I went to university, just like 2 million other people in the UK each year. After a lot of blood, sweat and a colossal amount of tears, I also graduated university with a fairly reputable 2:1, but at what cost? My first and second years at Aston University saw the lowest points in my mental health for a multitude of reasons: a big contributor being stress. I was the first generation of my family to go to university, so I already felt an immense pressure to succeed and do my parents proud. I did not want to be the first child to go to university and the first one to drop out.
Nevertheless, I picked a course and skipped off to university in my rose-tinted glasses with no conceptions of the world or career goals and never gave it a second thought. I chose my degree based on what I loved and did well in at school, but did not look into how I could begin to turn this into a career. I dabbled in a few options, but none of them really appealed to me and when I was in my final year, I had pretty much lost all direction.
The one thing I did right in all of this was pick a subject I wholeheartedly adored and was fascinated by, otherwise I think it could have been a lot bleaker. I did thoroughly enjoy my degree and it ignited passion within me, but can I honestly say I require my degree to do my job? No. Did any of my employers hire me because of my degree? Maybe, maybe not, but I think my personality and enthusiasm did most of the legwork. So maybe to ‘enjoy’ my degree was simply not enough at the expense of over £40,000 of debt which I am still in.
I earn a decent enough wage and am extremely grateful and proud of where I am now, but my career is one I obtained on pure whim (I actually have my fiancé to thank for a lot of it), but still the one job I’ve actually felt as though I am putting the 3 gruelling years to some use at.
I evidently take responsibility for choosing to embark on such an expensive adventure, but I do wonder whether secondary schools and sixth forms/colleges put far too much pressure on young people to choose to go into further education. It’s good for their statistics if students jump straight from a-levels to a degree. I know for a fact that when I was at school, myself and others were made to feel as though it was the only realistic method to obtain a rewarding and well-paid job. This is definitely not the case. Even the careers you would assume you would need some sort of accredited degree, there are different avenues for these days. You can get apprenticeships in so many fields of the medical sector and a surprising amount of businesses will cover the cost of relevant training in exchange for you taking on a certain contract. These are all things I have learnt in hindsight.
I will admit I was naïve enough to think that if I didn’t go to university, I would pretty much be unemployable. These days, the opposite is true. A much higher number of people are choosing to go to university than ever before, that actually a degree in isolation does not make you ‘attractive’ enough to employers. Just 40 years ago, 15% of people over the age of 18 stayed in full-time education, whereas in 2018, that figure had risen to 50.2%.
I am not advocating for everyone to boycott further education by any means. I know that everyone has a different mental maturity at 16–18 years, but in my case, I do feel that I was too inexperienced to make that kind of conclusion. I don’t regret my decision to go to university, because I have a wonderful quality of life and I am very grateful that there aren’t many things that I go without (although, I haven’t managed to buy myself a Jaguar yet). I do sometimes think it would have been more beneficial for me personally to take a few years out, gain some perspective and then re-assess.
My advice to young adults making these decisions now, don’t rush yourself! University is not the only option and there is no guaranteed light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. You might find you are better suited to an alternative route.