Breaking the Mold – Why I Went to University Late

University is one of those odd things. You either do it or you don’t. If you do it, you aren’t expected to complain about it. There’s some sort of belief that when you go to university you’ll have the time of your life and come out of it three or four years later with that diploma in hand and walk straight into a cushy job, earn lots of money and be set for life. Or you don’t go, you get a job of some description or do an apprenticeship and then come out, get a cushy job and be fine.

I remember sixth form, eagerly comparing with your friends daily which open days you’re going to, which course you’re applying for, bitching about how difficult filling out your UCAS application is, sending that application back and forth to a careers office so they could tweak it for you and make sure it was perfect, finally sending the damn thing off and waiting nervously for your responses. Going to interviews and your teachers being fine with the fact you weren’t in class that day and kinda waving it off.  Accepting your place and then bobbing along until exam time and hoping you’ll make those offer conditions…

Now that I look back on it, the whole thing was a ball of stress that no 17-18 year old is ready to deal with. I applied for a degree in chemistry because it was the subject I did best in (slash had the most interactive teacher and a great set of friends in the class). I chose a university based on proximity to home and the fact a few of my friends had spoken highly of it. And I went, despite the glaring fact that no one ever speaks about:

I wasn’t ready.

After a year I dropped out. I’ll write a blog post on that experience later but the main thing to note is that is was the right choice for me. I have never, no matter how crappy things got afterwards, regretted that decision.

Going to university is what you do. You pick a degree in the subject you excel in, whether the job potential afterwards interests you or not. At the end of the day, your school will push you to go because it looks better on them to say “X% of students continued into higher education”. I don’t really think a school cares about your wellbeing, just how their figures look at the end of it all.

Once I dropped out, I got a job. Standard. Not a good job. A minimum wage job that didn’t exactly fit into most people’s box of ‘real job’. I was a waitress. I worked in a hotel for 3 years, serving people breakfast and dinner. I became typecast as the “breakfast girl”. I was getting up at 5am every morning to be yelled at, ignored or just deal with generally rude behaviour for nine hours, during which I sat down for maybe half an hour. On 25% of my days off I’d get phone calls asking me to come in. It was an exhausting, mentally draining job that pushed me to my limits for very little pay, and I threw every inch of myself into and worked bloody hard for very little payoff. Eventually, I knew I couldn’t keep doing it. I was waking up in the night wondering if I’d hoovered the corner of the restaurant the previous day or remembering I hadn’t given table 7 ketchup when they’d asked. It wasn’t exactly a job that should’ve been keeping me up all night. But it did.

I was 21 years old and hoovering one day when I thought about going back to university. I’d been applying for jobs with very little luck. I had virtually no skill set, and only experience as a waitress. But I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I wasn’t getting into all that debt just to come out in the same place I started.

I spent a lot of time researching, thinking about careers I could imagine myself in and looking at all the qualifications I’d need to get there. Marine biologist was the career I wanted when I was 9 and what I realised was the dream I kept going back to. So I went for it. My parents were very supportive of my decision, although admittedly I don’t think they thought I’d move all the way to Scotland but hey, they’re still happy with the choice I made!

Fast forward another year and I kissed my job goodbye and moved city. I ended up in Scotland, 600 miles from home, studying for a degree I’d wanted to study since I was a child. And I was 22. All of my classmates were 17-18 years old.

Going to university late is the best decision I’ve ever made. I know what my end goal is, and so I’m more determined to get to it. I’ve done the 18 year old party thing, so I never make excuses and go on a night out the day before a 9am lecture or a big deadline. Having already worked, I’m more organised and able to work multiple deadlines under pressure. Having lived in my own place, I knew what to look for in accommodation and had no nasty surprises about setting up bills or living costs. I already knew how to cook and do my own laundry. I knew how to exploit the experience to get the most out of it, and further my job prospects at the end.

When I first left university, my friends were shocked; they couldn’t imagine dropping out of university and trying to get through life without a degree. Now, their opinions are remarkably different. They all powered through and got a degree but were dragging themselves to the finish line in their final years, and now have jobs that have nothing to do with their degrees. My best friend was the one that told me, in no uncertain terms, I’d never get a job when I dropped out of university. Now, she tells me she’s so impressed with what I’ve done! It’s not been easy, and it’s a little depressing when my friends have money to burn and I don’t. But I know I made the right choice for me.

So, if you’re thinking of heading to university soon but aren’t sure if you’re ready, you need to take care of you! Make sure you only make the choice if you’re certain it’s what you want to do. It’s okay to take time out to figure out where you want to go. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! You’ll be way more successful in your studies if you go to university on your terms, not on anyone else’s!

Rachel xxx

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  1. August 2, 2017 / 10:29 pm

    Love your honesty in this post Rachel. I went to college after school and then onto uni, I dropped out of uni during my second year. I wasn’t ready to be that far away from home and I picked the wrong course. I was miserable.
    I think there is way to much pressure on people when they’re in the final year of school, it’s almost instilled in us that if we don’t go to uni we will end up with rubbish jobs!

    • August 2, 2017 / 10:35 pm

      Thank you so much! I agree, so much pressure but no one knows what they want to do. They just pick a subject and hope they enjoy it, because having a degree is better than not. Such a shame! Happiness is always more important!

  2. August 3, 2017 / 10:00 am

    I definitely agree with this. I don’t think I was ready to go to Uni at 18 which resulted in me retaking a year, but at the end of the day if you have goals you will push to achieve them whether that’s the traditional way or a different way. Also, your writing skills are really good, I enjoyed reading this post <3

    • August 3, 2017 / 12:44 pm

      Thank you so much! I’m so focused on my writing haha!

  3. August 19, 2017 / 10:03 am

    I love your honesty. I went to college after school then to university, but I dropped out after a month. I wasn’t ready and the course was wrong for me.

    • August 20, 2017 / 1:59 pm

      Thank you! Sadly this happens a lot, but I’m so happy you did what was right for you at the time. So many people just trundle on and I think that’s so unhealthy!

  4. August 23, 2017 / 10:24 pm

    Really loved this post! I went to university when I was 18 and, although I have no regrets, I reckon I would have got more out of the course if I’d taken a break from education first. I was so fed up of education by the time I’d finished my A Levels, that I did the bare minimum during first year, focusing more on having a good time. I think schools could do more to help people make an informed choice; my school just assumed I would go to uni straight from school and therefore I never explored other options. Big decision to ask a 16/17 year old to make!

  5. January 4, 2018 / 12:40 pm

    I completely agree with you – it’s such a huge decision to make when you’re so young, and so much pressure! I remember being at sixth form and being told that if you went down any path other than uni, you were bound to fail which of course is ridiculous!

    My little sister is now 17 and doing her UCAS application and I’m actually super worried that it’s all just too big a decision to make, especially when she also suffers from anxiety and she’s already making huge decisions about her future.

    • January 4, 2018 / 12:43 pm

      It’s definitely something put on you, as if there’s no other choice. And now that pretty much everyone goes a degree isn’t worth as much despite how much you pay for it!

      I really hope your sister makes the right decision for her, and that she’s well supported no matter what choice she makes. I’m sure she’s got an amazing support system in you!

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