To Uni or Not to Uni – Guest Post
My next guest post is from the lovely Hannah who blogs at losthanfound.com and she’s written a really personal piece on her experience of A-Levels and going into Clearing for University.
To Uni or Not To Uni
I was living in Gateshead with my mum and sister when I completed my A Levels in English Language, French and German.
Despite submitting the geekiest final project for English possible ever – a comparison of the grammatical structure of Modern Standard English with Quenya Elvish from Lord of the Rings (yes there is more than one type of Elvish) – I think it is safe to say that I got a little complacent.
I certainly didn’t study as hard as I could have done and so on results day I was a bit disappointed but not entirely surprised to learn that I hadn’t quite achieved what was needed to take up my conditional offer at the University of Sheffield to study Law with French.
And so I went into Clearing.
If you don’t know what Clearing is, it is a system whereby potential students find alternative universities or courses that are willing to offer them a place.
I am very much of the generation who were told that university is *the* way to get ahead in life.
In fact when I suggested to my mum that I might take a year out as I had not got into the university I wanted she said ‘you are not NOT going to university’.
With that in mind, Politics with French it was at the University of Southampton.
I literally could not have moved further away from home without getting my feet wet. I
didn’t get a room in Halls of Residence (even though 3 weeks into the start of term someone from the university called my mum to ask why I hadn’t collected my keys – admin error there guys!) so I moved into a shared house in the suburbs of the city with 3 final year students, 1 of whom I am still in touch and very good friends with.
They were a great support and really took me under their wings but all the support in the world couldn’t have hidden the fact that I hated my course and was utterly miserable.
I was homesick, out of my depth and lonely as I had no friends on campus.
I spent my days with 2 other outcasts, both of whom dropped out only slightly before I did.
By mid-November I was working full time in a Wetherspoon’s pub down the road from my house.
I hadn’t told my parents that I had dropped out. I was scared of their reaction.
My mum got her degree in her late 30s while raising 2 kids on her own and working full time so the thought of disappointing her was gut-wrenching.
In the end, I told my Dad who is an altogether softer biscuit (excuse the analogy but Bake Off is back, so…).
He reassured me that everything would be fine and asked me what I wanted to do.
He also told me to tell my mum.
I decided to go and live with my Dad in Norfolk and after telling my mum what had happened I don’t think she spoke to me for a good few weeks.
She was angry more because I had lied to her and told her that everything was fine when it quite clearly wasn’t.
By February I was living in my Dad’s shed.
This sounds awful but actually it was great.
I had already had a taste of living on my own and so my own [shed] door was important.
My Dad is a boat builder and so his 3 sheds are pretty huge.
I had a pink carpet, yellow walls, lights and a TV aerial…what more could a girl need?
I also had some pretty sizeable 8-legged roommates but we won’t dwell on that.
My Dad is not mean by the way – he and my stepmum were foster carers at the time and all their spare rooms were filled with kids who needed a stable home and a safe and secure bedroom much more than me.
Over the next year, I worked in Marks and Spencer and in a pub on the Norfolk Broads.
I was earning money and making friends and I felt great.
But after about 6 or 7 months I knew that this wasn’t the life I wanted.
I wanted to go to university. I was ready now. But what would I do?
Inspired by watching the development of one of the foster kids as she underwent play therapy, I started looking into courses in that area and stumbled upon Creative Expressive Therapies at the University of Derby.
I could see a career route from it, it appealed to my creative and somewhat ‘hippie’ sensibilities and above all there was a drama pathway which suited me down to the ground.
I enrolled and completed my degree and although I didn’t go into a therapies career I am still absolutely certain that the course shaped me and gave me some of the valuable skills I now have.
However, I also know that the failure of not getting into my first choice and of dropping out and the experience of working full time for over a year before restarting university were also key experiences in my life, without which I would not have the resilience and problem solving abilities I have today.
Reflecting on my journey now, I can say with total confidence that if I were to do it all again, I probably would not go to university.
At least I wouldn’t go at age 18, green behind the gills, to a university hundreds of miles away from everyone I knew to study a course that I only picked as it was the first one who said they would have me. I wasn’t ready.
The market for universities has changed over the last 15 years and Clearing has gone from a ‘panic buying’ system where universities held all the power because almost everybody wanted to go there to a much more student driven system where students are seen as consumers and universities have to ‘sell’ their courses to potential ‘customers’ as something worth spending almost £30,000 on.
Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that there is value in Higher Education.
For some careers it is the ONLY way to get where you want to be and you will genuinely meet some of your lifelong friends while studying.
But, it is not the only way to succeed in life. Work is valuable.
Apprenticeships allow you to earn and learn.
Degree Apprenticeships allow you to earn, learn and get a full degree.
Some companies with huge graduate programmes report that the skills and abilities of their apprentices far exceed those of university graduates who may have all the theoretical knowledge but struggle sometimes to apply what they have learned and function well in a professional environment.
That’s why if you are at university, or thinking about going, the best piece of advice I can give you is GET IN TOUCH WITH THE CAREERS DEPARTMENT BEFORE THE END OF YOUR FIRST YEAR. Trust me.
But if you are not at university or really are not sure whether it is for you, don’t jump blindly into something that you are not ready for.
Work, travel, learn about life, about yourself.
Become the person you are and then you will know what the right path is for you. Remember that some of the most successful people in the world do not have university degrees.
- Ellen DeGeneres – comedian and TV host
- Anna Wintour – editor-in-chief at American Vogue
- Deborah Meaden – entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den ‘dragon’
- Richard Branson – founder of Virgin
- Steve Jobs – founder of Apple (he did OK I guess with a net worth of $10.2 billion at the time of his death)
I think the most important thing to remember is that it is totally OK to not know what you want to do when you are 18 years old.
I know at 18 we all feel invincible and like we can conquer the world but when you are 34 and looking back on yourself at 18 you will see how young you truly were.
It’s OK not to have it all figured out.
It’s OK to want to explore yourself and your options.
It’s OK to work full time to earn a bit of money so you can buy the things you want to buy or go to the places you want to go.
Spend the time investing in and truly discovering yourself and what you want to achieve and I swear it will not be time wasted.
Hannah Thompson is a relatively new blogger with a fresh, fun, feminist outlook on life.
She is a plus-size girl with a plus-size personality who writes about anything and everything that she has a reaction to.
Hannah can be found with her husband Nik walking their Border Collie Mylo in the Peak District market town where they have lived for the past four years.
Hannah’s social media
A huge thank you to Hannah for writing such a powerful post and being my latest guest writer.
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