The vast majority of undergraduates make the right choice when it comes to their university and their degree but what if the degree is perfect and the university wrong? Do you quit or stick out three years in a University you’re not really that fond of? There is a solution…
My first university was never meant to be. I entered through clearing, only through the collapse of one of my crucial A level grades, so I definitely accepted that I may not have the perfect accommodation, or even the perfect substitute degree (in fact I even decided to add a dual honours subject- American studies- as a kind of consolation for not achieving my firm or insurance). Regardless, things were still looking great. I was somewhere, a top 50, one of my best friends had already secured her place and most importantly, I was at university- I should really appreciate it all, right? Oh, and I tried. I really did: making friends with those that had en-suites and throwing myself into loads of extra-curricular just to avoid coming home to a singular bathroom/kitchen arrangement amongst 14 girls. And the academics? It was dreamy. I loved the lecture environment, my first marks were great and I aced all my exams. Then, so what?
But my doubt constantly haggled me. The problem with the universal “Fresher’s experience” today in a social media world is that there is an “expected” experience- one where you make best mates with your flat, continually remark your university is “the best” (cue particularly sentimental displays of affection including the word “forever” and lots of <3s) and an expectation to never complain. This experience is played out in a series of “tagged photos” on Facebook; Snapchats showing all your friends at home how much fun you really are having and remarks about how you’re “never coming home” (I too was very guilty, perhaps to hide my doubt). Then freshers ends and you realise the place you live is grotty and too much like your hometown; your friends all live too far away and you are already immeasurably bored. But don’t get me wrong- I had an immensely detailed support system and a personal tutor who was always empathetic towards my (academic) concerns in University life. So I continued because actually, I was quite good at this university thing and every university experience is unique, right?
But then there was my boyfriend at the time living the university life I desperately wanted- plastered over my Facebook timeline. Unsurprisingly, I felt pangs of jealousy towards his life. He had located to London when we both made our university move- this was 200 miles away. London, perhaps, you might remark, could be of more interest to an undergraduate. So much so that the visits to the capital from my modest landscape were a little daunting. In fact, I started to visit more and more, in order to replicate the life I really wanted. And I hated it. Hated, hated it. I wanted to run away from my responsibilities every 3 hour return journey. But it never occurred to me I was miserable because of my location. Other students loved the whole campus, but I continually found myself bored. In terms of my Human Geography degree, it was even less remarkable. I wanted a thriving, bustling landscape! I wanted to navigate the tubes and go for my weekly shop without having to take a bus ride and spend £4 getting there and back. Where was the culture- the museums, the sights and the cool coffee shops students relinquish in? Perhaps unfortunately for me, I loved my degree. Sure, I could leave, but what university would have me? I probably went through nine or ten before I even got an acceptance in clearing (I got ABD too- I clearly wasn’t an idiot). And god forbid I redo my A levels.
But social media gave me an answer. An acquaintance of mine was having the same issue- a conflicting feeling between liking the place you lived, but feeling that you couldn’t really complete a degree there. She was talking about how to transfer universities- a notion up until then I didn’t know was possible. I still remember to the day researching it in my new en-suite I’d bagged (some of sort of negotiation I made with myself to get me to like the uni more). My new living arrangement was great, and for once I was living with people I could actually spend time with, but I still felt terribly homesick for a place I had never even lived. Queen Mary, University of London in East London was first on my hitlist and one I’d applied to originally in the first application cycle on UCAS. It so happened that they accepted transfer students. Great. I could apply but realistically, I was still the 20 points short on my A level entry requirements. Even as a transfer student, universities maintain that for acceptance, results still need to be of a similar standard to normal entrance. Curiosity gave me a way of emailing anyway, just to enquire if it was possible.
Can I say the rest was history? Of course, but my situation was the “model” transfer. I had a lot of determination and I was exceptionally lucky that QM decided to offer me a place- they were under no obligation to, after all. After a lot of emailing to the admissions department, I then applied formally through UCAS, without any of my family’s financial or emotional support (“Second year would be better”, they said, “stop worrying”). It was all a bit of a whirlwind.
So, I did really well in my first year exams (all firsts), gained a place in private halls in Bethnal Green close to QMUL and exceeded my conditional offer. Today, I am a solid 2:1 student, starting research for my third year dissertation at Queen Mary at their school of Geography. I am absolutely loving it. The East end is the perfect location for a twenty year old, and I definitely wouldn’t have done some of the things I’ve done in the last year if I was still in somewhere that made me physically and emotionally unmotivated.
Needless to say, every University is different and I was only one of a few to transfer into Queen Mary. This will be the case with Russell Group Universities. Cambridge and Oxford do not accept transfer students- and it is very rare that other Russell Groups do too- think LSE and UCL. Individual reasoning can be found on their websites. You may also have to apply before the initial application cycle ends on UCAS in May time. This will also be clearly signposted.
So, when the going gets tough, you can within reason, get going. Relocate, start again, go straight into second year, anything you like. I only wish someone had given me this advice earlier in the year when I felt utterly hopeless. So here it is. Just go for it. If you’re not for one second entirely happy with your decision it will stick with you. You have the whole summer after your first year to decide too. A degree is a relatively long time so it is 100% worth the research and the train travel it may take you to decide. I am immensely looking forward to the rest of the time I have in my (still fairly new!) university.