In the past three years, I have written over 100,000 words, (supposedly) attended hundreds of hours worth of lectures and seminars and completed a lengthy dissertation on shocking twentieth-century literature.
Is this what I will remember university for? Of course it isn’t! In fact, the academic side of university existed for me like the background music in a clothes store. You know it’s there, but you’re far too busy thinking about what dress to buy to give it your full attention.
This is not to say that I haven’t spent hours researching the construction of the ‘monster’ in horror films, or tirelessly reading Pierre Bourdieu’s essays on the ‘field of cultural production’. I have indeed slaved over footnotes by lamplight and found mistakes whilst proofreading an essay an hour before the deadline.
But my university experience wasn’t centred around my academic career. I needed to earn money and I wanted to travel, to meet people and to have fun. I could not afford to spend entire weeks in the library reading every book on the syllabus and striving for consistent first-class grades. And I am so glad I didn’t.
In the past three years I have visited Ghana, Malaysia, and a plethora of European cities. I have volunteered, undertaken a study programme in China, worked for the Students’ Union, the university itself and The Body Shop. I have written for local papers, started a blog, spent weeks working at NME magazine, a law firm, and an energy company.
All of this was possible because I attended Loughborough University and I made the most of it. Sure, a degree is worth a lot to employers and many specify that you need one before applying for a role, but it is what I did outside of it that will really count in the long run. Not just in terms of my future employment, but my personal development too. When I spent three weeks in China with other UK students, I learnt so much about the country’s traditions and habits that I could never learn from a textbook.
In an interview scenario, I have never been asked about my dissertation, or about the versification of a poem by W.B. Yeats, (although I was once asked how Hegel‘s master–slave dialectic could be applied to the relationship between a firm and its clients). But I have been asked how I dealt with problems in another country, how I found working with strangers when volunteering and dealing with difficult customers in The Body Shop.
As I placed my final essay into its plastic wallet, I didn’t see it as just another 4,000 word analysis on books that I would never read again. It signified the end of a three-year period in my life that has allowed me to achieve more than I ever imagined. When I’m commuting to London in June, Pret in one hand and Oyster card in the other, I will thank Loughborough for getting me to the point where I am standing under the armpit of a sweaty businessman on a muggy Central line train – and actually smiling about it.