When two years ago, I submitted my UCAS application, I felt as if I'd just taken an enormous step towards the sort of life I want for myself. It didn't matter that my family had no clout, no money and no university tradition, I was officially making something of my life. Grades pending, interviews looming, what the heck, I was in the system, headed up.
Unfortunately, in the meantime, I've discovered a lot of pretty demoralising truths that they don't list as side effects of attempting to graduate
1) You are now, officially, bottom of the heap. It makes no difference if you are responsible, intelligent or morally upright, the rest of the world will treat you like a common vandal. Some of the perks will include filthy looks from the elderly, the assumption that you are constantly drunk, promiscuous AND lazy and companies attempting to rip you off because you are a "high risk" human. I could go on but I'd only get shouty and you really don't need to read that.
2) You don't actually have any rights. From the get go the university, your landlord and the government have you the your proverbial balls. They will tell you they care, run for the students, by the students is the favourite tagline (obviously not from the government). But it remains that if any one of those organizations changes its rules, guidelines or even the law, you just have to deal with it. I mean the fact that when you started in 2009 you'd leave with a just about repayable 20k of debt, which for an English graduate is pretty daunting, by 2012, the university could be allowed to charge you whatever it wants. And you can either drop out, and just casually pay back the three years you've already undertaken outside of the governments repayment scheme, or you can take the hike, and leave uni with 20,000 (+undisclosed amount £££) of debt you have no certainty of ever being able to pay off.
3) No one actually cares what grades you get. Sorry, but the completely sterile set up of the lecture hall, is not tempered by the vaguely more human structure of seminars and tutorials. Lecturers may be smart, interesting and driven, but interested they are not. Perhaps once in a while some exceptional young thing comes along to be lauded, branded as a genius and noticed by all. But for the rest of us, sitting week after week in the same room, we will be lucky if the lecturer ever learns our name, let alone what we aspire to and where our strength lies. The homogenisation process is instantaneous and almost inescapable.
Having said all of this, my time as a student has been incredibly blessed, but by the people I have met, not, as I had naively believed by my entrance in to an institution of higher education and intellectual betterment. In eighteen months I will be entering the world of uncertainty, unemployment, tax and ladder climbing, with a 20 grand well in my pocket, a piece of paper saying that I'm mildly intelligent to fight hordes of similarly poverty ridden, former social outcasts for access to one of the tiny pool of graduate careers. If all this should fail, the light I carry with me, is that at least I'll have plenty of friendly floors to sleep on when I finally get out of debtors jail.