The jump from sixth form or college to university is a big one. The workload increases, the quality expected of you is a lot higher, and the time you have to get everything done can seem a lot shorter. It’s no surprise that two in five students report feeling imposter syndrome while at uni.
For minority and less advantaged students that enter new environments at uni, the feeling of not belonging can be overwhelming. Privately educated can seem more prepared, have connections through family and friends, and might not feel the same post-uni pressures as others. Gaining access to mentors and the right career opportunities can make a huge difference to students who otherwise don’t have these connections.
We had a chance to speak to upReach alumnus Joseph about his university experience, as part of our launch of the iQ Thrive Academy. Here, Joseph talks about his journey from feeling out of place when he first arrived at uni, to gaining the confidence to build his career through upReach’s mentorship and internship opportunities.
I'm originally from Ghana - both my parents are from there - but I grew up in Southwest London in a place called Mitcham. I didn’t feel prepared for university, no, but it was kind of the expectation growing up. A strong backing and positive pressure from my parents made it a given. My parents were working hard in order for us to go university. I knew that I'd go but I didn't know what I'd do or where I'd study.
Fortunately, my school was good at preparing us through UCAS and getting the right grades, but afterwards [the support] felt empty.
My brother is 3 years older so he shared some insights, but nothing really prepares you until you're there.
My first concern with university was location – realising how far my university was from home and how different it was from London. The demographic was also a concern, as it didn't seem diverse at all. Fortunately, I made a lot of good friends and met some likeminded people but having lived in London, I felt a little out of place.
A lot of people came from private school backgrounds and I felt like I was the only one struggling in terms of workload. Fortunately growing up, we were always OK, but at uni, relying on a student loan made me see a difference.
If I'm honest, my confidence was sky high leaving sixth form because I had good grades and got into a good university. Getting into university almost felt like I'd already ticked a box. But then once I actually got to uni, I realised everyone around me was also smart and had opportunities lined up for them.
I got a bit panicked realising how much less prepared I was than others when it came to internships and knowing relatives or family friends to provide you with internship opportunities. If not for upReach, it would have been a lot more difficult to find those opportunities.
I think the most tangible impact of upReach was the Insights Day because it materialised into an internship which then materialised into a permanent role that has been the foundation of my career so far.
Again, it comes down to getting the right access to people you otherwise wouldn't have been in rooms with. I think the gamechanger for me was meeting a risk graduate that showed me your career is more than what you studied at university. For example, you might be a problem solver and an apply those skills anywhere.
upReach helped me to be a lot more intentional with my career search. When approaching the end of university, I didn't know what I wanted to do. The default would have been carrying on my studies. But with upReach, the springboards and Insights Days help you realise it’s more than what you see on TV or in a job description.
My programme coordinator pushed me to think about what I actually wanted to get out of my post-uni career. It helped me to change my perspective of what my degree meant. It also really helped my confidence, having better self-belief now that any career is attainable so long as I’m willing to do the work.
I also had a mentor who worked for Unilever, and we met up once a month. It was great bouncing off someone who has been in the industry for a long time and be able to understand their experiences and how they've got where they are.
After studying Medical Science at university and completing the upReach programme, Joseph now works as an Operational Resilience Manager at an Australian bank, Westpac. As an upReach Alumni Ambassador, Joseph continues to share the impact that upReach has on helping students to reach their full potential.
Read more about how the iQ Thrive Academy and upReach are committed to making a difference to less advantaged students.
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