I hadn’t imagined that I’d be sat in my front room, two or three months from finishing my degree, and desperately wishing it could be over sooner. Going to university will be the experience of your LIFE – or so you’re told at age 17/18, by teachers clawing to improve the school’s “look at all these uni nerds we must be a good school give us money” rating. You’ll meet new people, learn more stuff (which, like GCSE Maths, you may well never end up using) – and besides, how else do you think you’re going to find a job? It’s university, or a life of homelessness and tears and porridge. Really bland porridge, without fruit or honey or anything.
While volunteering, I discovered that it was possible to work your way up the ranks, and have a paid role in a charity that makes an enormous difference to millions of people. Working in retail, I discovered that it was possible to climb a similar ladder, progressing your career through your experience and knowledge of the company. While at my lowest and spending a desperate hour combing through Google search results for “apprenticeships” – as if it wasn’t too late for me to do one – I discovered that I could have gone into the same roles I’m now hoping to, but been paid to go through training (not that some apprenticeships don’t really take the mick – looking at you, Subway). And when surfing through the postgraduate options available to me, I discovered that given the time to reflect and a lot less pressure, I might not have chosen the degree which I’m studying now.
It’s not that university hasn’t brought a lot of positives into my life – I’ve moved from a very quiet area with nothing to do, to a city that’s full of shops and restaurants, cinemas, and escape room puzzles (seriously, there must be more than five now, and it’s not that big a city). I’ve had a job that’s changed my life, and discovered an absolute adoration of volunteering, neither of which are opportunities that would have been available to me before. Perhaps most importantly, I’ve been able to go through that all-important process of reinventing myself. Not in a Cady Heron sort of way, but in an I-can-be-as-confident-and-cool-as-I-want-because-nobody-here-knows-about-that-time-someone-chased-me-around-the-classroom-and-everyone-said-I-should-slap-him-but-instead-I-gave-him-an-awkward-noogie-and-everyone-laughed-at-me sort of way. Yeah, that old chestnut.
But there have also been negatives, namely the ridiculous debt that I’ve accrued; if I’d imagined myself over £50 grand in debt as a child, I probably would have assumed I’d bought a country. And all the while that debt is adding up, you’re thinking about what you want to do. Admittedly, getting a degree is probably a pretty good way of killing a few years while you decide what sort of job you might want to go into – but we’re all hearing more and more about the importance of experience in addition to higher education. In 2012, The Guardian reported that over 50% of recruiters thought graduates with no work experience were unlikely to even make it through those length questionnaire-based selection processes, let alone be made a job offer. A 2013 High Fliers Research study conducted on over 18,000 graduate leavers also found that work experience roughly tripled the chances of getting an offer, and in 2015, the Telegraph ran an article describing how achieving a 2.1 would “no longer suffice” without experience.
So if you feel that you can get a decent grade, juggle it with experience, and cope with the difficulties of moving away from home for the first time on top of all that, then uni can change your life in a lot of fantastic ways. But unless you’re aiming for a career path which absolutely requires a degree, like scientific research, then don’t feel as though going to university is the only way that you can be successful. I’ve met people of various ages who have traveled, worked interesting, challenging, and well-paid jobs, even started up their own businesses, all without needing a degree. For me, university has been an interesting, challenging (to say the least), and well-rounding experience, which I wouldn’t change because it’s opened up a lot of possibilities that weren’t there before. Just don’t let your miserable, figures-conscious PSHE teacher bully you into going because “you’ll never get a job without it,”.
Thanks for reading!
Images from clipartpanda.com, quickmeme.com, & tenor.co.
Newspaper references in order of appearance: