The Things No One Tells You About University/College in Europe

So the past couple of months have been quite hectic. I’ve had to deal with almost everything from travel, to carry-overs, to break-ups, to breakdowns… but you’re not here to read about my problems. This year if you’re headed to university (or what my American readers call College and what I’ll refer to as University for the sake of simplicity), or if you’re still stuck in the degree machine or you’re finally adulting as a recent graduate then you’re likely to relate to this post.

college-horror-movies-leadThe first thing you find about heading off to university is that it’s not what you see in the movies. If you saw Stomp the Yard, Accepted or The Roommate and you thought it was going to be anything nearly as exciting I’m sorry to burst that bubble. You won’t have the time to party every weekend and that might not be because you’re studying, it’s more likely to be because you’re, um, well, sleeping. Believe it or not but best believe it.

Group of six students outside sitting on steps

Here’s the thing; the first week of university is always exciting. Everything is so big, you’re so sure that you want to study Accounting, there are so many people, but you’re a bit of a wonder wall if you’re still as excited during the second week. You’ve started writing Math notes in Computer science notebooks, you can’t believe your professor isn’t tired of talking after a straight three hours and you’re beginning to wonder if you chose the right course. Unless you’re in an English speaking European country like Ireland, chances are you’re likelier to choose something close to what you like but not quite there. In Italy, for example, you don’t have a myriad of English courses to choose from and it’s worse in many other E.U countries. Just keep in mind that after those first two weeks of excitement it would take effort for you to get up at seven every morning.

Even if you like your course it’ll be really difficult. It won’t matter if you study Fashion Design or Refuse Control, everything at higher level is difficult. Many people who come from cultural backgrounds will tell you that they were pushed to study Medicine or something that was deemed ‘prestigious’ to their societies. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that because a course sounds simple it can’t possibly be worth it.

images (2)At higher level in Europe, studying isn’t the key to success. Oops, I said it. Just so we’re clear, there’s no particular ‘key’ to success. It’s a mix of different ingredients. Studying is merely one of them. Remember high school where you had to work hard for your grades? If you wanted anything you had to study for it. Now you need to work smart. You need to already know those things. The university won’t teach them to you, it would only sharpen the knowledge you already have. And that better be plenty. You’ll need luck, you’ll need faith, you’ll need every part of your brain to function and then you’ll need all the studying you can squeze in there.

Sometime between your first and second year, you might fall victim to depression. Depression is characterised by sad and anxious thoughts that leave you feeling down for short periods of time but if the necessary care is not taken, untreated depression can last for a very long time, affecting your daily activities. Why do you think your university offers those free sessions with a psychologist?

hqdefaultYou’ll lose weight if you’re doing it right. Between having to attend classes and catch up on rest, you’ll find that food won’t be a priority on your list any more. You’ll eat almost anything that falls off the tree. I’ve been there, believe me I know. Your picky days are over. Say hello to the Coffee and Red Bull nights for when you decide to scramble and cram. In university it seems as though the more you study the less you know.

One thing your parents don’t tell you, because they don’t know, is that your degree does not guarantee you a job. This is why if you’re book smart that might work out well for you at uni, but in the real world there are many other skills that will be required of you. You can’t depend solely on your certificate. That’s like thinking a marriage license is enough to make your marriage work. Another thing you might find out too late is that your degree might not be recognized in other parts of the world and even if it is officially marketable, a foreign degree might make some potential employers sceptical. Before deciding to study in the E.U do some thorough research… unless you intend to live in Europe for the rest of your life. Even if you do, there’s nothing wrong with broadening the scope.

jess2_1_0Finally, what might really discourage you from packing up and saying Sayonara is the fact that sadly in many universities, you’re not actually being taught to become what you wish to be. What this means is, say you want to be an architect; no one is necessarily going to show you how to step out of your office and begin to sketch ideas for a cathedral. There’s a lot more to it than that. In European universities, there’s very little room for fantasy, imagination, self-expression and all that doe eyed novela. There’s more theory than practice, especially in academic systems like the Italian system that hasn’t seen a radical evolution since the 40s. You’ve been warned.

3 thoughts on “The Things No One Tells You About University/College in Europe

  1. Michael

    “In European universities, there’s very little for fantasy, imagination, self-expression and all that doe eyed novela.” Really? In all of them? I beg the difference. Perhaps in your university it is the case, but I would be very cautious with such broad generalizations. I hope university will teach you that, too.


  2. Anonymous

    You’re quite right. Of course not all of them. I was operating under the assumption that most readers would understand that I wasn’t referring to every single one of them as I can’t possibly know how each one is on its own. However I have taught in universities across Europe and have observed similar patterns. I may be writing this post for young audiences that are headed to college but it doesn’t mean I am headed to university too. I will be careful of generalizations in the future though. Thanks!


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