This is a topic I could spend hours discussing, so this blog post will likely be followed up with a YouTube video soon. View this as backstory and introduction to the topic.
Now is the time when future Medicine students have already finished their applications and are dreading the results, and everyone else is slowly starting to spot a piece of dread on the horizon called January. Due date for those UCAS applications.
At least that’s the case for those wanting to study in the UK.
I remember when I had to start thinking about where and what I wanted to study. The ‘where’ became an easy choice, after I started researching and found out that I could basically only study in Germany or Scotland, or be faced with ridiculous tuition fees. I was educated at international schools which are known for their excessive price tag from the age of 9, and so I knew I didn’t want to apply to somewhere that would mean an even greater financial load for my parents.
I always knew I never wanted to study in Germany, but Scotland intrigued me. Though this may change in the future, while I was applying, Scotland had an organisation called SAAS, which essentially allows Scottish and EU National students to study in Scotland for free. You still pay for your living costs, and for that you still have the option of taking out student loans (if you’re Scottish), but this possibility and this attitude towards education really attracted me to this country.
I also remember writing my personal statement, 8 drafts of it, after realising during Draft 1 that it might well be easier to write 4000 words than it is to write 4000 characters. For me, the hardest part of this process was narrowing down my goals. At the time, and even now still, I had/have a lot of goals that I know I will pursue in one way or another. These range across different topics, different disciplines, completely different areas of life even.
So how the hell do you fit that in 4000 characters and make yourself still sound reasonable and realistic? Well:
I don’t really know, but in my case I essentially picked the thing I found most interesting at the time – Film – and focused in on that.
I do know that I was amazingly unafraid of what my future would hold. When I was 17, I had only just found my work ethic, only just embraced the disappointment of my previous teachers and turned it into something positive. I simply hadn’t had time yet to worry about what would happen after graduation.
Then again, there was also a pretty straightforward plan in my head of what my future was expected to look like. This plan had been pieced together in my head throughout my education, my socialization, and it was a plan applied across the board to everyone I knew. I know I was not privy to the most differentiated sample size: after all it was private school, filled with the children of high-achieving parents, business owners, politicians, doctors, etc. So I’m sure it was not like this for everyone growing up, but for me this was always the expected life plan:
1) Do well in school.
2) Go to a good university, studying something that will make you a living.
3) Work your way up to a comfortable level of living.
4) Find a partner and have children.
5) Continue on like this and then happily retire.
To summarize in a word: Comfortable. Respectable. Achievement.
And that was fine, but at that point I was not yet quite as self-reflective as I have grown to be, and so it took years for me to finally notice this odd feeling of wrongness inside my head. It’s like when you’re skipping school when you know your project partner needs you, or you’re playing video games when you should be working. It feels like a damper is put on your brain, like this tiny pain in every thought that is preventing you from enjoying yourself. For some, these everyday misdemeanours may provoke feelings of excitement, of exhilaration and fun, but in the end there is still a part of you that knows you’re not where you’re supposed to be.
Not being where you’re supposed to be, is really what I want to get to here. Because there is no definite answer to the title question of this blog. It all depends on what you want to accomplish and how you want to get there. And how your plans make you feel.
Throughout my education, I was barely made aware of alternatives to university; it was always assumed as the correct path for everyone I encountered. No one ever told me about the alternatives, the different types of gap year, work experience, volunteering, just getting a job and working for a bit and so on. So I didn’t spend time pondering other options, and just happily went along the path that everyone else was taking. Some others did stray off the beaten path, but they were few and far in between.
Now that I’ve been out of university for a while, I can say that, while it was an acceptable way to fill 4 years, it did not teach me as much as I expected and it did not bring me as close to reaching my goals as I thought it would. University is hyped up to be the end of all your problems; at university you’ll find your friends for life, learn who you are, figure out who you want to be and settle onto a path that will take you to where you want to go. While this may be true for some, it is not representative of the whole. A lot of people emerge out of university more lost than before, some drop out, some continually switch courses, etc.
Crossing over into your Twenties is always a transitional phase, and it is always a time of new friends, new experiences and realizations, and new wishes for your career and future. This process happens regardless of university, and you may well progress further along your career path without investing these four years.
Of course this is all dependent on your aspirations and who you are as a person, but if I were to make the choice again, I would wait a year. I’m not sure what alternative I would pursue, but I think some time between school and university would have given me some time to grow, time that I desperately needed later on but didn’t have.
In my opinion, it’s important to keep your options open. There is plenty of space in the span of an average lifetime to make mistakes. To try out new things. To boldly go where no one has gone before. Yes, I have been watching Star Trek: Discovery recently.
So if you are at a point where this question is relevant to you, consider it carefully. Research the pro’s and con’s of every alternative. Talk to others about it, and try and talk to someone who is planning to move off the beaten track. Consider how each option makes you feel. Know that the option that most terrifies you, might well be the most helpful to you and your future. Within reason that is, I’m not advocating a year of cliffjumping for anyone.
I feel as though I have simultaneously said too much and too little here. As I said, I have a lot of thoughts about this topic and about university/school in general. We’ve dug a significant groove into the surface, but there’s still more to go.
Whether you went straight from school to uni, took a year’s break or never went to uni at all – let me know your thoughts! This is a topic that should be discussed more so whatever your experience, leave me a comment and we can chat :)