Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Life Lessons: In Defence of Going to University

There have been a lot of fantastic posts recently from bloggers who want to emphasise that the world of higher education doesn’t suit every body (see What Olivia Did's recent post on not graduating from university). It’s an unfortunately common expectation that everyone will go to university automatically, and people don’t consider the other options. Sometimes, people just want to get out their rut; go to college, get a job, start an apprenticeship, go travelling. There’s no should or shouldn’t about the steps you should take next in your life - whatever stage you’re at.

This month, many will be heading off to University, and more will be considering their options - going back into education, wondering what to do next, and trying to work out if it’s really what they want to do. 

I am completely in support of those who decide to take the road less common; in fact, I thoroughly admire them. However, I wanted to write this post as a reminder that it’s also OK to do the 'norm', if that’s really what you want to do, and head off to university. It doesn’t make you any less creative, ambitious or enterprising. In fact, both routes are equally as challenging, daunting and valuable - they’re both as worthwhile, it just depends on what kind of person you are. 

Some people just want to focus, start something new, or try to make their own way, doing something new after years of education...and some people just want to keep studying.

I fit into the latter category - I always have, and I think I always will. When I was taking my A Levels, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else; taking my studies further was so natural for me, I didn’t even think twice about doing it. I went to all of the open days, pored over prospectuses and debated over course content, campuses and accommodation. Eventually, back in 2009, I made my choices, applied, took my exams and managed to get into my first choice. The next thing I knew, I was moving into halls, meeting new people, and starting what I now know to be four of the best years of my life so far.

I studied at both undergraduate and postgraduate level for no other reason than I adore learning. I loved the research, the creative processes involved in the humanities, the feeling of seeing each essay improving in style and structure. Learning not just about the contents of books, but about how to think outside the box, manage my own time and improve my writing. Continuing my degree to a postgraduate level wasn’t a career move for me. Unlike many, I didn’t care about how it might get me a better job. For me, it meant having the opportunity to continue my studies for one more year, to really get involved in one or two specific subjects, discover my true academic interests and really test my abilities. My hard work paid off, and I graduated and left one year ago - and I’ve missed it ever since.

I went to university with the course in mind. To be honest, I barely thought about my independence; making friends, socialising, parties and societies had nothing to do with why I applied. I applied for academia, and the social aspect of things were simply secondary. However, this turned out to be equally as important just a few weeks into my course. Before university I was shy, awkward, uncertain, and half the person I am now. Sure, I’m still awkward, and inside I’m almost as shy as I was; but I have learnt so much aside from the academic knowledge I sought in the first place. And that’s what I want to share with you today.

Despite my initial goals, university isn’t just a place to get a degree. It’s also a place to actually work out who you are, escape adolescence, make mistakes and learn from them. It’s so much more than books, lectures, clubbing, hangovers and pot noodle. 

For me, and for many, university is a significant stepping stone into adulthood. You must learn to prioritise, time-manage, budget, choose your first shared house, clean, cook, look after the health of yourself and of others, cope with struggles and issues in your own way. And, alongside all this, you must pass your degree; hand in essays to a tight deadline, juggle numerous assignments, organise placements and work experience and increase your chances of employability. It’s no wonder, then, that so many of my friends and I graduated with academic and social knowledge which has proved vital ever since.

Going to university was the best decision I’ve ever made. Yes, I now have my student debt, and loans a-plenty to pay off…but I made lifelong friends, had the opportunity to explore knowledge, learnt from the minds of incredible academics, tried my hand at some new hobbies, learnt many important life lessons and gained independence and the ambition to try to really work myself out for the rest of my life.

I made mistakes, stayed up too late, over-spent and under-budgeted, overslept, ate too much soup and pasta…I learnt life skills which mean I can now confidently live away from home, make my own way, and search for my next path.

I  learnt about friendships, relationships, goals, career choices, mental health and wellbeing, how to say no, how to say yes, how to push myself and be kind to myself and give myself some space and time. 

All of this...and my studies. It was a hectic few years! Which is why my time as a student was so valuable.

I loved my studies, my friends, and everything that came with my years as a student. I worked hard, made a huge effort to make the most out of it and, despite the inevitable ups and downs, I wouldn't change a thing. 

And then...I graduated with good degrees, solid friendships, independence, confidence, goals, ambitions, tender memories, inspiration, and the certainty that life really can be what you make it if you put the work in yourself. Everything is down to you. Your passions, ideas, goals, and what makes you happy - whether or not that involves going to university.

I think its safe to say that my years as a student set me up for life in every way possible.

And boy, do I miss it.

But now it’s time for my next chapter, and I have no doubt that I’ll keep learning along the way.

This is a subject I'm pretty passionate about, and I hope to write a couple more posts about it all. So, with that in mind, if there's anything you'd like to hear more about, just let me know in the comments!


  1. This is such an inspiring and refreshing post to read - thank you!
    I have read too many posts slating the path that a lot of people choose to go down - to go to university. There's nothing wrong with doing what is 'expected' of you - as much as there is nothing wrong with doing what isn't expected of you either.
    I am so glad I went to university because it got me a solid job straight after I graduated and has set me up for a good career and stable income, which helps me to lead the life I want to and write in my spare time.
    I learnt how to write and read properly, (my degree was in Creative Writing) and I learnt so much more than I would have going straight into the workplace. But you're right, it's all down to the individual.

    Naomi xo

  2. This is a seriously lovely post Jo. I think no path is easy and choosing uni / or not choosing uni are both incredibly brave options. xx

  3. I have seen so many bloggers explain why not going to uni was right for them that it's so refreshing to hear from someone who loved going as much as I did! It is a personal decision and for some it's not the right path to take but for others it is a place to find friends for life and flourish. Well done lady for championing this issue!

  4. Fantastic post lovely :) I didn't go to university and sometimes I seriously regret it, even more so now since reading your post. I think you get some invaluable life and social skills from uni that are a lot harder to come by out in the "real world"

    Chloe x