A few months ago I asked my friend why she wanted to go on a gap year. She told me, slightly melodramatically, that she didn’t want to be the same person at university that she was at school. For various and complex reasons, my friend couldn’t go on her gap year after all – instead, she cut her hair, dyed it pink, got a septum piercing, and moved to Melbourne. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that those things are a good substitute for a Gap Year, or that they’re unattractive fashion statements. But I do think that her response to my question was indicative of the pressure high school graduates feel to reinvent themselves for their first year at university.
High school is a formative and turbulent time, where people try to work out who they are, what their interests are and how they fit in with the broader scheme of social groupings. It naturally follows that everyone finishes school with a lot of baggage. This is the baggage of puberty, teen angst and general awkwardness.
It makes sense, then, that the transition to university is a perfect opportunity for reinvention. Your subjects can be as academic or as arty as you want; you can work as much or as little as you want; you can totally change your social group. For many high school graduates, the ability to pick the best parts of your school persona and move on to a new university identity is an extension of this new-found freedom.
So, you’re moving to university and you’ve got a good idea of the kind of person you want to appear to be, what’s next? The easiest way to signal the new you is by changing your physical appearance. Maybe you finally should get that dream catcher tattoo you’ve been thinking about for months, to match your free-spirited and open-minded personality… What about your hair? Blue highlights will definitely suit you. But if all of that is a bit too much for you, maybe invest in some glasses – the sexy-librarian study-owl look is really in right now.
These things are easy to do, and fairly superficial – as much as I might joke, you won’t hurt anyone by getting blue highlights in your hair. If you’re really serious about the reinvention, though, you could take it a step further.
Revise your social media accounts, and delete any photos taken before 2013. Change your name or pick up a nickname that is more exotic and unique. Exile anyone from your life who remembers your year nine Twilight fan phase.
At this point, though, you have to ask yourself: how much are you willing to commit to this metamorphosis? In my mind, reinvention is both a good and bad thing. To some extent, it necessitates self improvement. Pushing your boundaries, trying new things and meeting new people is a challenging but healthy way to start university. The greatest danger, though, is that you might lose old friends and discount meaningful past experiences only to gain superficial character traits. And you wouldn’t want to start university with the mindset that your high school self was in some way inadequate, and not good enough to make friends or succeed in a new environment.
Having only been here for five weeks, I’m in no position to preach about the formation of a university identity. It seems to me, though, that university is difficult enough as it is. So what I would say is this: don’t let worrying about how you appear to others get in the way of having a good time. Embrace your weirdness and your high school quirks, and when your new friends dig up your 2012 profile pictures, laugh with them.