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Third Year Reflections: No Regrets?

With one term left of the academic year, Ellie Smith asks Graduates and finalists to reveal their biggest disappointments with university life

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For third year students, we are four months away from graduation. With upcoming deadlines and the increasing pressure of job hunting, the reminder is probably not necessary. Regardless, the end of the spring term provides the perfect opportunity to reflect on the previous two and a half years and, if necessary, change our approach for the final semester of our undergraduate degrees. For first and second year students, we are four months away from the end of another academic year. While perhaps less significant, it is still prime time to reflect and consider whether you have been making the most of your time at York. It is time to consider the regrets of those who have gone before you: finalists and graduates.

Instructing students to ‘make the most of your time at university’ is a cliché and, admittedly, many of the regrets I received in response to my questioning seem akin to an advertisement in a university prospectus – ‘you should do this!’ and ‘you could do this as you study at our amazing University!’ – but most of the graduates’ and finalists’ regrets were surprisingly recurrent and predictable. Few of the responses diverged from a typical pattern: lack of engagement with societies; not considering a career early enough; a poor work/ life balance; not accessing university support systems; and finally, not having suitably recorded their time at university.

Although I only asked students from the University of York, none of the answers were particularly unique to our university. Rather, they can be summarised under two categories. First, the ‘university experience’ is an in-demand ideal. It’s an expectation most people want to live up to and are disappointed if their experience doesn’t correspond to this. Second, graduate jobs require experience alongside a degree and studying needs to be matched with some form of extracurricular that aids employability.

These regrets are not major issues regarding a wrong course or a wrong choice of university. They are the more common regrets of those who had a generally good time at university but could have perhaps made use of their time as a student a little more usefully to prepare for graduate life.

Consequently, many of the regrets represent what the interviewee would have done in an ideal scenario. Great efforts go into living away from home and studying for three years . Nobody is constantly proactive or behaves in an ideal manner. The cliché instruction ‘make the most of your opportunities!’ sounds easier in theory than in reality. Nevertheless, here are graduates and finalists’ greatest regrets and an attempt at solving them for either our last semester or our remaining years in York.

The most popular regret from those I queried was lack of involvement with societies. Opportunities to take up a new sport or hobby are fewer outside of the student bubble, whether because the industrial town you’ve moved to (surprisingly) doesn’t have an Octopush movement or Taylor Swift appreciation group in the community hall, or because working eight hours a day with an hour commute each way is more exhausting than a twenty minute walk to the library. It’s also more expensive to take up a new activity outside of university than pay £5 – £10 for a society membership.

While taking up a new hobby at university is easier than after graduation, lack of engagement with societies is often not caused by laziness. Term time study can be intense and mustering the energy to exercise after volunteering or meeting your committee is hard, or a long stint in the library, requiring time-management. You need to be passionate. Albeit, with hundreds of activities across campus, there must be at least one that incites some passion in you.

For first years and second years, sampling a wide range of societies seems the most sensible solution. Always attend Freshers Fair and Refreshers Fair. Try a ‘Give it a Go’ session. On social media, like any society that you are interested in and when elections and by-elections are promoted, attend them.

For those leaving university in June, it’s still not too late to volunteer. Volunteer opportunities for summer term are currently populating the Careers Gateway, many for only a handful of hours a week. It is manageable in an exam-intense term. Engaging with other organisations requires time management, but then there’s a skill to be discussed in job interviews.

Obviously, involving yourself on the committees of societies is also the perfect material for a CV. The second most common regret by the soon to be ex-students and current graduates I queried was making the most of career advancement opportunities, or even thinking about a career early enough into their degree. With most students sliding immediately from sixth form into university, we often haven’t considered long term plans or we have changed our mind with the added three years’ experience that university provides. This leaves many at graduation with the question ‘what next?’ rather than with purposed goals. Ideally, first years should be starting to consider what they want to do after their degrees. I personally think it’s a rarely experienced ideal, but it still seems to be an ideal nonetheless.

Some third years regretted studying too little. Others regretted studying too much. Despite three years here, this shows that a well-established work-life balance seems to be an elusive phenomenon amongst final year students. Those I interviewed either were required to adopt an industrial work ethic in third year to compensate for second year, or regretted not committing to social plans.

There isn’t a simple solution to this. Work hard, but not too hard. It’s a difficult balance and the retrospection of graduates and finalists possibly isn’t the most useful measurement because having a perfect work-life balance is an ideal that is not readily achieved.

Another frequent comment was finalists’ wishing that they had kept a journal. They wished that they could remember more of their time at York. Writing a diary is an impressive achievement, but for many people, it is too difficult to maintain. Personally, regularly taking photos is more achievable. Document as much as you can and photograph everything. If you can, do your best to get into a habit of writing down your day to day because you will want to look back on it. To quote a friend, if you want remember events that have already passed, there’s always “snapchat memories innit.” It’s a suitably succinct summary.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, several responses included regret over not taking advantage of the Open Door team. Although health services at the University have received criticism in the past for lengthy waiting times, the University has a comprehensive support system created to help students. It is always better to seek help – whether by asking seminar tutors with essay help or seeking signposting from STYMs or college tutors. Many problems can be made into a lighter burden by accessing support systems.

There were other sets of niche concerns. One person wished they had attended more house parties than gone clubbing. I imagine that this is more of a personal preference that developed over time and the only solution is to encourage your friends to have more house parties in your remaining time at university. This does reflect that attending university is a personal experience: the reasons you attend and what you choose to take part in depends entirely on your personality and interests. There is no point participating in activities for the sake of a sentence on a job application and no point forcing yourself to attend an event for the sake of a ‘university experience’.

Everyone I spoke to seems to have had a genuinely good time at university. These regrets are not grandiose problems plaguing the lives of graduates, but pertinent and somewhat repetitive reflections on how time as a student could be spent a little bit more usefully. The repetition in the answers I received to ‘what are your regrets post-university?’ has c r e a t e d two solutions: first, go outside and be passionate about something as much as you’re able to; and second, consider your career goals as soon as it’s feasible.

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