I recently read a post by Katie over on Life of Kitty on whether university was worth it. I really enjoyed reading it as it got me thinking a lot and after commenting I said I’d do something similar myself.
I went to a smallish university in North Wales. I picked it when I was 17, pretty much at random and decided that was the only one I was going to apply for (pretty reckless looking back on it but it worked!). I didn’t do a visit or talk to anyone who was there, I just applied and the first time I saw the town and the uni was in September 2009 when I started.
I wouldn’t recommend that method for everyone, but it did work out for me. I loved it there: I loved the small town, living by the sea, the campus itself, the societies I joined and all the people I met. Oh, and the course itself. As I went before the fees were changed I only (only!) paid about £3000 a year in tuition. I also got maximum amount of bursaries and loans. This isn’t the point of this post but I did struggle to live on that, so I don’t know how people who were given less money did. I also did have several part time jobs throughout my time there so I was trying to support myself too.
But was it worth the £21,000 debt I am in now, plus the overdraft I struggled to get out of for over a year? Well…
We’ll start with the obvious one – I got a degree out of it. Actually I got two, as I did a Masters straight after I finished my undergrad, but I paid for that all myself. Most people would probably say that’s the main reason for going to university, although I’m of the opinion that it’s the experience that counts just as much. I got a 1st class degree in Creative Studies and a Master of Research in Creative Practice, and I’m really proud of that as I worked very hard.
Fast forward through four years of university and I was working full time at a supermarket cafe for little above minimum wage. Having a degree doesn’t guarantee you a good job. Though I was well educated, all my friends who didn’t go to uni had four years worth of work experience, while I’d only had several part time jobs. Work experience is a real key thing when you’re looking for a job and I think a lot of university students don’t have it, and that’s where they fall down.
I eventually managed to get a temp job in an office. In the phone interview for it I was asked about my extra curricular activities rather than my degrees: I had experience as secretary for a drama society and coordinated a performance for the local council as voluntary work. And that’s what got me the job. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the degrees helped, but that was what my soon-to-be boss was interested in, as it was real world experience I could pull on. I think when you’re at uni you don’t always realise what a bubble you live in.
That six month temp job turned into a year and a half until a different department offered me a full time position with the company, which I’ll return to after maternity leave. I work in IT and do absolutely nothing creative in my job. But I am happy there and that matters to me, having been utterly miserable in jobs in the past.
The experience of university was what really made it worth it for me. I did so many things there which I might not have had the opportunity to do otherwise. So I’ve done a little list of some of the things I’m proud of:
- The above mentioned voluntary performance, which I scripted, cast, led rehearsals for and basically did everything for myself and was a great success
- Performed in several plays in Wales which were all unforgettable experiences: favourites include Ariel in The Tempest, Hermia in A Midsummer Nights Dream and Jack in Lord of the Flies
- Performed in a dance competition in Edinburgh
- Did lights for a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for a month
- Performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for two weeks
- Had a short story published in an anthology
- Acted in several short films which have been shown across the UK, America and South Korea
And then we get on to the more sentimental stuff. I didn’t really make friends for life at school, bar one person, but I made excellent friends at university and still speak to a lot of them. There’s a few who also came from the West Midlands and we all came back here and still meet up, which is awesome. I wouldn’t have those people if I hadn’t gone to uni.
And now the really mushy stuff. I also met Nathan at university. He was one of the first people I spoke to there and we were friends for a couple of years before getting together in our third year. And now we have a son together. Again, I wouldn’t have these two if I hadn’t gone to university. I know if I hadn’t gone I wouldn’t know what I was missing and yada yada but I love them both and wouldn’t change a thing.
So while university may not have worked out as I might have once planned – I haven’t (yet!) got a job in creative industries – it worked out well for me in so many other ways that I know I wouldn’t change a thing. I learned a lot there I’ll always treasure the memories I made.
If you’re not sure whether to go to university then I’d say go with you gut – it’s not for everyone, but it definitely was for me. It’s definitely a life changing experience and one that I would go back and do all over exactly the same if I could.