There’s always been a bit of stigma about University and its debt it gets students into. Now is about the time students are thinking about University if it’s an option, and perhaps for those students, they think University is the only option they have.
But that’s not the case. When I was at college, University was pretty much the thing that was pressed on me. There was no career for me, as a Performing Artist in the grand old city of Leeds, so as a way to sort of prolong the inevitability that I would either A) have to change my career choice or B) struggle to find work as an actress, going to University seemed like the best thing.
Now I’m not regretting my choice to go, debt and all, my time at Uni was probably my best time in education, I learned a lot, not just academic work but I learned a lot about myself in the process. Maybe if I had waited a bit after college and not jumped straight in with both feet I might have saved myself from changing courses and tacking another £5000 worth of debt on my load. Perhaps if I had worked for a bit in some mediocre job and traveled, I might be doing something completely different now. But I’m not. There’s no point in wondering where you’ll be in five years or even ten years from now, because you’ll probably find that it might not be where you want to go, but it might be exactly where you need to be. I’m not trying to say what you need to do, but here are some pros and cons of University, based on my own experiences and on things I’ve seen online about University and its benefits.
I still traveled when I was at Uni, and though it helps to mature you, to open your eyes to different cultures and helps you experience things, travel by no means is supposed to change you completely. I didn’t travel between college and University just because it required me to work first and save up but because when I thought of the words “gap year” it just seemed like a cover for running away from my future. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to figure out where I needed or wanted to go by trekking through the Amazon or nursing baby pandas in China, or teaching in Thailand. Doing something like this appealed to me more after I finished Uni, not before; traveling seemed like a good thing to celebrate my hard work, not as a vacation to “find myself.” In my experience, you can only find yourself in the environment you intend to stay in for a while. There’s no point in realising you really like building mudhuts when you intend to live in a city. Similarly, there’s no point in trying to find out what you’re interested in or good at if you intend to return home and study academia at a University. Traveling should be about letting off steam, to have a last vacation before you knuckle down.
So if you’re looking at prospectus’ from different Uni’s and think “gap year” is more your thing, don’t squander it by getting pissed up in a foreign country. Do something worth while, whether it be hand-raising leopards, teaching children or just traveling the world. When you return, have something to tell an employer that makes you employable, otherwise there’s no point; you might as well stay in Gambia, or Australia, or wherever you might run off to. Travelling before Uni isn’t a bad thing, but you should re-consider if you only want to do it because you don’t know what else to do.
Straight after college and into University
Don’t worry about getting your application in RIGHT NOW. If you want to go this September, it doesn’t hurt to get your application in as soon as possible, but don’t feel like you need to rush and send in an application for somewhere you’re not sure about, or for a course you’re not sure about. When I applied for my course when I changed career paths, I applied and got interviews in August. I found it easier to apply by not doing it through UCAS either, even though this is the better option when you’re in college (tutor references count I’m afraid) if you’re older, or you left college a while ago, applying directly to the course tutor is the best way to go. It shows passion, maturity and initiative. It tells them you’re willing to spend your time and money on that course, and not just picking it because you didn’t know what you wanted to do.
I would also suggest to try to separate what you know from what you want. It’s so very easy to fall into the trap of going somewhere your mates will be. It’s scary applying to somewhere far away from what you know and where you don’t know anyone but you’ll understand yourself so much better if you can make that step. Going to uni on your own, figuring stuff out for yourself, making mistakes, is all part of the uni experience. It’s a part of growing up, and there’ll come a point where you need to grow up, so if you’re thinking of going to uni, just take the plunge, but don’t go just because your college professors are telling you to. There are so many options out there for students that get lost in academia, so it’s important to know your options before making a decision, because University can either give you years of experience or years of regret.
Debt has to be one of the biggest things affecting University and its students to date. It is the precipice of most debates about University, and it ignites the whole graduate/non-graduate debate in the working world.
Yes, University can be expensive. Yes, you may struggle from time to time to buy food. Yes, you’ll be paying your debt back to the government for a long time if you (pre-2012 fees) get a job bordering £15,000 a year (or 21k post-2012 fees) and you might not get a job you like straight away, or at all. You might struggle to find work. A degree is not a guarantee for a job, and it irritates me that so-called politicians think that this fact is a good reason to deviate people from academia and into work. But I’ve got news, apprenticeships aren’t guarantees for jobs either, nor is work experience. The only guarantee for a job is a signed contract by you and the employer stating you have a job, basically. And there are no apprenticeships in writing, up in the North, and when there are, they are extremely rare and hard to get. There are no apprenticeships for publishing, for acting, for designing, for animal work, for admin work. There might be the odd one, but they are not common, and are therefore harder to get. Work experience in anything doesn’t get you a job, and some employers exploit the work experience gag as a way to get desperate people to work for free. This is clear by the abundance of retail work experience being offered through the job centre before, during and after Christmas. Why employ temp staff when you can get full-timers to work all season for nothing at all?
This is not to say that work is the weaker option compared to university, both have their advantages and disadvantages, but don’t be swayed by politicians who state that uni is pointless because it gets people in debt with no definitive outcome for a job. I think the raise in fees is an absolute joke, especially when there are still bogus degrees out there that are subsidising doctoring and nursing degrees. I don’t even see my uni debt as a debt at all, at some point I’ll be paying it back in the future, but it will be because I’ll have a job earning £15,000 a year at least, and it will be in a job I at least enjoy a little bit, because of the jobs I hate, I wouldn’t be earning 10k nevermind 15k. If you take the fees out of the equation, you can do any degree. Looking back, I’d probably be more willing to listen to people who said that English is the most pointless degree to pick, but instead of sticking my head in the sand and ignoring them, I’d give them a big middle finger and say, “well, what the fuck do you know?” There are degrees out there that don’t transfer well into employability. English is one of them, mainly because it isn’t vocational. But as long as you put the effort in and analyse what your degree is doing for you, employability becomes easier, even if you choose to do a degree in pig farming and then apply for a job as a teaching assistant. Skills are transferable, and anyone who says that your skill doesn’t fit in with the workplace is kidding themselves.
It’s daunting thinking about your future. It’s a scary place, especially when you seem to walk down a path and you don’t know where it goes. Don’t be led or pushed down any path. Your path is your own, and your destination is yours to choose. When you’re young, these decisions seem so difficult, so life-or-death, but there’s always time, and it’s precious, so don’t squander it by using it to worry about where you’ll end up. Six years ago I thought I’d be living in London, acting my heart out on stage. Five years ago I thought I’d be writing and getting published left, right and centre. Four years ago I thought I’d be living in Manchester, editing. Two years ago I thought I’d have a job, any job. A year ago I thought I’d be a website developer for Tesco. This year, I don’t know. I stopped thinking where I’d end up and starting thinking about where I am now. It’s not where I thought I’d be, but I’d never want to be anywhere else, other than here, in this moment, right now.