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What I wish I had known when I was at Warwick: a graduate from a widening participation background. 

October 3, 2023


Whether in your first year or the final year of a PhD, university life is exciting, challenging, and life-changing. The path can be even more complex for those of us from backgrounds less represented in higher education. As a Warwick graduate from a widening participation background, I’ve encountered both the exhilaration of new experiences and the uncertainty of navigating uncharted territories. In this blog, I want to share the valuable lessons I’ve learned, the obstacles I’ve overcome, and some things I wish I had known when I set foot on the Warwick campus for the first time.

You’ll soon find people you connect with – who may even become lifelong friends

The first few weeks of Warwick for me were wonderful, exciting, and simultaneously completely overwhelming. I had just moved to a new place; no one I knew had ever come to Warwick or any other Russell Group University, and I felt an underlying sense that I was out of place from my peers. When introducing myself to a group of new people in a lecture, it felt isolating to be asked whether I had attended a private or grammar school. I had just come from a college and a comprehensive school before that. I wondered if Warwick was meant for people like me and if I would ever meet people from a similar background to me that I could connect more deeply with.

Making connections can develop your employability
and enrich your university experience

I wish I had known earlier that it was societies that would make me finally feel like I had found my place at Warwick. In my second year, I joined the student radio station RAW 1251AM, and to date, the people I met are still my closest friends. If I could do my student experience again now, I would have become involved in groups like the 93% Club, a society that promotes social mobility for state-educated students, and the Widening Participation Student Network.

Don’t count yourself out or assume you are less capable than your peers

Imposter syndrome is something that so many Warwick students talk about experiencing at some point in their student experience. Feeling like you are worthy of being at Warwick and are capable of succeeding can be a challenge, particularly for students from a widening participation background.

In my first term, a peer from my History and Politics course mocked the fact that I didn’t have any knowledge about the Enlightenment from school and continued to question my intelligence and ability throughout my degree. I wish I’d seen then that my past educational experiences and how they differed from my peers didn’t mean that I was less intelligent or less able to succeed. Now I reflect on how impressive it was that I could adapt and thrive despite having less access to opportunities than others on my course in my earlier years.

I also wish I had known that my professors and lecturers were there and willing to support me. I discovered too late in my time at Warwick the value of attending Advice and Feedback hours and that I would have been able to utilise these to catch up on any context I was missing at that stage.

Support is available, so make sure you utilise it...

There is an extensive support network available

Similarly, I wish I had looked for and taken advantage of the wealth of support available across the University. From well-being to careers, welcome to graduation, the University has an extensive support network I could have drawn on.

I remember being told in an essay skills class for my course that if I was struggling with referencing, I should ask my parents for help because they would have referenced when they were at University. I left the class in tears, feeling alone and out of my depth. I wish I had known then that support was available to help with things like that and that I wasn’t disadvantaged in my essays because I was a first-generation student. The library has a wealth of support available to help with academic skills, including subject-specific academic support librarians and online resources.

The opportunity to gain new skills is all around you, so take advantage of it...

When I neared graduation, I approached looking for graduate jobs with a pit in my stomach. Graduation felt like a cliff edge, and I worried I didn’t have the skills and experience employers were looking for. I wish I had known then that the skills I had built at Warwick and the experiences I had by just making the most of student life would be the critical factor in securing my first graduate job. Part-time work, such as through Unitemps or the Warwick Welcome Service, looked great on my CV because it demonstrated my ability to juggle competing demands and my determination to succeed. My role on a society executive committee formed a key component of the experience I spoke about during interviews and proved leadership, governance, and project management experience. I brought things to the table that were attractive to employers by being authentically myself.  

Warwick students and alumni are your network – you don’t need family connections to go far...

I constantly contended with a worry about not having connections. Hearing the phrase, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’ and seeing friends secure holiday internships through family connections in big industries made me feel like I was starting my graduate life less equipped than my peers. The powerful thing I have learned since then is that I did have a network already and that the alumni and current students at Warwick are a resource I can pull from throughout the rest of my career.     

Toward the end of my time at Warwick, I used the valuable resources available through the Careers team. This support was a real safety net that helped me to navigate the transition from student to graduate life. I secured a role on a competitive graduate scheme in the industry I wanted, utilising their support.  

Your voice matters; you can leave Warwick as a better place than you found it...

Your voice can make a difference

My time at Warwick as a student from a widening participation background was wonderful, but it also met with its fair share of roadblocks, as you have read. At the start of my degree, I held a mindset that ‘this is just the way things are’. I wish I had known sooner that my voice and experiences were important and valuable and that I could play a part in influencing change for the better. I wanted future students to be less likely to experience the same problems that I had. Becoming involved in the Students Union by becoming a course rep allowed me to start using my voice to effect change. Every student’s unique experiences are important and valuable, so use yours at every chance.

If I could do my time as a student again, I would have tried to be more confident in myself and assured of belonging to the Warwick community. I’d have taken advantage of every opportunity and resource I could, knowing it was okay to take up space and ask for help.

A final advice to any Warwick student is to stop to smell the roses. You’ve made it here! That’s such an incredible achievement, and your time will fly by. Make sure you take enough time to enjoy your time and make memories for your future self.


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