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I have a degree. A first class honours degree in Management. I'm proud of what I’ve achieved, but I am starting to question whether going to university was a good decision or just a very expensive debt that I will (most likely) never pay off.
I'm from the UK. I had a very traditional education: I went through school excelling at most subjects, learning as time went on that I was an "all rounder." This might sound great to some people but in reality, it was a challenge when trying to isolate my strengths. Year ten came along and we had to choose our GCSEs. I hedged my bets and chose subjects I liked but also hoped would be useful for a future application to University: Business Studies, French, and Drama. My two-year GCSE career came and went quickly and I was pleased to achieve nine As and three Bs. This was great on paper, but made it more challenging when deciding what ‘A’ Levels to take. When I was 16, the only option that was put in front of me was to stay at school and take ‘A’ Levels, and then, of course (!), go to University; all while adding to my school’s reputation for higher education.
So I chose four ‘A’ Levels: Drama, English, Chemistry, and Biology. The latter two, looking back, were not good subjects for me to take. I thought I would look academic and studious if I took two sciences and I thought it would keep my options open for when I decided what to study at University. Two years of hard work passed by and it was time to collect my results. Safe to say I was wrong to take these two sciences: Biology: C, Chemistry: D were printed on my results paper. Not great.
I took a gap year after my final year at school. My focus was to save up for University, despite not knowing what it was that I wanted to study. The deadline for applying was slowly creeping up on me so I decided to take a subject that allowed me to study a range of topics under the umbrella of Management. I thought this would play to my strengths of not knowing what it was my strengths were.
I had a great time at university. I met great (and not so great) people, spent a lot of time having the ‘typical’ student experience (in the pub) but also put in a lot of time and effort in the library. My hard work paid off and I graduated with a First in Management. Great!
Or is it great? Here I stand (or sit, whilst writing this), age 24, with a debt of just under £50k. I have no savings and as it stands, it will take me years to save enough money to scrape together a house deposit. I am labelled a ‘Graduate’ in the work place and am treated differently to other employees, as if my time at university was not to advance my career, but as if I owe the company for hiring me.
Well, maybe you would say to me that graduates should be treated differently in the workplace as our time at University is not the same as gaining “real” work experience. Well, maybe I would agree with you. I work with a colleague that is my age but instead of going to university, pursued a career in accounting. She took practical courses at college, whilst working in a junior role. She now owns her own flat and is in a much stronger financial position than me.
What if, instead of pushing young people down the linear route of GCSEs, ‘A’ Levels, and then onto university, we showed them the other options available? I wish someone had told me that apprenticeships were not just for people wanting to learn plumbing, but for anyone that wants to learn or build on a skill that they are interested in, all whilst earning some money and gaining some work experience.
If I had my time again, I would not go to university. I would forgo the heavy burden of a student loan and the letters after my name, for an actual learn-on-the-job career that would have set me up for life a lot quicker and for a lot less money.