With September being upon us soon, that can only mean one thing: the academic year is soon to start. Due to this, many people will (understandably) be feeling anxious about university starting. However, for many girls, there’s an added reason to be nervous. While being insecure and lacking confidence are not traits that are exclusive to girls, the socialization of girls – which teaches them to be quieter, more reserved, more ‘palatable’ – has created a confidence gap. Due to this, many girls are starting university with additional anxieties about how to perform in academic spaces, how to deal with setbacks, and adapting to their new city and life.

To combat this, student Daisy Jennings set up Uni Girls Network. On her Instagram page, Daisy invites girls from across the UK and beyond to offer their personal university stories and advice. Also, she consistently posts practical advice on topics such as choosing accommodation, making friends, and picking the best possible course.

What led you to start Uni Girls Network?

I was a nervous wreck on the lead up to university (for me, that was this time last year). I worried about absolutely everything; What if I don’t like my flatmates? What if I don’t get into a society? Will my relationship last? How often will I visit my boyfriend? When will I see my friends from home? The list goes on. I chose a university that was only around an hour away from home because I genuinely thought I’d be home most weekends and wanted to make it easy for myself. Then I got to uni and absolutely loved it! I made good friends with my flatmates and with girls from my society. I broke up with my boyfriend and didn’t go home until I had to.

Following this, I started @unigirlsnetwork during the lockdown. This was a very strange time for us all. My year at uni was cut short, so I found myself reflecting on the amazing year I had, and it was crazy to me that I felt so genuinely terrified before I started. I knew I wouldn’t be the only one who had felt like this, and I knew there would be girls in the year below me who are currently feeling anxious and worried about starting uni.

I spoke to some of my closest friends about my idea of @unigirlsnetwork and quickly realized that all of our university experiences were so different. Some girls partied every single second, and some relied on planning trips home. Some struggled with their course, others with their flat, etc. I wanted to make a page focused on reassuring girls who are worried about the move to uni, or girls at uni who are going through a rough patch. I knew the best way to do this would be by sharing everyone’s totally different experiences and having girls open up about how they felt throughout the year. In short, the reason I started @unigirlsnetwork was to comfort and reassure girls who are worried about university in any way.

Did you feel intimidated by university when you first started?

Definitely. It was like being in year 7 again. Suddenly you’re the youngest, you don’t know your way around campus yet, you’re unsure about how to hand in a piece of work and everything is so new. I got over this quickly when I realized that everyone is in the same boat. My flatmates and I always helped each other out if we didn’t understand something and everyone on my course made a huge Facebook chat which was really helpful. Everyone in first year is just trying to settle in, make friends, and figure out life at university. Once you understand that everyone feels the same, it all becomes far less intimidating.

Do you think that girls often find themselves lacking confidence in academic spaces?

I think confidence in academic spaces comes down to someone’s personality. I went to an all-girls secondary school so have always been comfortable expressing my opinion in academic spaces and having boys in my classes at uni didn’t really phase me. University can be intimidating for everyone and I definitely think that the new learning environment of lectures and seminars can cause anyone to initially lack confidence. Speaking up in academic spaces takes a lot of confidence, but if I’ve learned one thing from @unigirlsnetwork it’s that confidence comes with a fake-it-till-you-make-it attitude. For all of us girls, uni can be scary, but as I mentioned, once you understand that everyone feels the same as you, you will become a lot more confident. Lecturers and seminar leaders are there to help us and finding the confidence to be a proactive learner at uni can be so beneficial.

Did you expect the network to grow in the way it has so far?

I feel incredibly proud of Uni Girls Network and the small community I have created.  My page has grown steadily and organically over the last few months, and I hope it continues to do so. Every girl who has messaged or commented or interacted with the page has been so kind and lovely. Speaking to the girls in the community inspires me to keep posting content and to keep working hard on the page.

It’s amazing to hear from girls at university who are eager to get involved and share their own story, as well as girls headed to university, don’t hesitate to ask questions, which I love! I’m not sure what I expected in terms of growth when I started the page. My goal was to connect girls with each other and create a community of girls who lift each other up. I feel like I’ve achieved this, which makes me so happy.

Do you find being the admin behind Uni Girls Network also helps with your own confidence, because you are able to read so many empowering stories?

More than anything, being the admin behind the page reassures and inspires me. I read every post before it goes up, and I am the first person to receive questions from girls who are worried about uni. It really inspires me to read other girls’ university experiences as I realize that everyone has their own struggles. It reassures me to know that girls in the community are quick to answer each other’s questions and support each other if they have had similar experiences. Also, It has definitely made me more confident within myself because the girls in the community all build each other up, which is amazing.

Where do you see Uni Girls Network in the future?

I am so passionate about what I’m doing at the moment. Sharing stories and advice will always be what @unigirlsnetwork is for. In the future, I would love to have girls from the community connect in real life. I’ve had so many uplifting conversations with girls because of this page and putting the energy of the girls in our community into one room would be incredibly powerful. I would also love to participate in further collaborations with other Instagram pages on topics that I am passionate about. A few weeks ago I collaborated with @handsoffclub, we both worked hard on creating resources to raise awareness about sexual violence at university. Sexual violence is a topic that I am passionate about. In the future, I am definitely going to work on empowering girls with further resources on various topics such as mental health, rape culture, and intersectional feminism.

You can find Uni Girls Network here.

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