Congratulations if you got the A-Level results you wanted! Hugs if you didn’t, but remember it’s not the end of the world by any means.
I was going to write a freshers’ guide, but fellow blogger Corrie wrote a piece that says it all better than I would have. So, instead, I’m writing a list of things I didn’t expect when I arrived at Imperial! (Some are silly, some are serious; the most serious seem to have accumulated at the bottom, like some kind of opposite brazil nut effect. Only with my blog. Which is sometimes a bit nuts, I will grant you.)
1. There are more girls than I expected
In my year the ratio of male:female students is 2:1 – the largest proportion of female students ever! The college as a whole is also 2:1, with subjects like medicine and biology balancing out engineering and computing. Medics had to be good for something, amirite?
(Disclaimer: Also, I didn’t realise there would be any rivalry between medics and the rest of college. There is. Also also, I’m joking, please don’t send me hate mail.)
2. There are more posh people than I expected
According to a quick Google search, over 40% of Imperial students went to an independent school. This isn’t a bad thing at all (I like to think the irritating people would have been irritating regardless of their background), but it was a surprise to me.
3. You will, at some point, be sucked into to the apathy field
For me, it was when I realised I was a week away from the summer holidays and I still hadn’t joined the gym, amongst other things. In addition, when trying to get people to join into Amnesty campaigns, plus going to the student conference and hearing about what other universities had been able to do!
4. You won’t spend your evenings having tea and crumpets with the Queen and your weekends playing croquet
Okay, I made that up. But I did expect to do more sight-seeing than I have. I may have to make a things Courtney must see before postponing reality further with a PhD in another city unless she decides to stay in London in which case yay more time for tea and crumpets with the Queen list.
6. You can be as geeky as you wish
Seriously, we have the entire spectrum of geek here. It. Is. Awesome.
7. You will clap at the end of every single lecture
My year did anyway. We’re that cool. Plus we refer to lecturers by their surnames, which makes the way my friends at other universities call their lecturers by their first names peculiarly jarring.
8. Three words: Science Museum Library
Excuse me a minute while I stroke the long-since out-of-print biography of Arthur Eddington I found within its hallowed shelves.
9. Not everyone is a genius and you don’t need to feel insecure if you’re not the best (and that includes you, yes you, little fresher)
Before coming here I read a story about a girl who got 10 As and was rejected from Oxford, (I say and, not but, because 10 A-Levels doesn’t automatically mean Oxbridge material) who was due to be in my year. This made me feel bad. I also felt bad when I realised that I’m not Peter Hatfield, Sarah Flannery or any of the other thousands of young scientists who are objectively better than me. Now I’m trying to get over this sort of thing, and you should too.
Remember that most people here will have been the top students at their school and when all the top people are put together the top of the top is even… toppier. There will always be someone better than you, but don’t let that get you down. Not everyone can be the best – and not everyone should try and be the best. You’re probably better than you think you are. Yes, even you. Start believing it. It will save you the trouble of a mental breakdown later on.
10. You will get over not getting into Oxbridge
Someone once told me there are three types of students here: the ones who didn’t get into Oxford, the ones who didn’t get into Cambridge and the others who actually had Imperial as a first choice. I can’t tell you how much I wanted to go to Oxford. I started thinking about it when I was still doing GCSEs. When I went for interview and completely blew it I just kind of accepted that the dream world I’d created was exactly that. The fuss some people created over my rejection irritated me when I knew I wasn’t good enough and no one would believe me.
For a long time I still pined for the cities of dreaming spires, cursing myself for not applying instead for maths at Oxford or not applying to natural sciences at Cambridge, planning to reapply after being erroneously told I’d been rejected from Imperial, but coming to Imperial changed all that. Seriously. You get a degree of equal (and perhaps even more) value, plus you have more time for extra-curriculars, and you’re living cheaply in London! Even more importantly, there is a Ben’s Cookies in South Kensington Station, which was the foremost factor in my decision to apply to Oxford (where the original Ben’s Cookies is).
[I have removed number 11, about how it's not as expensive as I thought to live here, because of a comment I received on this post. Accommodation and travel will be more expensive than elsewhere, unless you are lucky, which I personally have been. Still, don't let that discourage you. Amongst other things, Imperial graduates have some of the highest starting salaries, and if you come here you'll probably get the only chance you'll ever have to live in South Kensington!]
12. If things get rough, don’t carry on until you burn out
This is probably most important of all. The college has all sorts of avenues for getting help if you’re finding life a bit hard – from personal tutors to other people in your department to college counsellors to GPs at the Health Centre who may refer you to a specialist clinic if need be. You cannot, I repeat cannot, suffer in silence. Repeat that to yourself. Put a note on your fridge. Write it backwards on your forehead. Aside from potentially making things much worse, if you don’t let your department know you’re having a tough time and your work suffers for it you won’t be able to claim mitigating circumstances later. You can go into as few or as many specifics as you wish with people (it will be held in complete confidence), though you do have at least say what the problem is and provide some form of evidence on the form you have to fill in to get mitigating circumstances.
It’s not a sign of weakness to ask for help – in many ways it’s quite a brave thing to do. Even if it weren’t you should still do it. I know I was embarrassed at first, but this sort of thing is so common, and even if it weren’t then it would be nothing to be embarrassed about. Find someone who will convince you to go and get help if you can’t make yourself do it. This is seriously important. I know I required a lot of convincing, sometimes even just to leave the house. Don’t let a problem get worse before you get help. Don’t fear wasting people’s time, you won’t be. Most of all, look after yourself.
I will add to this as I think up more things, so please check back! If you have any questions at all, don’t hesitate to send me a message via Facebook (link in the sidebar) or comment on this post. Also coming soon is a “Why choose physics, and why choose Imperial physics” post.
Now, back to revision!