People often say that the years you spend at university are the best ones of your life. Of course, this isn’t necessarily the case. You could continue on in the same care-free manner, finding a stimulating, well-paid job that still affords you freedom and spare time, but the real world is a cruel mistress. If this was the reality for most people, when you crammed yourself onto public transport during rush hour, you’d see smiling, care-free faces all around you. But you don’t. You see the cold dead stare of someone plodding on through the monotony of existence; what you’d imagine Sisyphus’ face to look like on the three millionth time he forced that boulder up the hill. The reasons your life gets worse after university might not be all-encompassing and deep, but sometimes the little things take the biggest toll. These are uncomfortable little facts like...
\#1 – Your student loan turns from free money into insurmountable debt
The day your student loan instalment comes in is like Christmas and your birthday rolled into one, but without the vague pressure to get something tangible with your money. Dimly aware of the real-world financial implications nipping at your heels, you immediately rush out and buy a bottle of your favourite alcohol, more takeaway than you could physically consume and book an unnecessary jaunt to Europe. It feels so much like money some idiots just give you for hanging out in lecture theatres that it doesn’t matter. Then when you leave and break through the income threshold, all of those wasted pounds come crashing down on you, fractions disappearing from your income for the foreseeable future.
\#2 – People expect you to wake up in the morning
Morning lectures are mythical beasts, thought to roam the halls of universities chasing down unsuspecting students foolish enough to expose themselves to the pre-noon Sun. Very few of us ever see one. Bed is a student’s best friend, and you become proficient at waking up horrendously late in the afternoon. They let you establish this glorious pattern only to rip it away from you when you have to become a real person. This is why there are only dead faces on public transport at eight in the morning. We all go through the pain together.
\#3 – You have to decide what to do with your life
University is the last step on the pre-planned “dream life” where you actually believe that such a plan exists. You go through school knowing that with good enough exam results, you’ll get into college and if you do well there you’ll go to university. It all works until the next part, where everybody assumes their chosen path will lead automatically into a job. You receive your degree, and then the crushing “what now?” moment sets in. Actually answering that question can take years upon years, unless you happen to have chosen a degree which leads directly into a continually-stimulating job into exactly the field you’re interested in.
\#4 – Your job will almost always be less interesting than your course
Even if you’ve studied something you’re passionate about and still want to be involved with after learning about it in intricate detail for three years, the reality of your job is still unlikely to be what you want. You have mastered the core skills, and now your job – unless you’re one of the very lucky few – will be implementing those same skills on a day to day basis, ad nauseam. At university, you can appreciate the intellectual aspects free from pressure to do anything practical. Work flips this completely on its head; it’s all practical, little appreciation of the bigger – and more interesting – picture.
\#5 – You see your friends less and less
We all think that our group of friends will always see each other as much as we did when we were 18. We know our parents don’t see people as often, but tell ourselves we won’t be like that. At university, it’s completely and utterly true. You live with friends, go out drinking because you’re all bored and spend entire days playing video games. But when you leave, people do things like get jobs, get married and have children. Those once blissfully-wasted evenings are now filled with responsibility and mind-numbing television. Everybody soaks into their own bubble and your social life gradually becomes more and more like your parents’.
\#6 – Daily takeaways cease to be an acceptable approach to nutrition
When you have a seemingly endless supply of “free” money, only the chumps (translation: the smart ones) cook. If there is one defining thing about the food you eat at university, it’s likely to be that it’s delivered to you still-warm in disposable containers. This diet isn’t sustainable, though, and when your metabolism slows and your waistband expands, you realise something. You have to start actually cooking food. With vegetables in it.
\#7 – It’s considerably harder to find time to watch a box set
Duvet days are one of the hallmarks of university life. On a day with no lectures (or when they try in vain to fool you into going there in the morning), you’re completely free to soak up an entire series of your favourite box set without a care in the world. The far-off assignment deadline doesn’t matter. When you leave university, however, your life will likely be scheduled around your 40 hours per week of work, with you endlessly running errands and occasionally spending time with the people who are most important to you. Sitting around and embarking on an impromptu Breaking Bad marathon is rarely an option.
\#8 – Nobody wants to go out drinking on a Wednesday
A lax and largely empty schedule lends itself well to drinking excessively pretty much any day of the week. Going to a nightclub on a weekday is commonplace during your student years, you’ll go out with big groups of friends who are either free or are willing to spend an hour pretending to listen to a lecturer over a throbbing headache in the morning. People generally get less willing to do that as you get older. Try to organise something mid-week at age 25 and you’re more likely to end up going for a meal at a reasonably nice restaurant.
\#9 – People expect you to wear proper clothes
Going to a lecture in your pyjamas is a little unusual, but at university it isn’t unheard of. It doesn’t matter too much if your jeans are shredding to pieces at the knees or you’re attending a calculus lecture in a gorilla costume. You can dress however you like, because it makes no difference. That all comes crashing down when you have a job. It’s hard to say whether the formal office attire or the demeaning corporate uniform is the lesser of the two evils, but try and go to work in your pyjamas and you’ll probably be sent home immediately and instructed to change into suitable attire. Suitable attire is boring.
\#10 – Traffic cones are no longer acceptable interior decoration
Stealing traffic cones and signs is bafflingly common at university, and they’re often displayed around student houses like badges of honour. It might not be aesthetically-pleasing, but it’s a memory of a fun time had and may raise a smile or two from your guests. When you leave university and start living like a normal person, people judge you. Decorating your house with stolen signs and cones at age 30 would be more likely to make someone who visited your house report you to a reality TV programme about hoarders than let out so much as snigger.
\#11 – People stop giving you discounts for everything
Being a student earns you so many discounts you’re virtually offended if you go somewhere that doesn’t offer you special treatment. When your student card expires, the discounts come to a crashing halt. Nobody pities your poverty; they just say that you should get a job, go there (dressed appropriately) and make more money. The next time you’ll get special treatment is when you’re a dribbling, weak-hipped pensioner.
\#12 – Pranks are rare in real life
Practical jokes are another one of the mainstays of student life. Any friend foolish enough to fall asleep in a public place will undoubtedly wake up glued to the sofa with a crudely-drawn penis scrawled across their forehead. If someone leaves for the weekend, they’ll return to find everything in their room neatly encased in cling film. Outside of the confines of student accommodation, pranks slowly become less and less common, and people find them less and less funny if they’re on the receiving end. You find yourself almost wanting to be the victim of a practical joke; anything to remind you that life can still be fun, but it doesn’t happen.
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\#13 – Hangovers start to really hurt
The student body knows that as soon as it steps foot in a pub, all power must be diverted to the liver. It’s about to receive enough alcohol to kill a small child, and it knows it needs to shine. For the most part, it does the job well. You wake up the following day feeling a little rough, but still seeing no issue with getting your hangover breakfast from the local pub. As each year ticks by, those morning aches become more and more prominent and the nausea starts to take over. Just a few years after you leave university, the prospect of having to go anywhere or do anything becomes almost unbearably tortuous. You learn what a hangover truly is.
\#14 – People expect you to be an actual grown up
The heart of the issue is that the moment you leave university you’re supposed to have crossed an imaginary barrier. Your “foolish” youth is behind you and now it’s time to get a mortgage and discuss the economy over a skinny latte with people you met at the gym. The big secret is that inside none of us feel like that. We don’t magically become “mature,” we just pretend we do. And that’s the most painful thing of all. We have to go through the banality of day to day existence, all the while making out as if it’s because we’ve actually become responsible adults.