What I wish I knew before I went to university


I remember the day I received my matric results. Like most matriculants who have completed Grade 12, I was happy and had stars in my eyes - excited to leave home and finally experience what it means to be away from my parents. 

Ready to go to university, I believed that it was the final step that I needed to take to fulfil my desires. 

Being the “realistic” person I thought I was, I told myself that although university was going to be academically challenging (meaning that I would need to work extra hard) everything else was going to be fairly easy.  

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That, I learnt early on, was not the only challenge that I would face as a university student and that I would see that “varsity is an introduction to the real world” as my sister once said. 

How so?

1. University is expensive

I wasn’t aware that when I applied to study at a University, I would need to consider not only the cost of the institution but also the amount of money required to stay at a flat or residence and the money required to buy textbooks and groceries.

I had underestimated the costs and overestimated my parent’s ability to cover them.

“What now,” I thought?

I’d taken for granted that it would be easy for them, when in reality it was quite difficult and required a lot of sacrifice on their part.

I discovered that completing a qualification in the minimum recommended time was indeed “record time” and that this wasn’t easy for everyone to do.

2. Graduating wouldn’t mean my life was set

I was not satisfied with the quiet, unexciting township life that I grew up with.

I told myself that I wanted more and thought that it was going to be fairly easy.

All I needed to do was go to university, obtain my qualification and then get a job in the city.

After being in the city for four years, I have come to realise that city life isn’t as fancy as it is always portrayed.

No one prepares graduates about the uncertainty of navigating life after university.

It is a lot harder and less spacious or comfortable than one thinks.

Without any judgement and with humility in my heart, I see families staying in small flats and people working jobs that they do not want or like in order to make a living.

Despite the simplicity of having a good job and owning a house, these things although common are far from easy to attain.

3. Campus is actually just a microcosm of real life

You shouldn’t trust everything you see.

I discovered that I shouldn’t believe that a well-dressed person is wealthy or that someone who stays in an expensive flat can pay for it with ease.

I realised that not all seemingly happy couples are actually happy or are in a proper relationship.

Seeing that everything is not as it seems and that people can keep up appearances is one of the things I am grateful I learned while on campus so I could better understand and be prepared for our broader society.

4. Employment isn’t guaranteed

I knew why I was at university.

I was there to obtain a qualification and make a better life for myself.

But every now and then when I would hear that a 19-year-old was making money without a tertiary education and in some cases without even a matric.

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It would make me question whether obtaining an education and struggling both academically and financially is the only path to success.

I would also hear about people with degrees being unemployed and had to remind myself that the path I had plotted for my success wouldn’t happen without an education.

I couldn’t wait to complete my honours and then start the hunt for a job but even so, after I obtained my final results, I found myself in a state of panic. “What now” I thought?

I had completed my degree and sent my CV to a few places but I did not know the way forward. I had no idea what the future had in store for me and it was slightly traumatising. 

READ MORE: How to not lose your mind while job hunting

No one prepares graduates about the uncertainty of navigating life after university.

I will agree that university is one of the best times in a person’s life however, discovering harsh truths in university was not what I was prepared for.

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