by Kat Smith
I always assumed I would feel wise and endlessly confident at the elderly age of 21; when I decided to do an MA I thought that starting life at Cardiff University should be a walk in the park. But in spite of the undergraduate degree and three years of university experience under my belt, I feel similar to how I did when I left for university at 18.
Entering Fresher’s as an undergrad seems like a universal experience; you’ve done your IKEA trip, got your obligatory Gustav Klimt poster ready to be tacked onto the wall and your cupboard is fully stocked with two vital ingredients: pesto and pasta. Most importantly, you are probably new to the city, you are entirely new to each other and you are more or less ready for a two-week bender with your new best pals. There are events and taster sessions waiting for you at every corner, a year of testing the academic waters, and the freedom of university stretches out as three years of endless possibilities. Whilst entirely terrifying, I remember feeling limitless during my first year as an undergraduate.
My expectation of starting postgraduate is almost entirely different. I have lived with people my age for three years, learned how to cook more than two meals on rotation and become semi-proficient at essays. In anticipation of my fourth year in higher education, I thought the nerves would subside and I would stride into further study with the knowledge that I am somewhat academically and socially capable. But, it turns out that while being able to continue my education in a field I love is incredible, starting a new university as a postgrad comes with its own host of anxieties.
Of course, the academic side is terrifying. The B has turned into an M and I’m anticipating a year that resembles undergraduate finals on steroids. When speaking to another student preparing for their postgraduate year at Cardiff, they said they were “no less nervous, but about different things.” While they felt they could cope with being away from home, cooking and living with other people, the pressure instead lies in starting their course. They also said that they’ve “done the fully rounded university experience and so now I’m more interested in getting to know a new city, whether that is directly related to the uni itself or out of it.”
Though I resonate with the pressure from the course, I’m also nervous about the social element of postgraduate study. There is the daunting prospect of having merely a year to make the most out of university and make a few new friends to enjoy it with. I’ve found it strange and scary not having the anticipation of everyone being your age and on the same page. From my experience so far, more needs to be done to give those starting their second or third degrees a greater sense of their time commitments and workloads prior to their course. And while there are postgraduate events, building a greater network for the slightly older amongst us coming to a new university could lessen the social pressure significantly.
An MA graduate told me that their Freshers experience was “very different” to their undergraduate, with it being pretty “non-existent” because of their course running 9am – 5pm during the first week: “I went to the pub a few times with my new course mates and I went out a few times with other friends already in Cardiff, but it’s very different starting a Masters as compared to starting as an undergrad.”
Essentially, postgraduate study seems to be an entirely different kettle of fish to undergraduate, despite the fact that I will probably (definitely) end up getting a cliche art poster, eat plenty of pesto pasta and hopefully make as many mistakes as I did as an undergrad.