If you're about to start university, it's true that in three or four years you will probably have a degree. It's also true that the degree – the bit of paper that an old man gives you at the end of your studies – is probably the least interesting thing you'll walk away with.
Over the next few years you will accrue a bunch of stuff – people, books, relationships, at least one pair of flashing devil horns – and it will all be part of a beautiful journey of discovery, featuring a flower (you), blossoming in the sun (learning which of the Wetherspoons cocktail pitchers make you vomit).
As in life, there's no way of knowing exactly what your path will look like, but if you really aren't into surprises, here's a handy list of everything you'll probably come out of university with.
You're probably going to get a 2:1. An "upper second class" degree. That’s how it goes, that’s how you’ll do. Statistically speaking, most people get 2:1s. Throughout the course of your three or four-year degree, you might harbour ambitions for a First – a glorious, glowing First Class certificate emblazoned with your name; tangible evidence of how very special you are – but the thing is, you'll fuck it up. You’ll go out on a Wednesday night and miss your lecture the next day, and you’ll put off your reading because people downstairs are playing a FIFA drinking game (?), and then you’ll have to get the PS4 fixed before the housemate who actually owns it gets back from visiting their parents because someone (you) spilled vodka on it, and inevitably you will just get so high on the freedom of early adulthood that, in most cases, your first class potential will go untapped because you can’t be arsed and Dinner Date is on. Anyway, a 2:1's quite good.
A DORMANT STI
Obviously you're not going to spend all your time illegally streaming Atlanta and cramming essays you had two weeks to do into a few hours before the deadline (that accounts for a mere 75 percent of your time): you're also probably going to have some sex. Most of it will suck, but that’s cool – you’ll learn stuff about yourself and the way you relate to other people. Self-discovery, very chill. But I will say: don’t get so caught up in the magical mystery ride of shagging in a single bed with a film poster – my guess: The Virgin Suicides or Kids – over its headboard that you forget the basics. Use a condom, get regular check-ups (otherwise anything you do catch will just… stay there), and if you do get an STI, don't be a dickhead: let the relevant people know.
ABOUT 17 COOKBOOKS TITLED THINGS LIKE 'THE HUNGRY STUDENT'S COOKBOOK'
While you are a student, I guarantee that for every Christmas and birthday you will receive at least three recipe books with the word "student" in the title. This is apparently because family members who don’t know you that well – aunts, uncles, people you call "aunt" or "uncle" but who are really just your mum’s mates – suddenly believe you to have left your own personality behind, and instead adopted the universal persona of Student, i.e. someone who desperately needs instructions on how to make an omelette. You will, inevitably, be inundated with tomes called QUICK AND EASY STUDENT MEALS and THE STUDENT COOK, as if student food were a type of cuisine, before politely flicking through each of them, nodding, and ignoring them forever in favour of eating tomato pasta twice a week for three years.
Just this second, while I was writing this, for you, I realised that I actually have no idea how much debt I am in following my undergraduate degree. I could not tell you how much money I owe to the UK government, simply because the figure is too high for it to have any real meaning to me. Put it this way: if a friend books me a £50 train journey on her credit card, I understand how much she has spent and what I owe her. In the context of my life, it’s an amount I get.
What I don't fully get is the approximate sum of, oh, about £40,000 currently being chipped away, with all the power of a wooden toothpick at an iceberg, by monthly contributions taken directly from my paycheque. I have no idea what £40,000 even is. A bit of a house? Some weddings? Who fucking knows! My advice, then, RE: student debt is that unless you are very lucky (and probably a Tory, sorry), it's inevitable, and you'll probably never pay it back. Once you're out of university you'll pay some mind to it now and then, like when you see the monthly payment on your wage-slip and mourn for the jacket you could have bought. But largely it’ll just exist in your mind as a faraway, unpleasant fact, a bit like the looming spectre of death. Comforting, in a way.
LOADS OF FANCY DRESS ITEMS
There's no way that you'll manage to get through uni without having to dress up as something, I'm afraid. You will always be roped in, and your outfit will never, ever be good, because the point of uni fancy dress is that it's shit. I know, I know: you're reading this now and you’re laughing to yourself, thinking, 'Obviously I will not dress up, I am an Adult Now, I am Cool, why would I dress up? Lauren O’Neill is a moron.' And then, bam: three weeks into term, you’re still feeling a bit weird socially and kind of just going with the crowd, and you’re at a "toga party". Think of me when you’re wearing a Primark sheet tied in a few precarious knots, won’t you?
FOUR FRIENDS, 20 PALS AND ONE PERSON YOU KNOW WHO IS REALLY FUCKING RICH
What’s wild is that you’ll likely meet hundreds of people while you’re at university – in seminars, classes, in halls, when you’re out – and the reality is that you will actively, passionately, like four or less of them. These people will become integral to the workings of your daily life: they will be your housemates, your confidantes – your best mates, essentially. If there’s any compelling reason to go to uni, it’s probably to find them.
You’ll also have your uni pals – couple dozen uni pals, give or take – who you follow on Instagram and tap the little heart on photos of them on holiday. You will chat to them in the street when you bump into one another; you’ll sometimes even go for a pint with them, and you’ll enjoy it. And it will be one of these people, one of these pals, who also happens to be the richest person you have ever met with your own body. The sort of person whose parents buy their uni accommodation outright for them, and do their shopping from Ocado like that’s normal, and spend their whole summers in different countries instead of just, like, on their mum’s sofa. If you’re going to meet a rich person, you’ll do it at uni. Remaining on good terms with them is highly recommended, because in a few years you might get to go to their very, very lavish wedding.
A WORKING UNDERSTANDING OF LITERARY THEORY, BUT NO PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE WHATSOEVER
The Death of the Author? Completed it, mate. "Knowing literally anything at all about how to pay council tax"? Lmaooooo.
A SENSE OF EXISTENTIAL DREAD
It’s two years and ten months from right now. The sun is shining and your face hurts from smiling, and you’re standing in front of a really old, grand building, waiting in a queue to go inside. The outfit you've hired is warm and a bit itchy, but you don’t really mind, because it’s a nice day and all the people you love are here – and actually, they’ve all come to celebrate you, and your 2:1. It’s your graduation, dummy.
And as you sit there in the ceremony with your friends – your real, proper friends – you have a big think. You think about the last few years and how much you’ve loved them. It’s weird, and a little bit sad, how quickly they’ve gone – maybe too quickly? God, yeah, time, weird one. Nice, though, how now you’ve just got all the time in the world ahead of you, to really figure out what you want to do. You could do anything now, with your degree, that you’ve earned. Not sure what, though. Probably do need to figure something out for after the end of the summer. Could do a… grad scheme? Could move to… London? What do graduated people do? What does anyone do? What do people do with their lives? Isn’t it all pointless anyway???
Welcome to uni!