What No One Tells You About University

Going to university is a big accomplishment, especially for Coloured people who come from families where mom or dad either didn’t finish school or no one could afford to go to university.

At school, you are told that the “workload” is more and that no one is going to remind you to get stuff done. Outside of school, you are told that university is going to be the best time of your life and that you’ll make life long friendships. All of this is true, but there is far more to it than meets the eye.

Here are the Top 7 things I wish I knew

  1. You’ll lose a lot of friends you intended to keep.

It’s all part of adulting. Those friends you saw at school 5 days a week and possibly sometimes on weekends, will see you less and less. You’ll make new friends and you’ll want to pursue those friendships and unless your old high school friends are at the same university as you, or are keen to meet your new friends, chances are you will eventually drift apart.

2. The “best years of your life” will also be the ‘brokest’ years of your life.

Whether you’re on a bursary, have a part-time job or get an allowance from your parents, counting your donkies is inevitable. If you’re living on campus or have friends who live on campus, there is always something to do and that ‘something’ always requires money. No one wants to be that boring friend who never wants to go anywhere or always complains that they have no money. So you’ll pinch some of your traveling money, or leave a few things off your grocery list, just so you’re able to afford to go out for that coffee or join your friends on their day trip- when you eventually have free time to do anything besides assignments, which brings me to my third point…

3. Having a social life gets hard.

You constantly have something to do. There is always an assignment due, a test to prepare for or an exam coming up. Time management is so important. And your teachers at school most probably prepared you for this, but nothing can ever prepare you for just how much pressure university work brings into your life. When you do have a few hours to spare, you’ll find yourself worrying that there might be some important university work you’re forgetting. Your workload will cause you to miss birthdays, day trips, parties… All the fun stuff you had time to do when you weren’t a student.

4. Assignments will take forever to complete.

I used to be one of those ‘do the assignment the night before’ people because I enjoyed working under pressure. My first year of university really humbled me. Djy dink nog ie wêk is maklik and then all of a sudden there’s APA, Chicago, Harvard and all the other referencing methods that take such a long time to do. I went to university for three years and I still need my referencing guide. And plagiarism is a big deal at university, you could get expelled or even have a criminal record if you fail to reference your sources correctly. This puts you in panic mode and you will most probably spend more time on referencing than you need to, just to make extra sure you did it correctly. 

En kykie, daa issie nog van “my dog ate my homework” en “I forgot it at home, can I bring it tomorrow?” ie. Deadlines are deadlines. And deadlines don’t just come with dates, they come with times too. So if the deadline is 31 December at 23:59, online, best believe that if you submit that thing after you wished everyone at the party a happy new year, or just after your New Year’s vrystuk, they will deduct marks. Or in some cases, they do not accept your assignment after the deadline- even if it’s one minute late. Time management is everything, so make sure you plan ahead.

5. Forget everything you thought you knew about writing an essay

There is a whole different way of writing essays at university. I enjoyed writing essays in high school because they were more creative and allowed me to express myself through my writing. When you send in your drafts, your uni lecturers or tutors will say “use your academic voice”. Watse academic voice? I don’t even understand half of what I’m writing. Because everything needs to be said in a “proper” way, and let me tell you .. Academic writing does not cater for Kaaps. If you’re not writing in English or Afrikaans (depending on which university you attend), they will deduct marks. So most of your time spent on that annoying essay will go towards trying to make the sentence sound “right”.

And if you thought that 1000 word essay in matric was a lot, imagine doubling that, plus an extra 500 just for emphasis. Dai is nog ie maklikste essay wat djy gan kry. Your introduction isn’t just going to be a few lines. Djy moet nou sê wa oo jou essay gaa, hoe djy by die anwoord gekommit en watte punt djy try om te maak, nog voo dat djy even die ding rêrag beginne skrywerit. The introduction alone, can potentially up to 300 words, if not more. So be prepared to write your moer off.

6. Drinking culture is a real thing.

While many of my friends started drinking alcohol in high school, I never did. I’ve always been good at avoiding peer pressure, however, university is a whole new ball game. Especially when you live on campus. Because students are so busy all the time, they usually spend the little free time they do have, drinking. Whether it’s at a party, at a wine farm, in the club or just at home. Alcohol almost always plays a big role. And I fell into that trap too, but only in my second year. At the university I attended, playing beer pong was probably one of the most common occurrences at any social gathering and it’s always a fun way to make new friends. That’s where it started for me, it wasn’t about the alcohol, I just thought beer pong was fun. However, drinking the beer made me want to drink other things too. And now I’m a social drinker.

7.  Mental health issues increase.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group, “suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst university students after accidents” and “studies suggest that as many as 20% of college students have suicidal thoughts at some point in their college career”. As a former university student, this is not shocking to me. I’ve never had an issue with my mental health in the past, but the constant late nights, stress, worry about whether or not you’ll get the assignment done on time, test anxiety, lack of a social life and just worrying that you’re studying something that you’re going to hate once you’re done with your studies, really does take its toll on you. I didn’t finish my degree. I was in my final year and completely messed up my second semester. The closer it came to graduation time, the more I panicked, to a point where I got extremely depressed. I couldn’t focus, missed deadlines and even missed an exam. It’s kinda silly thinking about it now… I failed because I was worried that I was going to fail. I’m sure any student who has ever failed, even if its just one subject, can relate to that. No one prepares you for the anxiety and the constant fear that you’re going to mess up, no one tells you what it feels like to fail your first subject in your life, no one tells you how it feels when everyone is having a good time but you can’t join them because you have too much work to do. No one warns you to take care of your mental health, above anything else.

Being a student is hard, while it may be the best time of your life, it can also be the worst. I take my hat off to anyone who had so much more than university life to deal with and still managed to get that degree. While you’re trying to find a balance, don’t forget to take care of yourself, manage your time, and treat yourself every once in a while. You work hard enough, give yourself a break. You deserve it!