There’s a small story in my family that has kind of gone down in MacDougall folklore, or at least in what used to be our small corner of Westminster Avenue.
When my sister was going to University, or so the story goes, she produced a map of the United Kingdom and drew a massive circle around Manchester. She then declared that she wouldn’t be going to any of the universities within the circle.
Of the universities she visited, and indeed the one she ended up at, it’s fair to say she stuck to her circle.
And when I decided to go to University, I took the very same circle and told everyone I would only consider those universities my sister had immediately dismissed.
I visited Manchester, Nottingham, Liverpool and Sheffield. Because UCAS requires you to apply for five, I applied for Leeds. All were within the circle.
If that story shows you anything, it’s my state of mind when applying for university.
Not wanting to go too far away from home was not some absolute love for Manchester (I do still love my home but not enough that when at my best I’m not willing to be too far away from it), it was because I wasn’t confident enough to think I could cope at University. I wanted the freedom to leave every weekend, and escape back home.
The buzzword if you like from my pre-university mind. I had been considering university from an early age. Initially I had thought it sounded fun, but slowly the reality dawned on me and I began to shy away. Things got worse and worse as we were seemingly pushed down a path that I couldn’t walk away from (indeed, hindsight has proved that I never did make it away).
Which is why, when my second year of A-Levels came around, any mention of the word university turned me into a shaking, nervous, weepy mess.
But before that, it was time for the visits. I’ll be honest, I can’t remember much from any of them. At Sheffield, I was told that Duckworth and Lewis had studied there (relevant as back then I was looking at both Maths and Physics), I remember looking through what eventually became my apartment block in Nottingham and Liverpool talked about a trip to Hawaii. In Manchester, a Uni I was looking at through rose-tinted glasses due to the convenience of it, I got excited about a Sainsburys being across the road from the accommodation thus meaning I could get lunch easily every day.
Sheffield was a strong contender early on, even though I had my interview there in the snow and ice. I liked the university, one of my close friends was already there and the physics department seemed genuinely keen to have me. Liverpool was walking distance away from Goodison Park, and during my weepy phase having a season ticket was as close to sanity as I got, and I liked the idea of being in the city on derby day. Manchester, well Manchester was home.
So how did I end up in Nottingham?
Of all my visits and interviews, I remember Nottingham the best. The initial visit was with my Dad, and he got me to open up quite a lot about how my feelings regarding university on the drive over.
I wasn’t in the happiest of moods when I arrived on Nottingham’s campus, but the beauty of it blew me over. I enjoyed every aspect of that day (helped by the lovely weather) and left with a grin over my face. Whenever I complained about university in the future, my Dad always reminded me of how happy I had been in Nottingham, whenever I claimed Manchester was my first choice; he spoke to me about my feelings for Nottingham.
It seems obvious to say with hindsight, but Nottingham really was my first choice. Manchester was full of boring grey buildings in the middle of a bustling city, the accommodation from memory was boring and a little bit dirty and the grades to get in were higher. Nottingham was better in every way, and more realistic for my academic level.
And yet the fact remains I chose Manchester as my first choice and cried when I didn’t quite manage to get the grades.
Hence it was Nottingham where I ended up. Nottingham wasn’t an easy experience for me, but I honestly believe the other three would have been worse. I don’t think I would have coped at Manchester or Sheffield. Liverpool’s Everton connections would have held me there, but would I have continued at university? I doubt it.
My first day travelling to Nottingham was awful. I delayed packing as long as I could, I tried to leave as late as possible and I was filled with dread throughout the whole drive. It wasn’t an easy two years for me, deciding to go to university and where to go and I wouldn’t be in a hurry to repeat it. I’ve always told people to explore all options, as there are plenty of options out there for everyone, I just wasn’t confident enough to take them.
But then again, maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.