Having just moved to London, I’m currently working on a big project for a student accommodation company who I’ve freelanced with for over 18 months. Despite graduating two years ago and feeling happy in my career, in some respects it’s like I never left university behind – I actually even live in my client’s student accommodation this summer to make life easier while I do the work I’ve been doing! University was a fun time, but I think it’s important to remember that it’s different for everyone, and my own route wasn’t always easy…
It’s A Level results week and soon a ton of young people (wow, I’m old…) will be descending on new journeys up and down the country. I can’t believe it’s been seven years since I got my A Level results! I’ll be honest though. My first uni experience didn’t go too well. I dropped out of the University of Leeds, because I just wasn’t fitting in. It’s weird; you’re pushed at school to go into higher education (well, at my grammar school at least) and you pick something you think you’ll be good at, but I don’t think you’re often encouraged to think about what you’ll be happy doing for three years, and essentially maybe even the rest of your life. I took a gap year before uni, but even that wasn’t enough time for me to figure out what I actually wanted. I was a teenager… so it’s fair enough.
After I dropped out, I wasn’t sure I’d ever go back, but I knew it would kind of be a waste for me personally if I didn’t. I got all ‘A’ Grades at school, and so I kind of wanted a degree, even if it was only a golden ticket to my future career. Unfortunately, my friend Faye passed away just after I dropped out of Leeds, but it made me see life is too short. I decided for me to make the most of my life, I wanted some focus again. I got onto my course doing English and Communication Studies at the University of Liverpool, and the rest is history. Happiness isn’t overrated.
I recently spoke to The Guardian about my experiences, and told them “I have changed so much since I was 18 – it’s totally plausible that you don’t want to do the things you did when you were younger. There is no harm in changing your mind, because that is how we grow.” If you don’t feel ready to do something or it’s not really for you, don’t feel pressured into it, and take some time out for yourself. I was almost 24 when I graduated, but I don’t feel any worse off for it. In fact, I feel better, because I was able to get my head together. It’s never too late to change your mind or forge a new path to the one you’re on.
To anyone getting their A Level results tomorrow, just remember – you are more than that letter on the page. You’re not an A or a U, these things don’t define you, and they just show one small part of who you are, what you’ve achieved or conversely – what you might not want to be doing anymore. I’ve never really heard anyone ask how I did back then, and you can always resit if you think people will care.
Friendships are just as important as the grades you take from school!
If you don’t do as well as you hoped, it’s not the end of the world. I said earlier, a degree, to me is a bit like a “golden ticket” in that it makes things easier to find work in some areas, but I think the really valuable thing here is experience. If you’re not sure about university, there’s loads more you can do without the debt!
My last day in sixth form… over 7 years ago!
The reason I’ve managed to do pretty well so far is because I did internships, wrote online, and volunteered. You just need to put yourself forward for anything and everything you can, because that’s what universities - crucially, employers – are really looking for these days.
I put experience first and foremost – above my grades, despite getting a 2:1 – which I’m not necessarily recommending, but starting early and doing as much as possible is really key. I still remember someone on my course laughing when I said I applied for the Work Experience Module. I knew I’d get on it because despite having a pretty poor attendance at uni, I knew I’d demonstrated enough dedication in other ways. For me, the placement I did was probably the most useful thing I did at university. I actually came away feeling pretty smug that I’d trusted myself to be right on that.
My mum always believes in me and tells me I can do anything I put my mind to as long as I’m happy. Support is always lovely <3
Contacts are another great asset. You need to network, and I wish I’d done this a little more when I was younger instead of drinking a bit too much! I’m making up for it now, but it really is true that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know!
Graduates can be at a crossroads, too. I know loads of people who graduated when I did who unfortunately haven’t gotten into the career they wanted. I think it’s important not only to get into these opportunities for experience, but to learn a lot about the industry you want to get into, and to have a passion. Like I’ve said, there’s more to life than uni these days. It’s overwhelming, but don’t give up!
I think universities are really starting to get it, and are even offering mentor programmes. They’re putting emphasis on experience and learning the ropes by DOING, which I think can only be a good thing. They have a responsibility to PREPARE you, and not just give you background learning which makes no sense. In the real world, people hiring you don’t really care that you can name all of Shakespeare’s work, they want to know you have real world skills and that you can handle the workplace and at least be willing to learn outside of a classroom! This video says to have confidence, and that anything you want to do, you can achieve. I think in many cases, this is true – providing you put in the effort.
Good luck to everyone, and remember – there are loads of options and we’re all different. Academic or vocational, it’s your life. You’ll never be a failure, but there may be others who fail you by not recognizing what’s best for you. Some people are toxic, and you need lots of support. You have options. There’s clearing, there’s getting jobs straight away, apprenticeships, and even travelling to discover who you are. I don’t think 18 year old me would recognize current me, but that’s not a bad thing. I’ve learned a lot along the way, and had plenty of fun as well.
As my American friends would say: “you do you!”
*I worked with the University of Greenwich on this post but all opinions and anecdotes are true and my own!