University isn’t for everyone, and I’ve learned that that’s okay.
At first I didn’t question it. Having been brought up by two parents each with bachelors degrees, and one with a PhD, I’d never considered that there were other options. It didn’t help that the private secondary school I’d attended did everything it could to push its students towards a ‘traditional’ academic route, where going to University was considered imperative for future success.
I moved out when I was 16, went to live with N in Bristol, and attended a city centre college to study my A Levels. It was here that I discovered a host of other pathways that people could take to reach their chosen career goals, such as BTEC courses, Apprenticeships/work-based learning, and part-time/distanced learning. The possibilities seemed endless, but I’d been told all my life that ‘people with degrees earn X-percent more than people without’, so I stuck to the plan.
And then University fees increased across the country, from £3000 per year to a whopping £9000. Graduate employment rate statistics were released, and they were scary. Why would you spend 3 extra years in education, getting yourself into £27,000 worth of debt (plus more for 4 year courses and living expenses), only to find that you’ll struggle getting a job in retail, let alone in the profession you’d set out to do.
I seriously reconsidered going, but I pushed on and applied. Perhaps University life would be as awesome as everyone said it was, and at the very least I’d come out with a great experience? Only a handful of my peers applied to Universities, and an even smaller handful had their applications accepted.
At this point I realised that going to University was not a rite of passage, and that I was actually extremely lucky to have got in. I chose to do a Hospitality degree; a ‘sensible choice’ for the industry’s growth and wealth of jobs. I was excited to start a new chapter in my life, but also sad to leave N and the beautiful South West behind.
I had fun to start with; meeting new people and learning new things on my course, but the novelty soon wore off. Firstly, I started questioning whether this was the right course for me, as I’m sure many students do during their first year, but I also started feeling frustrated by the University atmosphere and culture.
My annoyances with the living arrangements probably stemmed from the fact that I had already lived away from home for two years before uni, something mature students could likely sympathise with. Living in halls can be a great first step for people who aren’t used to being independent, but I hated the feeling of being treated like and referred to as a ‘student’, rather than a regular adult person.
I’ve never been the sort of outgoing person who wants to go out clubbing every night and get ridiculously drunk at the weekends, as I’ve always preferred to stay in and watch a movie or have projects of my own to focus on in the evenings. I couldn’t seem to find any people who felt the same way as me while I was there, and I felt distanced from everyone else who looked like they were having a great time.
I also couldn’t shake the feeling that being at uni felt seriously unproductive. My timetable was slack, I wasn’t enjoying my lessons, and I was spending something like £50 a day to be there (I worked this out one evening). I wanted to earn money, be an adult and actually start living my life rather than be stuck in this weird half-way point.
I spent a couple of months deliberating over my choices, and trying to get advice. I sought help from my family (who were very supportive, even though I felt like a disappointment), friends and the National Careers Service to help me figure out what my next step would be if I left uni.
Let me just say here that my University were no help at all throughout any of this. Not one person asked why I requested to leave, or offered me any sort of guidance or help in my decision. It probably wouldn’t have mattered what they’d have said to me, as I had already made my mind up, but it would have been nice to know that someone cared about me.
Anyway, I left, moved home to Cornwall and did some serious thinking. After talking with several careers advisers, I realised that the Marketing aspect of Hospitality was actually the part I enjoyed the most, and that I should pursue that area. I found that the Chartered Institute of Marketing held a part-time course at my local college, which meant I could work full time and study at the same time. I then got myself a job doing the Marketing for a local software company.
The conclusion that Marketing would be the career for me came by talking through my skills, passions and ambitions, and matching these to the most appropriate profession. With long-standing interests in writing, design, psychology and technology, Marketing stood out as an obvious choice. There are several online tools and websites that can help you do this matching process, or if not I’d highly recommend finding an independent careers advisor near you; I chose the National Careers Service because it’s free, and non-biased towards certain pathways, unlike University careers advisers.
A few months into my new job, and things went a little crazy. N and I bought a house together, deciding that investing our money in property was a smarter decision than to rent. We also bought a puppy and have had plenty of fun in that department over the last few months.
My life is infinitely better now, and I honestly feel that leaving University was one of the best decisions of my life. Many people will have totally different experiences and will completely fall in love with uni life, but it just wasn’t for me. I feel like I can be so much more productive now, and I am free to learn and live how I like without worrying that I wasted years and thousands of pounds along the way.
What was your University/education experience like?