• Abbie Tibbott

University Stereotypes

Universities are modernising, and it’s refreshing to see higher education progressing to better suit the backgrounds and ambitions of those who are accessing it. Although there are a few things I’d like to see changed, there is movement! In this blog, I’d like to demystify academia, especially for those who are unsure if a university education is really for them. If I’m completely honest, I headed to university without a full understanding of what’s actually involved in the day-to-day of being a student, and these are a few things I discovered pretty quickly.

 

1. Everyone’s rich


Back in the day, university was still a preserve of the rich (or exceptionally gifted), so was inaccessible to many working class people. When I came to Reading, although I had met a lot of people from my background on the open day, I still expected to meet a lot of rich, privately educated people during my university experience.


I’m sure it’ll vary by area, but Reading is very diverse, and I didn’t end up feeling out of place. I did obviously meet people who went to private school, but lots of those people were really lovely and inclusive. There were of course the rich ones who banded together, but there were also plenty of working class students who looked down on those who were privately educated. It’s just like in school: everyone has their “group”. I was lucky, my university is very good in encouraging people to mix, and I have friends from lots of different backgrounds.


We’ve all heard of the universities that are meant to be more “snobby”, and the only thing I can suggest is actually visiting the universities themselves to get a feel for it. I had a few encounters at universities that I visited where I felt like I wouldn’t belong there, but simply used it as a sign to not apply there. You can't win everywhere, but I promise that there are plenty of students from state schools and disadvantaged backgrounds getting degrees, so you won’t be on your own.

 

2. University is formal


There are only a few universities that still have formal dinners and traditional university events, and that’s just part of the experience if you go there, so that’s another thing to factor in when you’re hunting for the perfect campus. In reality, the majority of universities are casual and colourful, where you can wear what you want, be who you want and say pretty much what you like.


Universities are meant to be places to express ideas and debate with others, so freedom of expression is important. However, campuses are meant to be safe places for all groups to be enjoy, so be sure to check out what’s on offer and how you’ll be kept safe.


Graduation was the only time I ever wore a cap and gown. Exams were sat in casual clothes, as were seminars and a lot of extracurricular events. I only ever wore a uniform at work, and I still only wear work/casual clothing when I’m teaching. As a PhD student, I choose to dress a little more casually for my teaching to try and provide a safe environment for my students, but academics here don’t wear the cap and gown, instead choosing business attire. Overall, this makes for a much more comfortable atmosphere, which only helps you to settle in faster and make staff more approachable. Formal events do exist, but they’re entirely optional and only require a suit or nice dress, not the whole mortar board thing.


 

3. Everyone parties all the time

I did in the first few weeks at university, and went out semi-regularly all through my undergrad. I enjoyed the social aspect and the freedom away from home, but always made sure to put my studies first. If students partied constantly we’d all run out of money, so those you hear about that sesh every night are probably living on daddy’s trust fund, and they’re often not the best people to hang around with anyway.


Things calm down pretty quickly, and universities in general are becoming much more inclusive for people who can’t, or choose not to drink alcohol. Societies are hosting more sober events, and I think the pandemic has forced people to find activities away from the clubbing scene. If you don’t have the money for all the nights out in the first term, you’ll soon find a group of friends to fall in with that are just like you.


 

4. Students live like animals


This one often come from parents, especially those who recall their ‘wild’ younger days at university. While there’s always that one person in your flat that doesn’t know what a sink does, most people are pretty clean and tidy, especially when they’re getting to know you. Yes it’s funny when someone eats a flatmate’s raw onion after a night out (yes, I’ve witnessed that), but smashing up people’s things, stealing food or being unreasonably noisy doesn’t make you any friends, and those people will end up pretty unpopular very fast.


Most students will learn quickly that eating junk is expensive, and many (like me) learn to cook dishes that are nutritious and easy to freeze. Seeing students wandering around with bags of laundry is a common sight in halls, and although they may not be able to recycle correctly, students do empty their bins. For most, it’ll be their first time sharing facilities away from home, so they’ll be respectful as they want to make friends. I’ve never had any major issues that I couldn’t resolve, and you soon learn to compromise, or simply move other people’s stuff out of the sink!


Most students want to get a good degree, so will combine a healthy social life with lots of study and independent time. It may seem like everyone is out all the time, but I really valued a quiet evening in with friends or a casual night alone watching Netflix. I’ve never been lonely and learned to be comfortable with spending time by myself even though I’m extroverted. It’s all about personal growth, and the majority students live like the rest of the adult population.

 

There are lots of other myths about university life, so watch out for a part two in the future! Essentially, students aren’t that different from anyone else, and the horror stories you might have heard will be the most extreme cases. There’s lots of support if things go wrong, and universities are getting more accessible year-on-year. You’ll soon find your feet, as well as finding people that you’ll treasure when times get touch. Go out and get applying!


Happy studying!