Eighteen months ago, I wrote a post about the pros of going to university. I still stand by most of what I said, but it has dawned on me recently that since the fee hike in the UK, timing is more important that ever.
I don’t believe in regrets, I went to university at 20. The majority of Gonzo’s contributors are twenty-something graduates, and I’d say we’re all pretty happy we went.
But if I had the chance to talk to my sixteen year old self, ten years ago today writing up my first UCAS personal statement, this is what I’d have to say.
Do you know what do you want to do?
I mean really want to do. As in what do you want to do for the rest of your life? Now, I don’t think that’s a question that can truly be answered. However, if your answer is an immediate ‘dunno’, then I urge you to stay away from uni for the time being.
When university was free, £1500 a year, or heck even £3000, I’d be tempted to say the pros of going to university outweigh the cons. Now the fees are £9000 a year and rising, it’s hard to justify going unless you know what you want out of it.
Eighteen months ago, I would have said go anyway, don’t worry about debt as you’ll barely notice it once you start earning. However, working in a university services environment and heavily researching doing a second degree has taught me how difficult it is to return to university once you’ve had your first shot.
Unless you have £30000 sitting in the bank, you’re doing a medical or dentistry degree or you’ve somehow bagged a scholarship, your chances of being able to afford a second undergraduate degree are barely worth considering.
This is because once you have a degree, you have Equivalent Level Qualification status, which means you’ll pay £9000 a year and then some if the course is still being subsidised by the government after that (think sciences). On top of that, you’re not entitled to a loan from the government if you’ve had one before (kind of fair I guess), and you’re unlikely to qualify for any grants regardless of your circumstance.
Unsurprisingly, not many young people know this going through the application process. Not only this, but if you drop out and decide to restart a new course a year later, or after some time away, this can affect your loan and you may have to foot a few thousand pounds yourself.
So before you send off that application form make sure what you want to do is really right for you. Imagine yourself in a rocking chair at 90 and think about what you’d most like to accomplish. If you want to be an astronaut with all your heart, then an engineering or physics degree at university is almost mandatory. If you want to be an author, it may not be the best route. As wise Rafiki said, think harder.
You Will Never be Too Old to Study
I made the decision to go to university as I wasn’t ready to stop learning and I most certainly didn’t want a job because I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for a career. Two of the main reasons I loved university is that it broadened my horizons and increased my self-confidence. I have since discovered travel does those things too, and you can do it time and time again without having to have £30000 in your pocket. You also learn so much about those around you and what makes you happy.
Society places a lot of pressure on us to succeed while we are young. This is great if you’re Richard Feynman and you’ve known that you wanted to be a physicist since you were three years old and you’re some sort of mathematics wizard.
If you only have a vague idea, then it’s scary stepping out into the real world knowing time is slipping away and you’ve got nothing to show for it. But not knowing is half the fun, so go and work some stuff out. If it takes you one crazy gap year to realise what you really want is to be a concert pianist, then fab, go and enrol in Music College and be awesome. If it takes you ten years, that’s great too. Thirty is not too old to start a degree, neither is 40 or 50. If you’re aim is to enjoy life, then you will never be too old.
Life is Short and the Universe is Large, and You Are Incredibly Privileged.
There is just so much out there aside from the traditional paths. Heck, if you don’t want a normal job, you don’t have to have one. If you have been born with a British passport (or in a more western civilisation), you are so incredibly fortunate. You can go almost anywhere in the world, you have universal healthcare, you can earn a minimum wage and you have affordable technology at your fingertips. This is your life, and you have a head start over many millions of others. It’s a cliche, but experience is the best education, and the more varied the better informed your life decisions will be.
Life is for living after all, so don’t waste time messing about studying some subject because that’s all you’ve ever known. Think about it. You have a choice once you’re 18. No one else can make it for you. So what are you going to do?
Image credit: CC Yann Pinczon du Sel