It’s that time of year again. As golfers leave and students arrive, it is clear that a new school year has dawned for St Andrews, a blank page primed for unwritten essays and unfulfilled mistakes. After demanding internships or months spent travelling to avoid the looming pressures of adulthood, many of us will be excited to see our friends and get back to the familiar swing of student life. Being someone who ticks both boxes, there is something assuringly familiar about this little bubble. Routines that revolve around deadlines, Tesco trips, 601 and the occasional ball are much less alarming than such abstract concepts as job-hunting, whatever that is. For three years now, the unchanging rhythm of life here in St Andrews has offered a safe retreat from any of these worries. Entering fourth year, however, the horrors of growing up, finding a career and adulting are more difficult to avoid.
The first thing that strikes you is how young the new cohort of freshers look. In second year, it was just a relief not to be the youngest in the university any longer. In third year, freshers weren’t much concern, except for the infrequent complaint that they added to the length of the union queue. But in fourth year, it is difficult not to notice that they look so very, very young. Now, I don’t mean to sound condescending in the slightest. Far from it, seeing their bright, youthful faces only serves to reinforce the cruel reality that we are ageing not only physically, but also ploughing onwards on a course towards adulthood from which there is no return.
The second growing terror is slyly hidden amongst the processes of matriculation and advising. Before, these were just academic formalities, paperwork and a brief meeting to establish that you did indeed exist and did indeed study at St Andrews (though the latter was usually open to interpretation once the semester begun). But now, it is apparent that the modules we choose are our last. No more will the university gift us with an array of tutors and professors of varying competence. No more can we simply give something a go and remain calm if our adventurous spirit is rewarded with less-than-decent grades. For those of us who aren’t putting off life with another degree, fourth year marks the pinnacle of our academic prowess and intellectual accomplishment. We are forced to question what we have spent three years of our lives doing, how it was useful in any way and why, oh why, so many of us feel so inadequately prepared for the task. If the panic truly sets in, this can lead to the phenomenon of applying for panic masters. Four years of university haven’t prepared us for life so perhaps five or six years should do it. Those extra nights hunched over microwave meals will make all the difference when it comes to boosting career prospects!
A part of me wonders the extent to which this existential terror is due to the coddling calm of St Andrews or the inevitability of getting older. Students entering their final year of university all across the world are undoubtedly the subject of similar fears. But the truth is that this town – its size, its comfort and its seemingly unchanging rhythm of life – is far indeed from the potential chaos of being plunged into a large and often unfamiliar world. Although the terror of fourth year at St Andrews may lead to several existential crises as the semesters progress, I don’t believe this is necessarily a bad thing. Yes, there are the late night searches for grad schemes and masters. But there is also the satisfaction of knowing that, for three years, we have been largely free from these worries, enjoying a Peter Pan-like hiatus from normal life, if Peter were more familiar with pablos and black tie (which would make excellent reading, I think we can agree). Time spent huddled around bonfires, marching in and out of the union, getting dressed up or just relaxing in the library may not be the best preparation for adult life, but will leave us with memories to fall back on when the tribulations of reality inevitably kick in. And I, for one, intend to make plenty more this one last year. Between applying for panic masters and stocking up on microwave meals, that is.