Surviving University – Personal Responsibility

It is a little known fact that about one in five students who start university are dropping out by the end of their first year. The reason they often cite is boredom, but how can a student become bored in the stimulating learning environment of university? Let us look at that more closely:

Just what do they mean by boredom?

Boredom is a state of weariness with things, a feeling of dullness, a cutting off from our awareness of the natural, joyful flow of energy in the world and in our bodies.

How is it that university, whose stated mission is to open our awareness has exactly the opposite effect for these students, to the point that they are dropping out?

And very likely, not just for these students. I suspect many more students have similar experiences but remain in university due to other pressures: the need to get a ‘good’ job, parental expectations, or a drive to achieve and get recognition.

What is going wrong here?

The basic problem is that the university defines awareness too narrowly – as the transmission of knowledge.

But knowledge on its own is not enough. This lopsided development of knowledge in the ‘doing’ of intellectual tasks is often at the expense of a student’s inner health and wellbeing, and so students justifiably feel that the university’s concern is with what their minds can do, not what their whole person can be.

A university simply does not see this as part of its mission. It is a corporation selling a product, ie., students with a certified level of knowledge.

Assessment tasks, deadlines and exams are all set up to test the retention of knowledge transmitted, but there is precious little offered to students to develop them as a whole person or nurture them in their self-care. Students are valued for how well they perform in the tasks which demonstrate their acquired knowledge, and the best performers are the ones who gain recognition.

So, if you go to university, don’t expect the university to nurture you. You have to take responsibility to nurture yourself. You need to build inner health and wellbeing in your body on a daily basis to counteract the neglect you will feel at university as a result of its narrow concern with only what your mind can do.

How to look after yourself and survive university:

  1. Build a daily rhythm of caring for your body
  2. Have regular sleeping hours and stick to them
  3. Don’t let the pressure of exams or assessments disrupt your daily rhythm or sleeping routine
  4. Eat at regular hours
  5. Don’t overeat or eat to deal with stress
  6. Avoid using alcohol or drugs as an escape from the stresses and anxiety you feel
  7. Seek out friends you really trust and talk openly and candidly about your anxieties and worries
  8. And guys, don’t try to tough it out!

Not surprisingly, men have a higher university dropout rate than women. Be honest about how you are feeling and find support; bottling it up will just increase your anxiety and your need to find ways to numb it, like alcohol.

Watch your attitude to study

It is important how you organise your studying and the attitudes you bring to it. Don’t get into a competitive or comparative frame of mind with other students about your academic work. The university constantly fosters competition through its grading system. Don’t fall for that. Do your best with your work, but don’t be concerned with your rank.

Remember why you’re doing this

Always keep in mind that you are doing this degree for the skills it will give you for your role on this planet in caring for your fellow human beings, whether as a doctor to heal people’s bodies, as a teacher to foster children’s growth, or as an engineer to build new aeroplanes for people to travel, and never for any recognition it may provide. Never lose sight of the fact that your fundamental motivation for university study is to serve humanity, so always do your academic work with the full integrity and responsibility that such a purpose calls for.

Other life paths

And finally, if you decide university is not for you, don’t beat yourself up and think you failed. You may have just felt its neglect more keenly than some other students and decided that the price was too high to pay. A degree may be important, but your health and wellbeing are equally if not more important.

There are many fulfilling and worthwhile life paths available to you without a university degree.

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  • By William Foley, University Professor: BA, Brown University MA, PhD University of California, Berkeley Fellow, Australian Academy of the Humanities

    I am a Professor of Linguistics. I am interested in how peoples of different cultural and linguistic backgrounds communicate and how we can increase understanding and brotherhood across these differences.