I didn't go to university. Six years later, do I regret it?
I was one of the first people in my year to decide I wasn’t going to university straight from school - let me tell you I had my fair share of people telling me I was crazy or that I’d be behind everyone else. Even the teacher I had the most respect for told me I’d reach a glass ceiling if I didn’t go to university. All of this came at a time where I was experiencing what I now know to be anxiety and trying to work out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.
It’s the time of year when those of you in your last year of college are waiting to see what your results are, and those in their first year are looking at which universities to visit on open days to choose their top five. I wish there had been more information out there when I was 16-17 about alternative options, which is why I’ve decided now is a good time for me to share my thoughts and ’story’ as it may help others who are sitting on the fence.
A bit of background
I’m now 23, working as a digital marketing manager for a B2B PR agency - so I’m six years of experience in. As a disclaimer, the following post is purely my experience, and not intended to be a rule book or guide. But, in my experience, others stories help to educate so that you can make an informed decision yourself.
Having spoken to a lot of people my age and younger, I know that schools are very adamant on pushing their students down the path of university. I say pushing rather than guiding, because that’s exactly how everyone I speak to describes it. That’s not necessarily a bad thing - university is a great choice for the majority of people; it’s three years of learning, stepping out of your comfort zone, meeting new people and getting to know yourself more. Plus, it’s essential for some career paths to learn the right skills.
What I think is a bad thing is that the education system is not doing enough to teach students about other options. Not everyone is looking to be a lawyer, a teacher, an architect (picked three random job roles there), and this especially applies for students who are looking at more creative or hands-on trade roles. Options such as apprenticeships should be explained better and levelled as just as important as a university path. When I was at school, apprenticeships and gap years were dirty words, and I know not much has changed.
What did I want to do after school?
Honest answer? I had no idea. I did over 50 hours of volunteering at my secondary and junior schools because I thought teaching might be my best path, other than that I was stumped. I did well in creative studies at school, maths and sciences weren’t my thing. I knew I liked reading, writing and challenging opinions, and took English Literature, History and Philosophy & Ethics at A Level, all heavy essay subjects.
So, I drafted my personal statement - rather reluctantly - visited universities and applied through UCAS. I thought at some point the excitement would come, that something would spark an interest. But the whole time I couldn’t help thinking that it sounded fun for anyone other than me. The campuses I looked at were great, lectures sounded interesting, people were friendly, I just couldn’t shake that feeling.
But I went along with it. University had been sold as the next and only step. It wasn’t until one day in the kitchen when I was catching up with my parents, my dad just came out and said;
“You know you don’t have to go to uni?”
It sounds funny now, but it was the biggest sigh of relief I’ve ever had. I don’t think we were even talking about uni at the time, but they’d seen a change in me. And that’s when, a month out from finishing college, I started looking into other options and deferred my accepted applications to the following year.
What did I end up doing?
At the time, I was working in retail part time to fuel my car and social life. The plan was to up my hours and work there for at least six months while I considered my options. I was buzzing to be out and working, I didn’t really care about having a summer or going travelling, like most on a gap year.
I started to look into marketing - I really enjoyed media studies at school and had started editing videos and researching digital trends in my own time. That’s when apprenticeships appeared on my radar - a lot different then to what they are now (which is something I may talk about in another post, another time). I went through an interview process with an apprenticeship provider, linked to a college, and then went to a few interviews with companies. I was lucky enough to be offered two jobs and was able to choose my best fit.
I spent a year working four days a week Monday - Thursday and attending college on Fridays for a Level 3 Diploma, learning and asking as many questions as I could. I wasn’t on a good wage, but I was absolutely loving my job. When I got my A Level results the following summer, I went straight back to work and wrote an email to my accepted university to inform them that I would no longer need the place. I got the grades to go, by that point I just knew it wasn’t my path.
Do I regret not going to uni?
Absolutely not. I’ve worked in two very different agencies now for around three years each, been able to travel while working and for such a variety of clients. It’s not been a breeze and you do have to work hard to gain respect, but I’m now in a position which is at the same level if not higher than my counterparts that went to uni.
Some may say that I could’ve gone, partied a bit more, met more people and still ended up in the same position. To that I say, true, but I wasn’t that sort of person when I was 18. That came later for me because of other things going on, which is absolutely fine. I would’ve potentially ended up down a different path and I’m not sure I’d want to change where I am now.
I’d say it’s also a good option for people who don’t fancy being in 50k or more of debt, those who aren’t good at textbook academia, those who want a different lifestyle. If you look at job requirements for creative or hands on jobs these days, degrees are not required to get your foot through the door.
If you’re reading this and you do want a job that requires a degree but you don’t feel ready, then take a year or two out! There is no definitive timeline to life. Use those years to learn other things, gain life experience, get yourself ready. As long as you’re making good choices uni is not always the next step you should take.
Does this help you?
Hopefully! I’d say if you’re having the same feelings I did, speak to as many people as you can about it. Ask questions, speak to apprenticeship providers and contacts just as you would universities on open days and soak up all your options. Ask yourself why you want to go to university / why you don’t - weigh up the short and long term pro’s and con’s. And most importantly, think about yourself. This is your life to live and if you need a bit longer to decide, don’t let anyone shame you for it!
If you have a question, or just want to chat, leave a comment below, or talk to me on Insta @Project_Becks.