A guide on how to find your place at university when you're no longer a ‘fresher’ but not yet a ‘mature’ student - from one first-year to another.
I have always described myself as someone who fits somewhere in the middle. For example; I consider myself introverted but I can assimilate to social situations and, dare I say it, have fun. I cared deeply about my grades and did in fact receive great results, but throughout my A-levels, I was put onto a poor attendance tracker. Therefore naturally, I worried greatly about where I would fit amongst fresh-out-of-school eighteen-year-olds and post-twenty ‘mature’ students with rich life experiences. I therefore assumed that I would fit into neither.
I’m assuming that some of you reading this are in a similar situation to me, and I am sorry to ruin the ending of this paragraph with a massive cliche but… Age is just a number.
The first thing I did once I realised that I was (of course) not the only one that was ‘somewhere in the middle’ amongst tens of thousands of students, was reflect on my own life outside of university; I am the youngest of four children, I have and have had friends both older and younger than me, and prior to university I had been in full-time employment, where I was by far the youngest one there. It is nigh impossible to only spend time with people of the same age. Yet I convinced myself that being a mid-twenties first-year student would make me an unattractive friend. An outcast. The mind really can play tricks on you if you don't stop and check yourself.
It's also important for me to mention that the dynamic at university is significantly different to school. In schools, students are clearly defined by their year group; teachers were adults and students were children. However the line is far more blurred at university. I had a few tutors during my first year that were not much older than myself, and several that were tens of years older. Long story short, no one cares how old you are. It is quite easy to categorise age as a determining factor for what life lessons, knowledge and stories a person can offer, but it is also extremely limited and downright old fashioned. There are young individuals that are making massive waves in activism (think Greta Thunburg) and have wisdom that I’m sure older people can only dream of one day attaining. Therefore, if Greta can smash through glass ceilings and make a place for herself amongst older, powerful and mostly male (but that's a whole different discussion) decision-makers without a sliver of self doubt, then I can attend university and create meaningful relationships without worrying about age… and so will you.
One of my best friends at university is over ten years older than me. She had previously been to university at eighteen, she had an eleven-year-old daughter and of course has a fair amount more life experience than me. However, has this ever negatively impacted our friendship? of course not. Sure we have some age-related differences, but that only adds to the depth of our relationship. We still enjoy many of the same things, have similar senses of humour and can relate to many of life's annoyances and struggles.
Starting university undoubtedly takes away the comfort zone of familiarity you’re used to, but it forces people from all parts of the globe, of different ages, cultures, and opinions (to name a few ‘differences’) to communicate, form relationships and learn. I have enjoyed this the most about my first year. Both academically and personally, I have learnt so much from other people. Regardless of age.
Age is such a tiny factor of what makes up a person and therefore please do not worry. Please don’t see it as a barrier. Age is just a number and you have so much to offer. Be yourself, and be open to the friends you will unquestionably make during your time at university.
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