Country of Origin: United Kingdom
How often in your life have you closed your ears to the cliché “time flies” and prefer instead to throw yourself into the “having fun” part? Never does that expression feel more true than when you find yourself standing on the precipice of the end of your time at university.
“How can you possibly be at this point already? What have you been doing? What happens next?” When you graduate, thousands of questions flood your mind, threatening to overwhelm you and drown any joy you might feel at having reached this point.
I recently completed my studies in Classics at the University of Cambridge in the UK, and as my final days there approached, I had my fair share of these doubts and anxieties. However, I was determined not to allow them to outshine the joy that should accompany graduation. After all, it was a huge achievement!
Nevertheless, it’s undeniably hard to say goodbye, especially when the future feels a little hazy. I kept smiling by reminding myself of the concrete positives of everything that was happening: I was receiving my degree, I was celebrating with my friends, and I had so many wonderful memories to look back on.
During my time at Cambridge, I wrote as an advice columnist for a student paper. Here is one sort of question often submitted to the column: “How do I cope with the mixed feelings and confusion that come with leaving university?”
I had the idea of writing this guide to navigating this situation not only because I wanted to reflect upon my own experience, but also because I wanted to provide a helpful and comforting resource for others going through the same thing. So, here are my four tips for navigating your return to the real world, from one graduate to another.
Take a trip down memory lane
I believe one of the best ways to anchor yourself in this sea of uncertainty is to journey into your past.
I’m nostalgic by nature. In my final months, weeks, and days of university, I was constantly reminiscing about the slightest things, reminding my friends of meaningful moments and revisiting the ridiculous number of special spots in the city which had dominated the last four years of my life. It felt as though we were constantly attempting to squeeze in another goodbye: one last brunch in Murray Edwards Dome, one last trip up Castle Mound, one last glimpse of the punts as we crossed Clare Bridge.
I became hyper-aware of just how beautiful my walk home from the town center was. I couldn’t help but smile at the blue and white crockery and generous greenery in shop windows as I meandered across my beloved Bridge Street.
So why not pause for a second and look back? Scroll through your camera roll, head out to that one particular place, and laugh at the silly things you’ve said and done. Your memories are proof of all that has passed. They show that while the years may have flown by, you have filled them with fun. They are the perfect place to turn to for comfort when you’re panicking about where all that time has gone.
This may seem like an odd point to make, having just suggested that you spend some time wallowing in your past. However, it’s really important to find a sense of balance.
For me, this meant leaving university-related Facebook groups and group chats that made it difficult for me to move on properly. This didn’t equate to cutting myself off from people, it just made it easier to turn the page to the future. Making the decision to remove myself from writers’ groups for student papers was a wrench, but it also drove me to send my words out into the wider world.
Your university community will always be there for you to come back to and the friends you made are a phone call or a visit away.
Remembering your journey is vital, no matter what the experience. But if you’re experiencing your last days at university, make sure you’re living them as they’re happening. Stay present and make the most of this time. You can immerse yourself fully in your memories in those first few days after you’ve left. After that, though, prepare to embrace the next chapter.
Make moving out fun
It can be quite hard to grasp the fact that you really are leaving. There’s nothing that can symbolize the truth of your departure better than the act of moving out.
You’re taking your fairylights down from your apartment or dorm, your books are back in the library, and you’re packing up your clothes. This really is goodbye. Making moving out into a big deal is a good thing in that it helps you to come to terms with the reality of your situation, but it is a shame that it has to make you feel blue.
Why not take steps to turn it into a joyous occasion? I didn’t end up moving all my things out of Cambridge until several weeks after term had ended. Leaving still didn’t seem real to me. My mum and I decided that we might as well make the most of it, seeing as we had to make the trip down from North Yorkshire.
Once everything was all sorted, we had a lovely evening watching the world go by from the Cambridge Wine Merchants, before wandering along King’s Parade with a Jack’s Gelato.
Moving out was undeniably sad, but marking it properly allowed me to acknowledge and validate my feelings; it felt like a true celebration of the last four years. So, schedule an afternoon, or even a whole day for packing up – anything that will help you avoid a panicked, angry, sweaty rush as you try to cram everything into the car while you get berated for your obscene amount of belongings.
Get organized and plan a treat for you and whoever is helping you. Seize this opportunity to spend some more time enjoying yourself in your university city. Bring your time living there to an end with a smile on your face.
Give yourself a break
A huge part of what can make leaving university so difficult is the expectation that you immediately know what you’re going to do next. This is often very far from the truth.
Remind yourself that getting through your finals and revision and handing in that dissertation is more than enough. The future can wait, and you’ll be glad that you focussed on those things when you did.
Give yourself some breathing space after leaving. You’ve just completed a degree; you’re probably in need of a rest!
I was fortunate enough to go on holiday almost as soon as I had completed my final year. It was exactly what I needed. I was able to embrace my brief freedom from work, to relax and enjoy the sights and experiences of the present moment. Taking that break allowed me to clear my mind, and I returned home ready for the next challenge.
When you feel up to facing the future then it is time to get that laptop open and begin searching for your next steps. Feeling refreshed, energized and confident will make that world of possibilities seem pleasantly exciting rather than pressurizing. The right thing for you will come along.
Good luck to everyone coping with the thought of leaving university, whatever stage of the process you’re in. Hold fast to your memories, be proud of all that you have achieved, and look forward to what your future might bring.
Thank you to Brooklyn Riepma for their inspired edit on this piece and everyone else on the Lifestyle & Relationships team.
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