained valuable life experience that will only enhance your time at UCL, not diminish it. 

Reaching the end of your gap year(s)

It has become the norm for students to take gap years after secondary school before starting university. Many travel, some work and some are forced to take some time out beyond their control. Me? I spent a year in and out of hospital, then a year working to strengthen my CV. When the start of term approached, I suddenly realised that I’d not spent a lot of time reading or engaging my brain in academic work, or even doing much socialising, and immediately panicked that I was in no way prepared for what lied ahead.

For any ‘fresher’ (new student), starting university can be scary, and we all arrive with our own unique anxieties about the coming months. For those about to start after taking time out, there may be a few shared anxieties that you and your fellow 20th century born peers are feeling, I know I had a few. This is why I have decided to write a short guide below on how to approach university if you’ve not come straight from school. The short version? Don’t worry – it all works out fine!

Am I too old for freshers? Am I too old for friends?

In a word: no. University is full of people all shapes, sizes and ages. If you’re a 21 year old fresher, there will be many younger than you but also students who are older too. It may be cliché, but age really is just a number at university. Whilst a lot of ‘freshers’ arrive straight out of school at 18, there are a still a huge number of students that do not. Some are child prodigies and start university 16 or 17, whilst others are taking a pause in their career to do another degree. Either way, taking a gap year or some general time out and arriving at 20 or 21 will make no difference. You may gravitate towards people you’re own age, or mix with a range of different age groups. As long as you choose to want friends, you’ll find them.

Will I find it hard coming back into education?

This is a concern I think a lot of students face before arriving at university; even if they haven’t taken a gap year. Post sixth form summer in itself can feel like a long time to let your brain seep into a joyous state of relaxation, let alone taking a year out. I spent over a year working in an office before coming to UCL and still thought my brain had not been worked hard in so long that I was going to struggle reading a book – not to mention writing essays every month.

The key thing to remember is this: you got into UCL. You’re smart. Your brain needed the time you gave it to chill out, and whilst it may take you a couple of weeks to get back into routine, you are no less intelligent than when you finished school. If anything, you’ve gained life experience and have used your brain in new ways over the last year that you’re even more prepared!

Everyone struggles to get used to the independent working style of university at first. There is no one to tell you when to do things or how they should be done. Allow yourself a bit of extra time to write up lecture notes and read articles in the first term. Take your time to ensure you are understanding everything you’re trying to learn. After Christmas, you’ll have forgotten about the time you were worried about under achieving because you’ll be swimming in firsts.

Do I need to prepare myself for what lies ahead?

Absolutely not. Show up with an open mind and prepare for a complete world wind of an experience. Nothing can prepare you for university. It is a world completely outside of your control – other than your grades – and that is what makes it so exciting.