Things I Wish I’d Known Before Going To University

When I decided to go to university I knew nothing. I knew enough to get onto the course and fill out the application forms but I didn’t really have a clue about what was coming my way that September. I had no idea about the details, the only information I was given was from teachers pushing me into a degree that I maybe didn’t need. I was told that I had to get my application in on time. I was told that I had to attend interviews. I was told that this was the best decision for me. But the important information was all glossed over. No one ever mentioned the loan repayments or the teaching style, or anything relevant for that matter. That’s why I’m going to share the things I wish I’d known before I’d started university, as no one should have to feel like they’re going into anything blind folded. Except a game of blind man’s bluff, of course.
 

Student Loans in Evil Masks

For some reason I thought that students were given special treatment by the government – that we’d be provided with fluffy pillows and unicorns, and not have to pay any interest on our loans. ‘Here’s your money dear student’ I imagined the politicians saying as they held me in an embrace and provided me with various luxuries. But sadly, I soon realised that was not the case. The government doesn’t want to love and protect all students. In fact the government hates us. They raised the fees, they make us pay a tonne of interest; I’m sure David Cameron would be wielding an axe and chasing us all if he could. And who can blame him? We’re the part of society that spends 3 years discovering ourselves – which for most involves copious amounts of alcohol, and loads of time spent procrastinating on Candy Crush (no, I am not claiming that I spend all my nights drunkenly playing Candy Crush… I’m just playing Candy Crush).

But in all seriousness the interest does increase your debt significantly. Student Finance has even provided us with a cute little online calculator that estimates how much we’ll end up paying. Just in case there aren’t enough looming deadlines to get us all crying in a gloomy corner. Yes, UK fees do get written off after a while, and yes, you “don’t notice what you’re repaying” but it’s still awful to have that debt hanging over your head. University isn’t cheap, so think carefully before deciding to go. £9000 per year is a lot to pay, in fact, the £3000 I’ve paid is enough to leave me feeling like I’ve had a hefty IOU note strapped round my neck. Just think how many Facebook game credits I could have bought for that. No wonder I have to stay stuck on level 70 of Candy Crush forever.

 

Independence

When I say independence I’m not meaning from your parents. I’m not talking about the freedom you get living in student accommodation, buying your own milk, and doing your own washing, and passing out due to your own vodka. I live at home which means I still get treated like I’m eleven, and my mum buys all the milk. When I say independence, I’m meaning the deserted island of independence your university course strands you on, without providing you with any tools, or crabs or oars, or whatever else you’d need in a deserted island metaphor. Many people don’t realise that at university you do most of the work yourself. Lecturers don’t sit there spoon feeding you crabs and oars in order to help you work your way off of the island. You have to do it yourself. You have to sit there in the library learning things for yourself. Independent learning is expected, and it can be hard and frustrating and horrible sometimes. But at least the shark attacks are only metaphorical.
 

Sneaky Hidden Costs

Call me an idiot, but I never thought about all the books I’d have to buy for my English degree. I’d missed all the warnings about those expenses because I’d spent all my time making portfolios and learning about art degrees. I’d heard the art warnings. I knew that art degrees involved having to eat only noodles for three years in order to afford paints and clay and other arty stuff. But for some reason when I was deciding between doing art and doing English, one of the pros on my English list was that I didn’t have to pay for art materials. Which I don’t. Instead, I have to pay for Shakespeare and Austen and Plath, and none of them are offering themselves to me for low prices. I also naively thought that we’d only have to read a couple of books like we did for A-level English. I imagined us poor English students spending six months analysing Hamlet – to the point where our brains malfunctioned and we started finding messages about dinosaur revolutions within the text. But that was wrong too. Higher education means more to read and more to buy. So make sure you bear these costs in mind before you decide to do a degree. Shakespeare’s hardly flashing his flesh on street corners to get little bits of cash. He’s apparently £12.99 a pop.
 

Other Opportunities

When I was planning to go to university I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought I wanted to do art, so I went round universities looking at all their courses. I put together a portfolio and spent ages researching artists to talk about at interviews. I thought I wanted to do drama, so I went to an audition where I had to move like a tree for a bit. For those ten minutes I thought I’d like to be a tree. If someone had suggested a degree in fighting ninjas I’d probably have ordered a prospectus. In the end I went with an English and Writing degree, which I am very happy with. Especially with the writing part. But no one ever suggested any alternatives to getting a university education. No one ever mentioned that the degree wasn’t necessary. No one told me that ‘shop assistant’ wasn’t the only job for people without degrees.

It was only after I’d started university that I found out about all the other opportunities that are available. There are jobs in call centres, head offices of companies and administration that don’t require a degree. There are paid apprenticeships. There are store management programmes that want people WITHOUT degrees – meaning you can get a high paying career without having to spend three years at university. There are so many jobs out there that don’t require degree-level education, and even some of the places that do would be happy with a good portfolio and relevant work experience as an alternative. University is not the only way to be successful. Do some research; there may be something better for you than university.
 
 
What I’d say is this: if your desired career requires a degree, or if it’s a subject you’re really passionate about then go to university. If you’re not fully sure what you want to do, or feel like you’re only off to university because you’re being pressured into it then don’t rush it. There’s always next year.

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4 Comments

  1. Damn good job with this post, well said and funny too!

    I’m starting university this year and the whole way through the application process I could not help but feel that my school (and probably many others) simply didn’t give two craps about the alternative of (dare I say?) not going to university! *sharp intake of breath!* I had a friend who was sure university was just not for her. I’m amazed she managed to be so clear-headed about her decision through all my school’s frantic go-to-uni-or-die-a-sad-hobo hype. They shepherded us this way and that to university fairs and forced us to sign up for a UCAS account regardless of our personal situations. The focus was not so much on finding us a good fitting degree or other work opportunity, than ushering us quickly in one end of UCAS and out the other with a place at uni. It was madness. All in all, I’m still pretty excited to start university and figure out the giant crap my school has landed me in. No one ever learns! 🙂 Although I do need a degree for the career I want, anyway.

    Also Student Finance are big nobs. Fun fact.

    University is not the only way to success, indeed. At least if you fail having gone straight into the working world, you didn’t waste three/four years being drunk off cheap supermarket brand wine in sub-par student accommodation and stuck on Candy Crush AND THEN fail at real life.

  2. Wow, a lot of these translate very well to what you’d expect in American universities with the exception of the fact that we get generous financial aid that are not loans. Okay we also have the military paying you to go to college due to the G.I. bills, so as long as you don’t lose your life, but that’s beside the point. Although I would not trade my college choice/experience for the world, I will say that having that perspective when applying to colleges would’ve definitely given me some peace.

  3. That independence part is something I wish the dumb high school brats these days could let sink into their heads. It hurts my soul that the schools already spoon feed everything to them so they think the rest of the world is going to be that way. Ug, harsh reality, and it never changes. lol
    I get you though, I think all of that is one reason why I haven’t been back when I thought I would continue with my studies.

  4. Oh the things I wish I knew before going to university! It’s the independence thing that gets me the most – your desert island metaphor sums that up pretty well 😛 school just doesn’t prepare you for that! I mostly enjoy university / my course – but I do find myself thinking that there are other ways to do what I want to do…

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