Things are a little bittersweet at the moment – our son is applying to university for next October, so at the moment we’re taking a look round the ones on his shortlist to help him decide on his final five choices. Something that looks great on paper might turn out to be totally wrong in the flesh, as we found at Manchester; he loved the course, but felt that the city was too big and noisy for him, and he’d be happier in a smaller city with the same kind of feel as the one where we live, i.e. lots of green places. His sister, on the other hand, loved the hustle and bustle and would’ve felt isolated in one of the rural campuses he really liked.
Last time I did the trek round universities was 32 years ago – though, back then, I was the student rather than the parent. It’s really interesting seeing the difference between student life then and now. Yesterday, various (very friendly and chatty) students showed us round the accommodation and their views were very diverse. I was quite amused by one girl who insisted that you absolutely MUST have your own bathroom – she’d have been horrified by one of the places we saw last month, where a house of 24 people shared one kitchen (and no dining room that I could see) and three bathrooms… (Actually, I was horrified by that, too – I thought that, with many universities using their facilities for conferences, student accommodation would be better than it was in my day, not worse!) Another said that it was better to go for the cheapest accommodation, because that extra £10 a week could go on food and made a real difference. (That bit definitely hasn’t changed, then!) And another pointed out how much nicer it was, living in ‘mixed’ accommodation – in my day, everything was segregated unless you were in private accommodation.
Nowadays, students expect wifi, warm rooms, at the bare minimum a washbasin in your room, and a good space to work. Back in my day, you put up with freezing cold rooms and nobody had a computer, let alone wifi. You queued for the bathroom (and the phone box) and hoped there would be enough hot water (or the phone would actually be working, or you’d have to walk half a mile to find the next one). We had weird sockets in our rooms that meant if you put a kettle or toaster on it would blow the fuses for the whole house. Microwaves? Well, they had been invented, but they were enormous and way outside a student budget. And making toast meant balancing a piece of bread on a rack over the heating ring on a hob and hoping that you didn’t burn your fingers when you turned the bread over…
But the bit I really loved was the suggestion that as soon as you find out what your accommodation is, you go on Facebook and join the group and get to ‘meet’ and make friends with the people in your flat/corridor before you arrive. In my day, you didn’t have a clue – you arrived, got homesick, and just hoped that you’d get on with the people you were sharing with. And if you were shy, it was really hard to go and knock on someone’s door to introduce yourself – would they think you were pushy or a pain? Nowadays, you know you’re leaving home to live with new friends, and I think that’s really going to help the new students settle in.
I’ve really enjoyed the departmental talks and tours, where we get to meet the academics and see the lab and find out more about how the course is structured.
It’s exciting seeing my eldest on the cusp of the next stage of his life, and being able to support him to follow his dreams. But at the same time I know I’m going to miss him horribly when he leaves.
Have you been doing the university open day treks, too? What were the biggest differences you noticed between life when you were your teenager’s age and how things are now?
Kate’s latest release is a Cherish/Harlequin Romance – Falling for Mr December. (Next Medical is out in January! Be warned, this one is a Christmas weepie – and, having just dodged a cancer scare herself, Kate finds this one a tiny bit close to home at the moment.) Photographer Sammy Thompson has learnt the hard way to protect herself. But meeting barrister Nick Kennedy at a charity calendar shoot makes Sammy wonder what she’s been missing out on. Sammy never dared dream of forever – until now…