University. A word which you have most probably uttered one too many times over the summer. Whether it be in anticipation of returning to UEA or in excitement about starting afresh and beginning the three or so years of your university career; in both the enjoyment and fear due to not knowing what to expect. Whichever of those categories you belong to, the start of the semester is here and there is no doubt that we are naïve about what the coming academic year will hold for us all.

One aspect of university life which is guaranteed, however, is the hefty price tag that unfortunately comes with choosing to embark upon a degree. With full-time tuition fees currently set at £9000 a year, most of us have no choice but to dive straight into a pile of debt, a debt which, for most of us, begins at the ripe old age of 18. Although this debt does not hit  us until we’re ‘all grown-up’ with moderately well-paid jobs, it is a scary thought and one which can leave some students wondering whether this is worth it. Let’s face it, with degree courses and universities becoming more easily accessible, it could be argued that the value of your degree is lessened and other attributes in addition to a qualification of this level – volunteering and internships for example- are more attractive to and looked for by employers and graduate schemes. The issue of debt can often leave you feeling uncertain about your future out there in the ‘real world’ when you leave the comfort of university, which may result in you questioning whether taking a gap year or two may have been a better option.

Starting my second year at UEA, I am not exaggerating when I say that I can barely remember what life was like before beginning university. However, I can still recall my excitement and nervousness at the sight of the car all packed up, not having the slightest idea about what to expect. Looking back at my first year, nothing could have prepared me for how amazing and intense first year proved to be.

To start with, it is amazing because of the people. Those you make proper friends with will become your substitute family; they are there through the highs and lows and will always have your back no matter what you do or what decisions you make. You will laugh with them, you will cry with them, but most importantly, you know you will stay friends with them long after the period of gruelling third year exams and dissertations; long after graduation and long after you have gone your separate ways. If you do not happen to find them in your flat, you will find them on your course or in that society you are contemplating joining. Just know one thing: they are somewhere , but only to be found at university.

Secondly, the atmosphere. I know, I know: everyone always gushes about ‘the atmosphere’ this and ‘the atmosphere’ that without it meaning anything substantial. UEA is a campus university and with that is bound to come ‘an atmosphere’. Whether it be walking to and from lectures and seeing friendly faces from a seminar, your society or even ‘LCR friends’ (yes, that is a thing), to meeting your flatmates for lunch, or simply just sitting in the square to kill time between contact hours, there will always be an atmosphere; said atmosphere being a result of the people around you. No matter what day or what time you go, the campus will be friendly, lively and positive and will no doubt liven up your mood, an aspect of university life which is, I’m pretty sure, rather rare to come across in the ‘outside’ world.

Thirdly, the independence. Some may argue that university life is not a true representation of ‘real’ independence. However, it is always difficult to understand what exactly people mean by this phrase. Do they mean following orders from those above you or sticking to rigid time schedules that are compulsory within a formal workplace environment? Or is ‘real’ independence carrying out independent research, choosing how to spend your free time and who to spend it with and being able to share your opinions and debating with others about why you hold those opinions?

The latter is what university life is all about and ultimately my conclusion: despite the financial concerns surrounding university, there is not one part of me that regrets my choice to go down this path. Let’s just face the challenges and opportunities that university brings us head on and enjoy every minute before we all go our separate ways and enter the ‘real world’.