Small fish, big pond: Transitioning into university
I wouldn’t say I started university as someone particularly outstanding. For someone at a Russell Group university, my A Level results were pretty average. I felt as though I’d cheated my way in by choosing an unusual subject (Spanish and Russian).
Having been profiled as one of the “brighter” kids at my comprehensive school, I had spent the majority of my academic life being applauded for my ‘just-above-average‘ grades. So I was often satisfied with myself for having achieved higher than most of my classmates, and not striving to achieve much more. Students who did “too well” or were disappointed by their ‘not-quite-perfect’ grades were often mocked, while I was in the cosy position of doing just enough. So there I was, one of the highest achieving students at my school, off to one of the top universities in the country.
I was now a student at the University of Bristol, and Freshers’ Week had come around. I tried to meet as many people as possible and for one of the first times in my life, I felt inferior to my peers. Everybody around me had higher grades, and seemed to have a clue about what they wanted to do with their lives. Now that I was at university, everybody had been one of the top in their class, and I was just a small fish in this huge pool of over-achieving students.
A little way into the year, I received an email advertising an opportunity to raise almost £3000 for charity and climb Mount Kilimanjaro. Eager to seize as many opportunities as possible, (and to the horror of my parents) I signed up right away.
Around the same time, an older student randomly approached me, suggesting I apply to be featured in a magazine profiling the UK’s top 100 outstanding black students and graduates. I scoffed. “How could I possibly be one of the most outstanding black students in the UK? I hardly even do anything”. She knew nothing about me, yet had so much faith in my ability and potential. So upon her recommendation I went for the interview, struggled for things to say, and I thought that was that.
As time progressed, I found myself becoming friends with some of these high-achieving individuals, and they introduced me to their friends. Before I knew it, I found myself surrounded by inspiring and uplifting people who encouraged me to take up opportunities I would never otherwise have thought myself worthy of pursuing. I began to realise that I’d spent my life (so far) comparing my achievements with those around me, instead of trying to do the best that I could. And it’s for this reason that I cannot stress the importance of surrounding yourself with positive and aspirational people.
If you look in the right places, university is bursting with amazing opportunities. This is one of the few times in your life where you will have ample time and opportunity to experiment, without having to fear the consequences.
So not even one year since having been a ‘just-above-average’ student, I am now editor of an up-and-coming online platform, a member of two society committees, course representative for both the Russian and Spanish departments, recognised as one of 2016’s most outstanding black students, climbed to Africa’s highest peak, and have received my first belt in a martial art I previously hadn’t even heard of. All while averaging at a 2:1 at university. And the reason for this is simply because I chose to say “yes”.
So I leave you with these words of advice; get to know as many people as you can while at university, even if they seem different to what you’re used to, or “out of your league”; view every situation as an opportunity to learn and improve, regardless of how bleak it may initially seem, and finally take advantage of every opportunity laid out in front of you. You never know where it may lead you.