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The Common Room: A hub of student support, information and guidance

Our student-facing blog, The Common Room, was set up three years ago to provide support and guidance to students, by students. Here, we outline how The Common Room works, what we publish, and how we distribute it – as well as a sample post by recent De Montfort University film studies graduate Sharna about her university experience.

Peer-to-peer options have been proven time and time again to be a crucial source of support and trusted information for students. In our 2019 New Realists report, ‘current and former students’ were named by those surveyed as the most accurate source of information about what student life is really like.

One simple way in which we offer students peer guidance is through The Common Room, our student-facing blog. The blog offers information, advice, resources and insight into the student experience, written by our team of student writers, who can both pitch ideas and interpret suggested topics from our copywriters’ briefs. These topics are based on our student experience insight, spanning a range of student segments and the different journeys they go on throughout the academic year.

Students can write as often or as infrequently as they want, gaining valuable writing experience, receiving constructive feedback, and being published. From this year, they’ll also be paid for their contributions.

The Common Room is also a useful source of support for our customer communications, as we can link students to important posts and guidance that are regularly refreshed, including who to call for medical caregetting help when reception is closed, and a number of posts offering health and safety guidance.

So, what might a student-written post about their university experience look like? Here’s a recent post from Sharna, a De Montfort University film studies graduate, about growing up at university – and the mistakes she had to make along the way.

‘I often felt like a failure’: Sharna on growing up at uni

I was nineteen when I first started university. Going from teenager to young adult, I didn’t have a clue what to expect. For a long time I was worried that I was doing everything wrong.

I had gone from living at home with my family and having their constant guidance to suddenly having to do it on my own. And rather than being by my side, my mum was down the phone, miles away.

Making mistakes

I made so many mistakes in the first year. I would make terrible meals when I attempted to cook, often making food explode in the microwave. I would spend more than my weekly budget and not have enough for all of my essentials. I left assignments until the last minute which affected my grades.

I now had to figure out independent day-to-day life with cooking, cleaning and paying rent as well as developing a new work ethic. My teachers no longer spoon-feed me what I had to learn like at secondary school – I was responsible for my assignments as well as keeping myself fed and healthy.

I often felt like a failure. I was sure I’d never figure out how to ‘adult’ like the other students at university. I would look at them shopping at Tesco or see how organised their flats were and it made me wonder if I was the only one who wasn’t good at being a grown-up.

I had to keep going

The only way I could push through that anxiety was to simply live life. Rather than begging my family to bring me home or writing off the day when I made a mistake, I had to keep going. In the real world, set-backs don’t mean you have to stop everything.

Through the second and third year, everything did start coming naturally to me. I got better at cooking, budgeting got easier and I learned to plan my assignments better. By surviving each hurdle, I found the next problem easier to manage.

I also realised I wasn’t the only one confused by student life. All students were doing the best they could do, and they weren’t perfect.

While some students may have learned how to tackle responsibilities quickly or had more experience at living independently, some people – like me – took a bit longer to get the hang of it. Even if some of my fellow students looked like they knew what they were doing, I often found they were just as unsure as I was.

University gave me the push I needed to grow up. Not only was I surrounded by young adults in the same position as me, I was able to throw myself into looking after myself.

I navigated the world of socialising as an adult, which was very different from getting along with people as a teenager. I had my first relationship and heartbreak, which taught me lessons about love and resilience. I took responsibility for myself and my mental health as well as dealing with my emotions.

Enjoying the ride

Now that I’ve just finished my third year of undergraduate study, I’m amazed at how much I have grown. In the first year, I never believed I had the potential to get through university and take care of myself.

But the growth and change within me had happened without me noticing it. There isn’t a textbook you can read to learn everything you need to know. It’s not the sort of thing that can be taught in classes. It just happens.

At 22, I still make mistakes. I know I have a lot to learn, outside of university and beyond. But after taking the jump to live away from home even when it scared me, I feel a bit older and wiser. As scary as growing up can be, it will happen whether we like it or not.

The best way to grow up is to simply live life, learn from each mistake and enjoy the ride into adulthood.