This weekend, hundreds of thousands of new students across the UK will arrive at the university where they will live, study and grow over the next few years.

If you are one of those students, here are some questions I hope might be useful:

(By the way, these questions might also be useful for family and friends to be aware of)

What are your best hopes from attending university?

Please note I ask from, not for.

For would be straightforward: Whatever you’re hoping for, it’s probably safe to assume that there will be ups and downs, new friendships being formed and old one’s adapting to new circumstances. Support and solitude. Competition and collaboration. Parties, debt, fun, boredom, new discoveries, opportunities to draw on experience and wisdom. Laughter and tears, success and failure, challenges and rewards.

From might require more thought. The answer is more likely to be profound and particular to you, especially if you think of the detail. The more detail you come up with, in fact, the more you’ll be answering as you. The you of your best hopes. You at your best.

To put it another way, if this all turns out to be a worthwhile few years, how might you know?

Sure, you might get a decent job. Interestingly, this never used to be so much of a priority for students. It’s grown over the past 20 years or so. Historically, the main reason for attending university has tended to be to dive deeper into learning, with a view to ultimately making new discoveries, breaking new ground and contributing to the advancement of the human race. For many it was seen as a liberation from the distraction of paid work, freeing up the privileged few who were granted the good fortune to attend university so that they could indulge their higher functions. Things have changed now. More people go to university, and although I’ve no doubt that learning for the sake of learning is still part of what attracts students to higher education, the perceived consensus that a degree is a pre-requisite of a rewarding career opportunity is clearly a huge driving force, whether it’s accurate or not.

So, that being the case, suppose it does help you get a decent job. Or perhaps it deepens your fascination for a particular subject to such an extent that you decide to stay on into postgraduate study and research. Or even if neither of these are direct consequences, but you’ve had a wonderful time, made some close friends who’ll always have your back and learnt some valuable life lessons. Whatever the outcome, what difference do you hope it might make in your life from that point forwards?

For example, your answers might be along the lines of experiencing happiness, pride, a sense of achievement, confidence, optimism (these are just examples. Some, none or all might apply for you, and there might be others not listed here that are important for you).

What signs might you, and the other people in your life, notice that this difference is present and real?

How might this show up in the details of your everyday life? The way you answer the phone? The way you walk out of the house in the morning? The way you think about the past, present and future? The way you feel when you see your name on your mail? Any other typical moment in your life?

Even if things don’t go according to plan. Even if you fail, how would you most hope to respond? How might a moment of, for example, happiness, optimism, confidence, peace of mind (whatever you hope for) look to you and others even under those circumstances? How might you keep going and head back in direction of your hopes when obstacles have been placed in your way? What would be typical of you at your best?

As you go through the next few years at university, what small steps might you be pleased to notice yourself taking towards these hopes becoming your reality, more and more of the time? Starting from today, what can you see yourself doing in the moment which might provide even just a fleeting glimpse of you being the person you most want to be? Right here, right now, in that moment. At your best.

What steps have you already taken to make the progress you have so far? How did you do that? What did it take? What does this say about you and what you might be capable of achieving in future?

Chances are it hasn’t always been easy. How did you manage to get through the difficult times to arrive in the better ones? Out of the things you did to get through, what are you most proud of? What would you most like to notice yourself continuing to do?

Chances are, perhaps, that if you got to university, you’ve got what it takes to get through and get whatever you want from it. What might you find yourself doing that could remind you of that? What might your doing that look like?

What are you pleased to notice about yourself as you think about these questions? How are you doing that? What part are you playing in creating your preferred future?

There’s no need to share any of your answers to these questions with other people if you don’t want to. If you do want to, go ahead, some of their responses may be useful too.

If you don’t know, that’s fine. You could choose to put the question aside for now or take some time to think about it. Whatever works for you. You might find an answer in an unexpected moment. Legend has it that Newton came up with his law of gravity when he was hit on the head by an apple, and Archimedes proclaimed “Eureka!” after stepping into a bath!

Often the best answers to life’s hardest questions begin with a first draft of “I don’t know”!

Whatever happens, I’m quite certain of three things as I witness your arrival at university:

  • You’re doing the best you can right now
  • You’re capable of achieving your best hopes
  • You have everything you need

Enjoy your journey 🙂

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