The Secret Life of Students Conference - Sharing My Student Story

The Secret Life of Students is a WonkHE event, held annually with an agenda set around current and upcoming student issues. The event is often attended to by HE & SU professionals along with staff from the public sector with around 400 / 500 attendees.

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The Secret Life of Students is a WonkHE event, held annually with an agenda set around current and upcoming student issues. The event is often attended to by HE & SU professionals along with staff from the public sector with around 400 / 500 attendees.

As for me, I was asked to share a student story around loneliness at University. I decided to share my own story on my higher education experience, and some of the encounters I faced whilst at uni. This was to shine a light of how important it is for Universities and Students' Unions to hone in on the student experience and see that 'one size does not fit all'.

Sometimes less is more, and University life comes with many challenges for some students. Students just want to find their "Tribe" and that doesn't always mean clubbing and drinking every week. For me personally, it was more about finding friends within my sports team and expressing how rugby really retained me at Cardiff Met.


This is my student story.


I was the first in my family to go to uni. I was mostly driven by sport. But it's arguably the only thing I had going for me growing up. Predicted only 2 GCSE’s and travelled 4 hours each day to get to college, uni was never a thought. I always thought it was for those wealthy families that sent their kids to Oxford and Cambridge in the films. Not me, a mixed raced, free school meals kid, from Croydon and a young carer for my mum.

Two days before the UCAS deadline, I decided to apply for uni. Soon to complete my level 3 sport diploma at college and very slim knowledge of higher education. I based my entire 5 university options on their sports ratings and rugby stats.

I selected a sports science undergraduate having not looked at a single module and only attended my first-choice uni’s open day, with the hope to find out more information about the rugby preseason then the actual degree.

What was meant to be a fresh start, felt like starting all the way at the beginning again.

I felt incredibly lucky. But I was the odd one out.




Having worked all summer to help my older sister pay the rent I was finally at uni. But I wasn’t your ordinary student-athlete. I didn’t drink, I hadn’t been clubbing, and honestly the idea of being off my face drunk made me anxious. My confidence in my academic abilities was next to nil, and I was absolutely skint.

I was on so many student service lists, for bursaries, extra help and basically the uni version of free school meals all over again. I look back now, I needed that help so badly, but I declined it all. Silly fresher, right!

I was so worried about what my flat mates would say, some of them got the lowest loan and some got sent cash from their parents each week. I felt different. How could I take that free money, someone like me shouldn’t be at uni. I told no one my doubts.

But I was so gassed to meet new people. I craved those uni friends I’d heard about.  And Cardiff is crazy small in comparison to London so I hoped it would be easy. But all the events were clubbing. Huge parties in the SU nightclub - dark, loud and packed full of people having a great time.

But already all in little groups. You can’t go to a club night alone.

I spent £30 on UV dodgeball and a foam party event. The Facebook promoter had said it was THE freshers party. But my flatmates weren’t interested so I never went.

The comedown that came after the blur of induction week was probably the loneliest I had ever felt. I met loads of new people, but imposter syndrome was real. I spent so much time alone in my bedroom and I went days without talking to anyone.

What I needed was more of the basics, like a pub quiz with my course mates instead of a massive night out. Or a chance to meet other people going to events solo. Those are the type of events that keep students on campus. Less really is more sometimes.


The thing that stopped me dropping out was playing rugby. And honestly, it was less about doing the sport, it gave me an opportunity to talk to other students.  Students with something in common. But the only way I made those friends was by forcing myself to go boozing on a Wednesday night. Even though my idea of a good time is a quiet night in. If it wasn’t for this, I definitely wouldn’t have made it past Christmas of the first year.

I think of unis for providing the ingredients for students to bake their own cake. But without all those ingredients students struggle. These are things like help with budgeting, available opportunities to meet people like me - and those less like me.

So, if I can leave you with anything from my story, it would be to chuck any stereotypes you have of students in the bin. We’re not all party animals. We’re nervous and sometimes we need some extra support. It’s not mollycoddling, it’s scaffolding to help us succeed and gives us the confidence to thrive rather than just survive.