Growing up, I never saw myself not going to university. It was out of the question. Both my parents went, so I would be going. Simple.
My childhood and teenage years were full of “when you’re at university” and “when you’re a student”. I always assumed I would be going to uni, to study something like English or History, and that I would be going at the age of 18.
But life does this thing sometimes, I think most people are familiar with it by now. You know when it takes all your plans, rolls them up tightly into a baton-like object and whacks you around the head with them?
As of right now, I have no idea if I’ll be going to uni, and if I do, what I’ll be studying. I definitely haven’t ruled it out, but I’ve accepted that I need to talk some time to figure things out before I commit myself to a degree.
A lot of factors lead up to me being in this situation;
My mental health was always an issue at secondary school, but it wasn’t until I got to sixth form college and started my A-Levels that it deteriorated to a point where it seriously affected my education.
My anxiety made it impossible to me to apply to university in my second year of A-Levels, so I made the choice to do a third year of college, and to do another course there.
I did a year long Art Foundation course, during which I decided that I wanted to study an art or design subject at uni instead. However, I had never done an art course prior to doing the Art Foundation, and although I was assured by tutors that I would receive support to make up for it, I didn’t.
I tried to apply for university courses and get a portfolio together but I didn’t have enough work, or enough confidence to go to an interview. I withdrew my applications and felt like an utter failure.
During that time, my anxiety got so bad that I could barely function, which made struggling with a method of presenting work that I was deeply unfamiliar with all the more difficult. I also lost my grandmother during that year, and a friend of mine from the course passed away suddenly at the age of 18, the same age as I was.
By the end of the year it was a miracle that I had passed, and I was completely spent. The fact that I didn’t get into university that year was actually a blessing in disguise, because I was a broken person.
I decided to take time out to heal myself, and planned a trip around mainland Europe with some money left to me by my grandmother before she passed on. That’s how discovered my love of travel, and realised that right now that’s what’s best for me.
There are plenty of people who end up living successful, productive, and happy lives without bachelors degrees, but this was barely mentioned to me during my time on the conveyor belt that is the British education system. The sole purpose of schools in this country seems to be getting pupils into university, rather than actually educating them. In the schools I went to, people who weren’t interested in further education were regarded with mild disdain and generally put on the back burner. I saw that and internalised it, which I think is why I was so convinced that there were no other options for me.
I’ve realised that I didn’t want to go to uni because I actually wanted to, but because I felt like I should. Because I’ve always been told that I had to go. Because almost everyone else was going. Because I was afraid of how I would be perceived if I didn’t.
Now that I’m out of education I’m finding out that a lot of my friends who are at university are thoroughly not enjoying themselves. Many feel trapped in degrees they are unsure about, no more certain about their futures than I am of mine, but with the added pressure of massive loans hanging over their heads. Others are getting caught up in their new found freedom away from their parental homes, putting their degrees on the back burner to go out partying all the time, avoiding their lectures and barely completing their work. I know so many people who plan on doing exactly what I’m doing now after they finish university.
I completely understand why.
I’ve learnt so much more about the world and myself over the past year and a half than I had learnt in my entire life up until that point. I’ve forged true friendships with people from all over the world, and my mind has been opened up to so many different perspectives.
Through travelling alone, I’ve discovered a sense of independence and a confidence that I never knew I had. I never could have imagined two years ago, at my lowest, that it was possible for me to do the things that I’ve done.
Had I gone to university at 18 or 19, I never would have found that strength or had that opportunity to grow.
Not to imply that my current situation is in any way glamorous, for the most part. It’s pretty grim working shitty jobs 3/4 of the year so I can travel for the rest of it, but being stuck in England doing that has given me time to get therapy, and genuinely consider what my long term plan is. Also, doing customer service work has given me huge amount of life experience when it comes to dealing with people and has definitely made my skin thicker.
In all honesty, it’s likely that I will end up going to university within the next few years, but I’m really grateful for having this time to explore other options.
I know that when I finally choose something to study that I will be certain about it, and that I will have developed a real appreciation for education that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.