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Is University Really Worth It?

Now that it is May, I've just realised it has almost been a full year since I finished my undergraduate degree and was no longer a student, needing to quickly work out what I wanted to do with my future. Since May 2015, I have started and almost finished my Post Graduate Certificate in Education to teaching Religious Education to 11-18 year olds and that, alongside my undergraduate degree, has certainly been a whirlwind of emotions for me. So now that it is exam season, its the time when some of you may be considering your next steps in education or you may even be reflecting on your own choices to go to university and whether or not it was right for you, I thought I'd sit down and join the worldwide web discussion and give you my honest thoughts about university.

So first things first (I'm the realest. Sorry.), I went to university later than most. I didn't make the jump to go until I was 21 because I'd always struggled with education. I was bright, but I lost my drive and ambition with each passing year. I didn't do as well in my GCSEs as I should have, I was unsettled throughout my A-Levels and moved from school to college to college, and then I just thought I couldn't deal with doing any more of it. I love to learn, but I just didn't know what to do, where to go, or if studying anything any further would actually benefit me in any way. So, I finished college and worked for sometime but I was never truly happy. I wanted to carry on learning - I craved to improve my knowledge - but I just didn't know where to start when it came to choosing a degree. During my A-Levels, I realised I had a real knack for Sociology. Getting 98% in my exams meant it was certainly a subject I excelled in, and whilst I did find some aspects of it interesting, the subject as a whole didn't really float my boat. So in steps my mother. My mam has always been the best kind of supportive parent - she's always had high expectations for me but has never pushed me to do any better than my best. When I told her I was unhappy, I wanted to study but I didn't just want to study something because I was good at it, she told me to do something I liked, something for me. Coming from a working class family of which no one had been to university, my family really wanted me to go and "improve" and "better" myself. So after really looking at what I thought I would find interesting and worthwhile, I settled on studying Archaeology and moved to the other end of the country - down to Winchester.

I said goodbye to family in the north east, sat on a crammed coach with all my belongings in one suitcase for 12 hours, and eventually landed in Winchester at 8pm on a Sunday evening. As soon as I stepped off the coach I fell in love with the city. It felt like a home from home - the cobbled streets, the history you could see and feel from the architecture... It all just reminded me of Durham. I moved into university halls that night and that was that. So now, let's talk about whether or not it's all really worth it.

Choose a Degree for YOU
I'm going to be brutally honest with you now - most undergraduate degrees mean squat nowadays. Because university has become a more mainstream thing for our generation to be part of, there is a lot of university students across the country. This is fine, and this shouldn't be something to put you off, but if you have a specific career goal in mind, you need to be ready for potential competition and to push yourself to aim for the highest grades you can possibly get. You will come across a lot of people at uni who are there just because they can be - they will cruise through, make minimum effort to pass their assignments, and will really be there because its a great way to party for 3 or 4 years and put the adult responsibilities on hold for a little longer. I went to university just because I could. I went thinking "I may as well, I know if I try I am smart enough" but that quickly changed into me wanting to really do well and to excel once I saw how many people were using it just to coast through life. This isn't me having a go at those who do that though - I literally chose Archaeology as my degree subject because I've been interested in it from a young age. I had no, and still have no, true intention of becoming an archaeologist full-time as my career. I say pick something you're interested in. Pick a subject you are fascinated by, that you think you can study for 3 or 4 years and not grow bored of. Pick something for you. If you're not planning on being a doctor or a lawyer and you just want to go to uni because you have the opportunity, do it. All I suggest is don't take it for granted. Work hard and appreciate the opportunity you have because you'll only have that first undergraduate experience once - don't lose it all to drinking and going out every single evening.

If you're on the fence about it though, read around what it is you think you want to do. There's so many undergraduate degrees out there that promise you positions and roles in certain areas of work that you can actually get without a degree. For some roles its just a case of working your way up the career ladder. You could walk into a job and within the 3 years you would have been studying at uni, you could have moved above and beyond the position the end of university promises you just by gaining experience and building up your CV. A lot of it really comes down to whether or not you're academic. Do you like to write, to learn, and excel at that? Go to uni. If you don't? You can definitely get to where you want to go without uni.

The Pros and Cons: The Cons

It's a whole lot of money for a piece of paper. I've touched on this already, but it is seriously a lot of debt to get yourself into if you're just going "for a laff mate". I'm currently sitting on around 50,000+ debt if I include my Post Grad studies too and that is and effing should be, terrifying. Far too many people see uni as a free pass to be young and carefree for a bit longer, but you should always be aware of how much money you are putting on the line for it.

If you're not a social butterfly, you might struggle. This is a con and pro for me (I'll tell you how on earth it is a pro later). If you like your own space, your own company etc. oh my my, you will struggle. In my first year, I was living in student halls and let me tell you - you have no time to yourself. The only time I felt comfortably alone was when I was sleeping, in the shower, or on the fucking toilet. University living, especially in halls, is very insulated and your friends and fellow peers will be in each others pockets and in each others business 99.9% of the time. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely adore and love every single one of my close friends I made through uni, who I spent all of my time with, but if you are someone who likes time alone, be prepared to lose that for a while. I wasn't prepared and it completely drained me. During my second and third year, I managed to get things back on track for how I am as a person - seeing friends now and again and it being wonderful because you're constantly catching up. Just be strong enough to say no and to say you don't want to go out every evening if you don't want to and you will find the whole ordeal a lot easier than I did!

Some of the lectures aren't all they're cracked up to be. Overall I bloody loved my degree, but there were times I sat in a lecture and thought "in these next 2 hours, I have plummeted into an additonal £300 worth of debt for this shit slideshow". You can't obviously know what all of you classes/lectures/workshops etc. are going to be like before you attend, but if you've got your heart set on some unis/courses, try your best to check them out fully before you make a choice. Look on student forums, attend open days/evenings, ask students around the campus etc. - don't do what I did and just pick somewhere at random that you had never even visited. I got lucky, but not everyone will.

If you move away, you will miss your family. That sounds pretty obvious, but even for me as someone who is quite a secluded person who doesn't call family members regularly to check how they are etc., I found it tough that I was living so far away from home. Choosing to go to uni over 300 miles away is 100% my doing, but there would be some evenings or days all I wanted to do was talk to my mam, listen to how shit my brother thought his day at school was, and go to my grandma's for a cuppa and catch up. I spent most of my money going back home every other weekend during my first year (which in hindsight was ridiculous because it used to take me 10+ hours to get there and then 10+ hours to get back but the few hours I had at home were worth it). I did get used to it and as I still live in Winchester now, I obviously have acclimatised to the situation, but if you are thinking of moving away for uni, really think about it and consider how far you're willing to travel because there will be a time you will consider spending £200 on a train ticket, to travel 300 miles, at 5 am, all in aid of having a cup of tea with your mam and listen to her tell you your degree is worth it.

And now, for the positives.

The Pros and Cons: The Pros

I found my soulmate. I know that is sickeningly cheesy, but I did. I grew unhappy in a relationship I had outgrown and university gave me the opportunity to meet a whole range of new people - including my boyfriend. I never would have met him if I hadn't moved. I never would have met him if I hadn't chose the degree I chose. This obviously isn't a reason to attend uni - you can't think "omg I might meet the person of my dreams!" as you're filling out your UCAS application - but for me, that's got to be the biggest bonus university presented to me.

I made lifelong friends. The beauty about doing my degree meant I made more friends and most importantly, made more friends with similar interests. My best friends from home of course I have things in common with, but it was lovely to meet more people who I knew I would have a multitude of things to talk to about. The beauty of university is that it is social, even for shy retiring anti-social butterflies like me. I hate most social situations, they make me feel uncomfortable and send my anxiety rocketing, but uni was somehow different. You can join clubs. You can join sports teams. You will always find like minded individuals from so many different backgrounds, countries, and beliefs that it is truly humbling. Even if you struggle with social aspects of life, university can be such a benefit.

I realised I was actually quite bright. Okay, so I knew I kind of was at school, but learning about an area I was so interested in gave me the opportunity to really research and write about something I was passionate about. Every chance I got, I wrote about the Aztecs, Egyptians, and world religions. Every time I did and made the effort with my work, I got better and better feedback from my lecturers, I got better and better grades. For someone who is so full of self doubt, my assignments and in particular my dissertation gave me such a confident boost that if I put my mind to things, I can smash my goals out of the ball park.

I became more me. I honestly want to thank university for the fact I am now comfortable in my own skin. I now know it's okay to prefer to sit in your PJs most nights curled up with a good book or film to going out getting drunk every night. I now know it's okay to be interested in whatever you're interested in and if anyone finds that weird, you don't need to interact with them. It gave me the chance to realise I'm quite an introverted person. I discovered I enjoy my own company and like being independent and that that is okay. If I had of stayed at home and not moved, I always wonder if this would have happened but I honestly think I wouldn't have been such a self-assured person if I hadn't have left.

You will be so bloody proud of yourself and others. I could have cried all day at my graduation - no joke. I was in such an elated mood all day to see how proud my parents were, to receive the well-wishing texts and phone calls off my grandparents and extended family, to see my friends graduate alongside me and see their families cheer for them too - the whole experience is one big pat on the back I will never feel again. It made me realise the sleepless nights typing in the café, on my fifth cup of gross tea and on my seventh chocolate bar from the overpriced vending machines was all worth it. I will always remember hysterically crying and having my only positive panic attack (if those are even a thing?!) the day I opened my results email and saw that I had a First Class Honours in a subject that I love so much.

For me, the whole experience was a rollercoaster. It's something everyone says but that's because its true. I would recommend uni to anyone and everyone, but it will always have its positive and negative sides. It's all a matter of weighing them out and working out if it's right for you and if its not? Its not the end of the world. You can get to where you want to be in life without it.

- A.
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