I’ve barely studied for two years and don’t regret a thing
I am about to embark on my third year at St Andrews. I do so with a certain degree of trepidation, in the knowledge that every piece of writing I submit will be scrutinised, measured and ultimately added together to form those two all-important numbers which, I am forever reminded, will serve as the one true indication of the value of my four years in St Andrews
To me, though, this traditional emphasis on grades and academic achievement does a disservice to the holistic experience that is university life. Grades are, ultimately, an increasingly insignificant part of a larger whole. I spent my first two years here pri-oritising interpersonal relationships and experiences over academics. I joined societies, attended events and met people. Mostly, looking back, to the detriment of my studies. While many spent their first year slaving away on essays and forgoing nights out in order to make early-morning lectures, I was having the time of my life, forging a broad network of friends and acquaintances and exploring hobbies, sports and personal interests.
The twin forces of grade inflation and poor employment prospects mean that obtaining a solid 2:1 or even a first is no longer a guarantee of easy access to a comfortable graduate job. While the 2:2 on which I have sat for the last two years alone will never have employers falling over themselves to hire me, the connections I’ve made and experience I’ve gained through friends and societies has more than made up for it so far.
As the old saying goes, you are who you meet. To that end, St Andrews is one of the best universities around. Encounters around town have ultimately led to holidays around the world, internships and dozens of other experiences which I simply would never have stum-bled across had I not put myself out there.
When I do graduate, I hope to go into journalism. It’s a fiercely competitive field, and one in which practically every applicant is armed with a solid degree in some arts and humanities subject or another. Writing for various student papers in St Andrews, and being involved in current affairs socie-ties, has not only acted as an excel-lent means of meeting likeminded people and socialising with them, but has acted as a bona fide boost to my CV – vital in getting that all-important foot through the door. Putting academics on the back-burner has, if anything, made me more employable.
And if worst comes to worst, you’ll be in the esteemed company of David Dimbleby, Hugh Laurie, and David Mitchell among the hordes of highly accomplished, intelligent people who left university with mediocre degrees and found success through other, extracurricular avenues which they had nurtured during their time as undergraduates. These four years are a unique time in which we are thrown together with people who are similarly aged and occupied. It is simply a matter of poor time man-agement to spend the majority of that time cooped up alone in the library. We’re all of course here to learn, but a huge amount of learning in St Andrews is done outside of lecture halls and seminar room. So go out, skip the odd lecture (or ten), leave that essay until the evening before it’s due. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, turn up to morning tutorials hungover.
Maybe the bookworms will yet prove me wrong, and I’ll end up somewhere down the line a bitter 30-something burger flipper. All I can say is that I’ve had a blast experiencing it on my terms, and I guarantee you will too.
For goodness sake study – it’s simply a waste not to
St Andrews – any university for that matter – offers a unique opportunity to pursue an overwhelming array of interests and hobbies. It’s no surprise, then, that most freshers find it all too easy to succumb totally to the temptations of sports, societies, and partying. Of course it’s important to social-ise – it’s a crucial part of the student experience. But studying is, ultimately, what we’re really here to do. And boy are most of us paying for it.
Our tuition fees grant us privileged access to world-class facilities and academic staff for an all-too-brief period – and that’s why most of us are here in the first place. As a foreign student, coming to St Andrews and paying thousands in tuition and housing fees, but then not turning up to lectures, just strikes me as displaying a bizarre dis-regard for your investment. It is akin to booking a room at the Ritz, but choosing instead to sleep on a bench outside.
But prioritising studying is about a lot more than simply getting your money’s worth. It benefits both the mind and soul, opening doors to new ways of thinking and challenging our most deeply-rooted convictions. And that’s before you even start to consider the benefits of having a good degree in the current climate of graduate employment. A degree is a gateway to spiritual and intellectual fulfilment, a job you will enjoy and which pays well, and a route to finding out more about yourself and your beliefs. Nowhere else in life will you be given so much time to read and just learn. It’s something all students take for granted, in one way or another. But trust me when I say that you’ll miss it when it’s gone.
Spending an evening with a thought-provoking book, and discussing the ideas with friends is far more rewarding in the long-term than get-ting drunk and going to The Lizard. You’ll find the morning afterwards infinitely more enjoyable too.
Everyone has a different concep-tion of what university life should be, and in the end it depends on the individual. The right balance depends on who you are, where you come from, what you care about, and your view of success. I imagine it would be hard, though, to justify to your 40-year-old self (who’ll most likely still be paying off all that debt you’re in the process of accumulating) why you spent all that time, effort and money to come to one of the most prestigious universities in the UK, simply to miss all those lectures and barely scrape passes. You may as well get started on the hard work now. When our time here is up, all but the most privileged of us sim-ply won’t be able to just coast by. Old habits die hard, so you may as well develop healthy ones now.
It is up to us as students to recognise these fees as an investment in our future. It is an opportunity that is simply too costly to waste. The single greatest regret of most graduating students is not studying harder during their time at university – there’s a good reason for that. Unless you plan on barely sleeping for the next four years, you will have to decide which course you will ultimately pursue – the scholar or the socialite. What works best for you is something that the first couple of years of university are all about. But prioritising your studies is a guaranteed winner – it’s fulfilling, monetarily worthwhile, and will set you up better for life afterwards than even the most legendary club social. Studying hard might not be the most adventurous way to spend your time at university, but your future self will be grateful for decades to come.