To uni or not to uni
This time of year students are getting ready to head off to uni, and although it may seem AGES away - if you're wondering about whether or not to go next September, now is the time to get thinking about it. I've broken down the UCAS process here, and as you can see it's not something you can leave to the last minute.
I think there can be an expactation that uni is just what you do after college/sixth form. At my sixth form there wasn't really any other options. In terms of what we were told about, it was uni or nothing.
Going to uni is such a big decision and I think sometimes when you don't know your other options some people end up going just for the sake of going. It's a very expensive thing to do, and if you're not 100% sure it's right for you, I think you should explore what else is out there before you fill out that UCAS form.
I always knew uni was what I wanted to do. I did an English degree and then completed my journalism studies. Check out my uni-related pieces here:
If you're unsure about whether to go to uni, here's some accounts of people that did and didn't go:
Did go to uni: Ayesha
Currently - Psychological wellbeing practitioner (PWP)
Previously studied - University of Surrey (BSc Psychology)
Ayesha said at the time of choosing what to do, she felt like uni was the only option for getting a job.
"I went to uni to study more psychology as I only did it at AS level and wanted to learn more, also I thought I couldn’t get a job without going to uni to be honest! But I think most importantly I did it to gain independence, to live life on my own a bit and all that!
"I thought with psychology I had quite a few options - I had the whole route of clinical psychology and if that wasn’t for me then I could still get into the HR/business-y kind of path, as well as research."
In terms of how she ended up at Surrey, Ayesha looked at how it ranked for psychology, as well as location, and how the campus felt.
"Location was great - not in a city but close enough if I wanted to visit London (35 minute train). I was also very happy that it was a campus uni so it felt quite secluded from everything else."
Ayesha said uni brought her more than just a degree.
"I gained so much independence, met some incredible people that will be friends for life and also learned what I’m passionate about! I’m so pleased and I don’t think I have any regrets about going."
In terms of the future, Ayesha has big plans which involves more uni.
"I’ve got a post graduate certificate since my BSc which is how I’m a qualified PWP and in order to progress in my career I’ll have to study more. I’ll probably go on to doing the post graduate diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and maybe one day do the counselling doctorate or something similar."
Did go to uni: Charlie Peet
Currently - Planning officer and part-time master's student (Town and Country Planning at London South Bank University)
Previously studied - University of Leicester (BA Geography)
"I chose to go to university ultimately because I felt that for an academically talented person there was few other options if I wanted a successful career that paid well. I wanted to improve my opportunities when going into the workforce. I chose geography because I was good at it at school and enjoyed it. "
There were three things Charlie considered when choosing which uni to go to - the course, location from home, and 'the feel' for it when she visited.
"My overall experience of university was mixed. I’m glad I went because it allowed me to meet a diverse group of people and expand my understanding of the world. I love learning and it had also allowed me to get into the job I have today. However I do think university isn’t for everyone, it’s hard work which mostly requires you to be alone in your bedroom. For me this damaged my mental health somewhat.
"I don’t regret going, it was the right thing for me at the time and I wouldn’t be who I am without it."
She said a relevant degree was 'desired' for her current job.
"You don’t usually need a degree to start in planning but my degree definitely gave me skills which helped. I am doing a master's part time whilst working because it will help my career aspects in the long run."
Didn't go to uni: Molly
Currently - Working on a dairy farm in Australia
"At first I didn’t go to university because I panicked about not being smart enough for it but that evolved to me being unsure about the courses I want to take and if that would affect my future jobs."
Molly said she even went to uni open days and filled out the UCAS application form, but never submitted it.
"Instead of going to uni I continued to work in hospitality for six months while trying to figure out what I was going to do, I secured an office job and took a second job. I did all of this to save up to travel for a few months. I’ve now been travelling for nearly two years, this includes living in Vietnam, travelling in Asia and currently working in Australia.
"In a way I’ve always regretted not going to uni for the experience but I know that it will always be there. Once I’m ready to return home I will go to uni to study nursing but only when I am ready."
Didn't go to uni: Jenny
Currently - Nursery practitioner and special educational needs (SEN) co-ordinator
Rather than going to uni in the traditional way, Jenny completed a degree in childhood and youth studies through distance lerning at the open university at the age of 27.
"I didn’t go to uni when I was 18 because at the time I wasn’t sure what my long term career goals were. I applied to uni and got a place on two different teaching courses, but I deferred my place for a year and then decided not to take it.
"I was enjoying my job in the nursery at the time and didn’t feel the need to change anything. I was also a very shy and nervous person when I was younger and I definitely think this played into my decision not to go at the time."
Jenny said there were lots of pressures on her to go to uni which meant she was very tempted to go. She said people told her to 'do it for the experience'.
Instead, she worked for a couple of years before the idea of uni through a different route came up.
"I heard about the open university from a colleague who was completing her degree with them part time while still working and earning a full time wage. I knew I wanted to get a degree, kind of just to prove to myself that I could, so I looked into it and signed up. Each year you were able to choose from a few different modules to build your own degree course (although some modules were compulsory) and there was a variety of coursework, final projects and exams just like a brick uni would have.
"Generally an open uni degree would take six years to complete, but I doubled up my modules in my final year to finish a year early because I was ready to start my family. That was a tough year but definitely worth it in the end.
"As part of my work in nurseries, there has been lots of opportunities for professional development and I have completed my special educational needs co-ordinator training and am hoping to use my degree, as well as my first hand experience to move into a more SEN based role in the future. Had I gone straight to uni from college, I might never have realised my passion for working with children with SEN."
Jenny doesn't regret not going, but does sometimes wonder how different life would have turned out if she had gone.
"I’m very grateful for what I have and I wouldn’t change a thing."
The point of this piece isn't to say there's a right and wrong way of doing things, because clearly there are a number of routes you can take once you finish full-time education at the age of 18.
There's a lot of pressure on 18-year-olds to know what they want to do and therefore know which route to take, which means sometimes uni seems like the obvious choice of what to do next because it buys you three more years before moving into the adult world.
Despite this pressure, don't rush into uni if you're not sure. It's an expensive route and if you're not 100% then it's a mistake. Don't just go because it's what everyone else is doing, or it's what school is telling you to go, go because you want to go.
You can go to uni whenever you want, do what's right for you. Look at all your options, look at your interests and what you might want to do in life, and then make a decision.
Other routes could be:
Apprenticeships give you the chance to earn while you learn and gain a qualification. They're a good way to gain the skills and experience you need for many careers.
Employer-led school leaver programmes offer a direct route into the world of work, and may include obtaining a qualification as part of the programme.
A gap year might be what you need to work out what you want to do and plan your next steps. It can also give you chance to gain more work experience, save up, and travel.
I hope this helps!