This is a question a lot of young people will ask themselves. It is a personal decision so, sadly, I can’t offer a straight yes or no answer. However, I have the benefit of hindsight on my side, so here are some of my thoughts on attending university that I hope will be useful.
Let’s begin with probably the most important piece of information: I didn’t go to university.
During my second year of college, all anybody was talking about was UCAS and university applications. As I was a high-achiever, there was a lot of anticipation for what I would go on to do next. While I was academically successful during college, it had been a draining and lonely experience personally. I didn’t have many friends. The few friends that I did have had different schedules, so I spent a lot of time by myself. To achieve good grades, I worked as hard as I could and usually felt exhausted.
Although I love learning, I was unsure whether I wanted to continue with education. Moreover, I had no idea what I wanted to do as a career. I wasn’t willing to get myself into debt for something I wasn’t passionate about, or convinced I could be successful in.
One afternoon, I attempted to discuss my future with my English tutor. To my horror, she told me that not going to university would be the worst thing I could do. She went on to tell me that I was far too talented and smart to not continue my education. I imagine she was coming from a good place, but all she did was make me feel like I was destined to fail if I didn’t continue with my studies. It wasn’t what I needed to hear at the time. I felt under extreme pressure and completely overwhelmed. What if she was right? What if I would never amount to anything because I hadn’t gone to university?
The next morning, I was early to my Sociology lesson and my tutor invited me in for a chat. I opened up to him about how I felt and, for the first time, somebody told me it was okay not to go to university. Immediately, a sense of relief washed over me. He explained that there were options beyond that, and things I could do further down the line when I was ready. I definitely wasn’t ready for it straight after college. I knew that, but I needed to know that it was okay to feel that way.
Here’s where I stand on university:
I don’t think it’s as important as it used to be. Unfortunately, there’s not a guaranteed job at the end of it. The sad reality is that you can work your backside off to get your degree and still end up working in a job that has nothing to do with it.
That said, I’m not here to put anybody off the idea of it, either. This isn’t a one-woman campaign to persuade you to avoid university at all costs. I want to give you a balanced perspective so you have information to help towards your decision. There are occasions when I find myself wishing I had gone to university. Since leaving college, I’ve been able to recognise the things I enjoy and would like to pursue. However, that’s only through the experiences I’ve had since then. When I was 18, I had no idea.
Things to consider:
If you have a career in mind that you are passionate about, I would encourage you to go for it. University is helpful in many ways. You learn new skills, you meet new people and you explore the world a little bit more. Several of my friends who went to university have had wonderful experiences and made lifelong friends. They’ve been fortunate enough to go on to do what they’ve always wanted. For them, it was very rewarding and I’m sure they wouldn’t trade that time for anything in the world.
On the other hand, university isn’t for everyone, and it may not be for you. It’s hard to admit that, especially when all of your friends are going for it. You may be concerned about your family being disappointed. Read this next sentence very carefully and take a minute to process it: it doesn’t make sense to do it if it’s not what you want. The financial aspect aside, you also need to consider your mental well-being. If you go to university right away, how will you feel? From what I can gather, it’s hard enough to work towards a degree when you’re actively chasing a dream, so imagine how challenging it would be if you don’t want to be there.
I would also recommend thinking about what success means to you. Will it come from a particular career, or would you find it through something else? By other people’s standards, my English teacher was perhaps right and I haven’t gotten anywhere in life. For several years, I was embarrassed by the fact that I hadn’t gone to university. Yet, all I ever wanted in life was to be content with what I had.
As far as I’m concerned, I have everything I need: a supportive family, a loving partner, a cute cat and a place to call home. I realise that’s not exactly ambitious, but it’s what it’s important to me. I didn’t spend hours planning for career success. When I was working hard for my good grades, it was to make my family proud. My time was spent daydreaming about making memories surrounded by people I love. As long as I can do that, everything else falls into second place.
Here’s what you need to know:
Personally, I believe that colleges spend too much time ramming the benefits of university down pupils throats, rather than giving them a broader perspective. Or, perhaps it was just my college that did that. It’s also been a long time since I was in college, so I would like to believe that things have changed since then.
Just to be safe, here are both sides:
University can be a highly beneficial thing to do, both for yourself and your career. Even if you change your mind about the work you want to do, many organisations look admirably on those who have acquired degrees. It can also boost your confidence and enable you to create irreplaceable memories with great people. Not to mention the fact that having a degree is a brilliant thing to achieve and is undoubtedly something to be proud. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. If you decide this is the path you wish to take, then I wish you all the best. I’m sure you’ll do great!
Equally, you don’t have to go to university right now, or at all. It doesn’t mean that you will get nowhere in life. People find success in all different places. I know plenty of people have gone on to do well without a degree under their belt. There’s also The Open University which allows flexible learning, and a vast number of part-time courses are available at colleges and universities. If you need a little reassurance, here’s a bunch of famous faces who didn’t need a degree to make something of their lives, and you don’t either. If you’re not ready to go for it just now, don’t let the world trick you into thinking it’s game over.
What to do now:
I’m a fan of lists, so I would suggest compiling a list of pros and cons. You may find it useful to look at this article when you’re writing your list. It covers a lot of the important issues that you need to think carefully about when making your decision. Try to think of yourself rather than anybody else. We all have a tendency to get caught up in wondering what other people will think and say, but that shouldn’t be a deciding factor in your choice.
Most importantly, if this is something you are really struggling with, talk to someone. Talking to my sociology teacher enabled me to not only make a decision but also be comfortable with the choice I made. If you don’t feel ready to talk to someone you know, I’m always happy to discuss the issues raised in my posts, so you can find ways to contact me here. Feel free to drop me an email, even if you just want to offload all of your thoughts to someone. While I can’t guarantee I’ll have all the answers, I do promise to listen and try my best to help however I can.
Whether you’re looking to go to university, have already been or have never tried it, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject so please leave a comment!