‘I’m not as good as that person’ – pressure at University

‘I’m not good enough. I’m not as good as that person,’ is a thought that crosses my mind on a weekly basis and a thought that Chloe Price had too while at university, as written in a post recently published by the Guardian: ‘The party’s over – how tuition fees ruined university life‘. The article discusses a lot of topics that I think are spot on but I want to focus on that particular quote, my strive to get a first and how I feel like grades have become more important than learning.

A first is the highest achievable mark at university in the UK. I have been aiming for a first from the start of the first year for two different reasons. One of these reasons is that I feel like my degree will have less value if it won’t be granted a first class degree. A first class degree would offer more opportunities for employment, graduate programmes and acceptance and better financial aid for post-graduate study. However, I wouldn’t actually need a first for my aspirations as my field of study often still values individual work over a grade. At the same time, I’m thinking of a creative writer who told me she graduated with a cum laude for her master degree in creative writing. I’m also thinking of the other students in my class who have attained firsts when I haven’t, which leads me to my second and most important reason: ‘I’m not good enough. I’m not as good as that person…’

Surely if others got a first and I didn’t it means that their work is better than mine and that my writing isn’t good enough. Receiving a certain mark has become a form of validation but when you think about that this has already been true since the start of primary school.

In the Netherlands, a single test in primary school will determine which level of education you’ll follow in secondary school. The level that you complete in secondary school will then determine whether you’ll be able to go to university. The system does allow you to work your way up but I always felt like I was looked down upon for starting at a lower level. In primary school, everyone knew exactly who was going to do a higher level of education and who ‘would never get that far’.

Some of my friends who started out at a lower level worked their way up and have now almost completed a bachelor of applied sciences. Their social media posts have captions along the lines of ‘to everyone who thought I couldn’t do this’. This clearly shows the need to prove ourselves to society. There is pressure to do well and even if we are doing well we can still do better because there’s another level out there that’s more prestigious. Even when I was finally set to go to university people asked me if I should because could I actually handle that level of education?

My parents never pressured me in this way. The fact that I’m a perfectionist probably has something to do with my need to succeed but it can’t all be down to that. I often tell myself that it’s not about the grades but about learning. During my media education, a teacher said she thought I managed to focus on learning things that were of use to me, indicating that I cared more about learning than anything else. I still value the knowledge and experience I gain over a mark and yet for some reason, I can’t let go of my inability to acquire a first. Why can’t I?

I think the reason for this comes down to several and I would be lying if I said the cost of tuition fees hasn’t influenced me too. The thought of getting as much out of my degree as I can because of what I pay has often crossed my mind. I almost feel as if I need to justify myself for paying this much and acquiring a first-class degree would at least justify it a little bit.

However, ultimately my desire for a first has to do with the need to succeed. I don’t know why I think I’ll never be good enough of a writer if I don’t get a first now. In fact, I don’t believe in this idea and I know it’s rubbish. I think I’ve gotten too caught up in the expectations of this world. We constantly need to be doing something, an education or a job and within that something, we constantly need to perform. It’s funny, I’m lucky enough to be at a place where I get the freedom to learn and fail and yet, I’m not allowing myself this kind of luxury. It’s going to be up to me to fight my own mindset and to let go of the constant need to succeed. I need to learn to allow myself to make mistakes. Only when I do, will I be truly successful.

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