Finding a Balance between Campus and Home
It’s December, and I know we are all counting down to the end of term. If you’re a new undergraduate, I hope the past couple of months have been positive and full of new things, but also that you’re settling in to living away from home and being independent. You may have already been home this semester, but I often get questions from prospective applicants about how living at university actually works. You might be still figuring out a balance, so I thought I’d share some advice of my own.
Firstly, university isn’t like school, and you can leave campus and go home literally whenever you want. Your accommodation is yours, and you decide how often you’re living there. Obviously, you have your academic and social commitments to consider, and university terms average around ten weeks in length. There won’t be anyone checking up on you, and that gives you all the freedoms in the world, so try to manage it sensibly.
Most people stay at university for around a month before they see their parents or family for the first time since moving. Some people will go home or visit friends elsewhere in the country literally every weekend, especially if they have a car. Others will head home in “enrichment weeks” or “reading weeks” which is essentially a half-term, although campus remains fully open and you’re still expected to have got your work done. You’ve probably noticed patterns among your flatmates of when they head off campus. The first semester is always a bit of a whirlwind, but hopefully next semester you’ll feel able to make a decision that’s right for you.
If you’re someone who is still struggling to settle, heading home every weekend can do more harm than good. Sticking it out for a month at a time and then seeing family is much more manageable, as it means that you’re more likely to spend your weekends making friends or exploring the local area. The people that treat university like a boarding school are either very settled or very homesick, so try and stay on campus a bit more if you’re the latter. Weekends can be lonely if your flat isn’t around, so try and make some friends on your course who you can meet up with. Facetiming friends and family to catch up with them is a great idea, and there’s nothing wrong with ordering a Chinese takeaway on a Saturday night.
Weekends are also a time for partying, so you’ll miss out on that scene a bit if you keep going home. Working at the library is a great way to while away a few hours, and maybe taking care of some cleaning or laundry wouldn’t be a bad idea too. Learning to fill your time is part of being an adult, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll wonder how people have the time to go home.
Visiting friends at other universities is a lovely way to spend a weekend, and hosting a friend at your place means you can show off your campus and local area. I did this a lot in undergrad, especially halfway through semesters when there wasn’t much going on. Personally, I typically went home once or twice per semester, and that suited me just fine. My parents would often come up for a weekend each semester for a bit of a break, and I felt like that was enough for me. Now I’m a PhD student, my timetable is my own which means I can pop home with my laptop and have a change of scenery. In November, I spent a week at home which was great for a mental reset, and I’ve also hosted and been to stay with a few friends over the last couple of months.
University holiday periods are longer than school ones, and I’d often spend the whole time at home when I was an undergrad. Seeing as I didn’t go home that much, spending a month there over Christmas was definitely worth it, and created a nice balance that worked for me. If you’re not so bothered about spending that much time at home, holidays are an ideal time to earn some money or spend some time on campus while its quieter. The library will often be basically empty, so if you’ve got a deadline coming up, now is a great time to get focused. If your flatmates have left, enjoy having the kitchen to yourself too. This year, I’m planning to head home a few days after term ends, and return just after New Years.
During exam season, you might only have the occasional exam revision session, so it’s quite normal for students to travel backwards and forwards a bit more. I tend to use exam season (I don’t have any exams) to work on writing and to earn money, as undergraduates don’t have the time to work as they’re busy revising. When I had breaks of more than a week between exams, I’d tend to go home for a bit, as there wasn’t much happening on campus as everyone is busy. At the end of term I’d come back for around a week to party, pack up and move out, which is typical of most undergrads.
By the summer, you’ll have organised somewhere to live for the next year, so you might have a month or so to wait until you can move into your new place. Lots of students work during the summer, so it may be a case of dropping off your stuff and heading home to work until September. Postgraduates work all year round, so I will continue my routine of popping home every three weeks or so, and hosting people at my place. It’s also pretty normal to stay in your university town over the summer, so feel free to live in your new student house on your own and either relax or carry on with a job that you already have.
As a general rule, unless you have a commitment that requires you to travel home every weekend, try to spend a decent amount of time at university. Whether you live in halls or not, maintaining a balance between your new life away from home and your old life at home is important, otherwise you’ll never feel fully settled. If you live a commutable distance and haven’t enjoyed living away from home, now is a great time to put some thought into whether commuting is a viable option for next year. It may require some setting up, but it’s worth having a look at the cost, time spent and lifestyle that it will entail. If living at home is that important to you (for whatever reason), there’s no reason why something can’t be worked out.
My final point to add to this post is that one reason why you don’t like living at university is because of your living situation. You could have done all the planning in the world to find the right place to live, but it turned bad due to the people you’re living with or the environment itself. It didn’t personally happen to me, but I do know people who hated living in halls and shared accommodation, and it made their life pretty miserable. Thankfully, once they moved into different accommodation with their friends or by themselves they were much happier, so please don’t give up yet if you’re finding it difficult. At the end of the day, your home life makes up a significant proportion of your university experience, so if going home more often gets you through this year, then make the right choice for you.
Happy December! I hope this blog was useful, and hopefully I’ll write a bit more about living at university in 2022, as I enjoyed writing this post. Just to let you know, my last post of the year will be on the 15th December, as I want to take a well-deserved break. I don’t think four posts this month is too little, and I hope you take some time out to be with family too.