Throughout our school lives, and particularly from the age of 15 upwards, every child becomes a victim of the ‘get ready to go to uni’ narrative. I personally believe – as I’m sure many of my peers would agree – that schools tend to overemphasise the necessity of going to uni. It’s presented as a case of ‘this is the direction your life must go, whether you like it or not’. From a stupidly young age we are taught, ‘you go to school to get into college, then you go to college to get into Uni, and you then go to Uni and get a job and that’s the way things should be’. It can feel as though any other path is synonymous with failure. I’m sure many a teacher out there would disagree with me, but as a teenager, it truly is how you’re made to feel. Yes, we are half-heartedly informed that apprenticeships, going straight into work, travelling or other options are open to us, but everything is drowned out by ‘UCAS fever’.
As a person who was both easily pushed into things and mentally fragile throughout secondary school and college, I felt backed into a corner. Having done well in my GCSEs, I felt as though it was just presumed that I wanted to go to Uni, to the point where I even convinced myself it was what I wanted. My year 13 was spent going through the motions of applying, attending open days and generally lying to myself. Deep down, I knew I wasn’t in the right place to be leaving home, and I also knew I wasn’t even going to get the grades I needed, but I didn’t dare speak up. It didn’t even feel like there was another option. It was like, if I didn’t go to Uni right now, then my chances of success were over for good.
Eventually, luckily, it hit me. However much I was ‘trained’ to think otherwise, University is not everything, and it isn’t right for everyone. Not even in the ‘if you didn’t get high grades, Uni might not be for you’ sense. You could get the best grades in the world and it still not be for you. I realised that it literally is just one of a whole host of equally exciting opportunities and career paths. In 2015, therefore, at around Spring time I decided to withdraw my first UCAS application, even with 5 offers in the bag. It was one of the most nerve-racking things I’ve ever done, but looking back was such a huge step for me in realising that it’s my life, and the path I take does not have to be this linear, picture perfect road we’re expected to go on. At this point, I had no idea what my next step in was going to be, which was super scary, but at the same time being honest with myself was like a weight off my shoulders.
As I’d anticipated, my A-Level results first time round were not to the standard I knew I was capable of, but having freed myself from those unrealistic expectations, I didn’t even see it as an issue. I was happy to go back to college and resit, work super hard over the next year and get the grades I wanted and needed. Letting go of that first UCAS application was really the turning point, and it made me realise that whatever path you take is ok; you don’t have to take the conventional route. Whilst resitting, I applied for university again, for a completely different subject, but once spring came round and it all became real I decided, again with 5 offers, it wasn’t right for me. This time it was harder, because it brought up difficult questions, like ‘will I ever be ready?’ and ‘will I ever know what I want to do?’ But again, it proved to be the correct decision for me at that time. I didn’t want to leave my family, and I began to have doubts about the subject. I realised I would rather make that same decision again than go, knowing full well I would be unhappy and possibly even end up in mountains of debt over something I wasn’t fully invested in.
It was only after finishing college with grades I was happy with that I had time to sit back and really think about what I wanted. It was only then that things really began to fall into place. As a child and young teenager, I had always wanted to be a Journalist, which was for some reason put on the back bench as I applied for Psychology at University, followed by Events Management. Had I stripped back the academic pressure and focused on what I really loved, the answer to all my questions would’ve emerged much sooner. It was literally when I was sat at home, reading my favourite magazine that I suddenly thought, what’s stopping me from becoming a Magazine Journalist? From that point I have never looked back. My application was written and interviews attended in the blink of an eye and before I knew it, I had the University of Derby down as my firm choice, and I just knew it was right this time. 3 applications and a lot of lessons down the line, I can finally see a future I’m excited about – a future that had I not taken the plunge and dropped out those two times, would not be visible right now.
Making those decisions was incredibly hard; throwing two different futures away after all the work of a UCAS application was a challenge, but not as much of a challenge as 3 years of unhappiness would have been. If you’re in the same position as I was, yes, think it through thouroughly but also don’t overthink. You don’t have to go to uni just because you’ve applied or have offers, and although it may make the future seem uncertain and scary for a while, trust me when I say that it will fall into place. I spent so long believeing it wouldn’t, and that I would just be ‘floating’ for the rest of my life wondering what I wanted, but that didn’t happen. A year, or 2 years, or 3 or even more is nothing in the scale of a lifetime and if you need it, take it. However much you wonder, you will know deep down if you’re not ready for uni or not sure about the course; don’t go with it just because you feel pressured (by anyone, including yourself). Never forget that this is your life, your path to forge and your decision. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad about taking time to assess. A life can’t be planned in a set timescale. Everyone has their own unique journey to complete – if you know what it is you want, go for it, but also don’t worry if you change your mind further down the line. And if you just aren’t sure yet, don’t worry about it. Focus on the here and now, because taking that pressure away may well end in a revelation.