University. The final step on your personal ladder before you reach your dream career, the golden ticket to any job you desire and the partying along the way? That’s just a bonus. Or is it?
Uni is pushed by teachers during your a-levels as being the only way you’re going to succeed in life; if you don’t go, you may as well pick up your McDonald’s uniform and your council house application on results day. To anybody that hasn’t experienced ‘uni life’, they think that it’s just binge drinking and last-minute studying before your finals and that you’ll be experiencing major FOMO if you don’t go. SURE, you’ll rack up tens of thousands of pounds worth of debt but who cares, student finance pay for that and you don’t have to pay it back for yeeaarrsss– it’s basically free money.
For me university wasn’t at all what it was cracked up to be. At. All. First year was a real eye opener and was fun at the beginning but that was purely for the first-time experiences, confessing our undying love for the fellow drunken girls in the club toilets and learning more about the one subject you loved.
Having my family drop me off was hard. Like really bloody hard. I hated cuddling them goodbye because I knew I wouldn’t be having another cuddle until Christmas. Even worse was saying goodbye to my then boyfriend knowing that after spending nearly everyday together in the summer, I was having to be completely alone in a single bed with no one to calm my nerves. He left after my family so we had time alone; I literally bawled my eyes out and was introduced to my first of four flat mates with major panda eyes after she heard my sobs through the wall. She offered me a cuddle and that we’d get absolutely off-our-faces-drunk and initiate freshers week. The night was really difficult, until the freshers angels showed up and told us about the big piss up at the Student Union! We were true to our word and got ready to head out. In our best cool-casual clothes we headed out with every intention to get absolutely white-girl-wasted.
We proceeded to do this most nights, regardless of the insane hangovers the next day. Coming home at 3am, throwing up and passing out in bed was the norm but eventually became too much. The amount I was drinking, I realise now, was insane and without my knowledge it was slowly contributing to my deteriorating mental health. But if I thought that was bad, when I broke up with my then boyfriend of four years because of his constant cheating, I would just binge drink, have drunken hook-ups and spend the next day crying into a tub of ice cream. That then became my norm. I skipped lectures, spent most days alone and found solace in self harm, unbeknown to my flatmates because I still pretended I was absolutely fine. The drinking became too much, as did the cutting, and I was eventually punishing myself by not eating or eating and purging. I was alone in my room a lot and I lost an incredible amount of weight.
When I was back in my hometown for the Christmas holidays, my mum honestly didn’t know what to do. She tried forcing me to eat but all I wanted to do was be alone all day and then go out at night.
In terms of the lectures and the academic side of things, because we know that university isn’t all drinking and partying, I also wouldn’t recommend. There was a lot of things we were being ‘taught’ that were pretty self-explanatory and we were basically paying £9,000 a year to be taught things from a PowerPoint slide that was available to view online and the information was only a quick Google search away. Albeit, there were certain things I learnt and experienced from my course such as law and PA, feature writing and how to code a website but an awful lot of the course content was easily accessible through the internet. I feel as though I could have done an apprenticeship or that I could have gone straight into working for a publication and gained the same, if not more, knowledge on my chosen profession.
If you want to become a doctor or go into a very knowledge-based profession, then of course you wont be able to go into that field of work without a degree but for so many degrees and courses there just isn’t a dire need to go to university. That isn’t to say that people shouldn’t go to uni just because I said so because if you want to go than so be it, but what I see an awful lot of is pressure to get into a good university. From the minute we started our A-levels, we were badgered to look into universities and the best ones, and how to write the perfect UCAS application; all this is just too much. It feels as though if you don’t apply, you’re missing out on one of the greatest experiences life has to offer which is just not true.
For me, although I had always wanted to be a writer and journalist, I really wanted to go travelling and go to Spain to be a children’s rep, utilising my qualifications in drama and my experience with singing, to do children’s entertainment. After many family holidays and chatting to reps, I thought this would be a fantastic experience and so much fun but my teachers thought I was insane and that I was wasting my life. My head of year at sixth form called me into her office one morning to discuss it and when I pretty much refused to give up on my dreams, she urged me to pick up a few prospectus’ and just think about the mistake I was about to make. Being 17, at the time, I was scared that if I didn’t get into further education I’d fail at life and spend my days watching all my friends do so well after university whilst I sat at home.
The pressure from my family was also a major factor in my giving up my dream of going travelling as I was to be the first one in the family to go to university, get a degree and “actually do something with my life”. That was tough for me because my mum would rather me be a few miles away at university than an entire plane ride away in a completely different country. She was always supportive in what I wanted to do but you could always tell she preferred me to go to a university.
I think a lot of 18 year old’s can relate to this in particular, with being the first in the family to go into higher education, because of not wanting to disappoint their loved ones also to not have the dreaded fear of missing something that sounds incredible on paper. What many of these people fail to realise is that university isn’t at all like what you read or what you think you may know.
A YouGov survey said that a quarter of all British students, that’s one out of every four students, suffered with completing day-to-day tasks due to poor mental health. 77% of the students that were surveyed have problems with depression and a close 74% had difficulty dealing with anxiety and as we all know, the two are very likely to be experienced together. Along with those surveyed, students also reported struggling with eating disorders.
Stress, anxiety and depression are very common in modern-day society but team that with numerous looming deadlines, pressure to make and keep friends and being homesick, you are bound to feel depressed and on edge. 71% say that work from university is one main source of stress. Then having the added pressure of finding a job after university.
Although my three years spent at university were beyond difficult and filled with days where I couldn’t even make it out of bed, not every day was bad. I did make a lot of brilliant memories and some that I wont be able to ever top, like incredible flat parties and times when I’ve laughed harder than ever before, but the good was unfortunately outweighed heavily by the bad.
Apart from all that I experienced, from heartbreak to rumours and drink to deadlines, receiving the news I was graduating with a 2:1 Hons was one of the proudest moments of my life. Walking up onto that stage after hearing my name being called was like no other and as soon as I walked off I honestly just couldn’t help but burst into tears. I ran to my boyfriend Jon and to my family who were waiting for me and fell into their arms. I kept crying, saying “I’ve made it, I’ve really made it!” as they cried with me. I truly didn’t expect to see out the entire three years because of my mental health but I think doing so made me realise just how strong I am. Seeing all the people I’d spent stressing over assignments with, graduate too was also such a proud moment.
But at the end of the day, is a piece of paper with your name on it really worth all the debt, stress and tears? I don’t think so.
I’m still yet to find a graduate job a year later and I’ve just started having to pay back my student finance debts. I don’t think I major over anyone else that doesn’t have a degree because I am still in the same position as a lot of people who didn’t go to university. My boyfriend Jon, for example, didn’t go to uni and we are practically in the same field of work.
I’m a lot happier where I am now. I have my own home with my partner, my own job, a car and all of that would have been achievable without a degree. Don’t feel like you have to go to university to make anybody proud but yourself; do what you feel is right and if you think that you have made a mistake in not going, there isn’t an age limit on going to university.
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