An Open Letter to Those Considering College (Or University)
Here we go again, bitter ex-student takes a punt at the university system. We have heard it all before, from the near £80,000 in debt for students most in need to a rapidly degrading curriculum that doesn’t really prepare you for real-life. The university corporation’ UK has become a house of cards, mostly reliant on debts that will never be paid and a huge number of overseas students.
Accompanying this, a lack of academic integrity and a slowly vanishing meritocracy in the system has exposed the formula to climb the ladder — find a niche, espouse some wokeness or at the very least, batter British institutions. Work for a few years, gain your seniority and preach the same baseless yet wacky views to thousands of impressionable students — that is academia in the 21st century. Sounds like a protection racket if you ask me (or the mafia). Real-life clickbait dare I say?
University is no longer the dream of a few, talented individuals looking to elevate their position in our nation. It is now a free for all, designed to incubate burnout-ridden A-level students until they eventually hit the crowded job market. Do not get me wrong, the opportunity to party until the early hours or become the social butterfly you never were is appealing as much as it is a great laugh but is it all a bit misguided?
Is art history worth 3 to 4 years at University to get behind the meaning of Guernica? Do you need 3 years of psychology to understand a Freudian slip? I do not think so.
Do you need 3 to 4 years, or should I say 7 to 8, to carry out lifesaving surgical procedures?
Most definitely, you do.
Likewise, engineering or dentistry for example, holds true to this hypothesis — a static framework and a solid baseline for learning are needed where mistakes can be a death knell in your career.
Every student is different in their needs and their aspirations but at the tender age of 18, why commit yourself to that much rigidity amidst that much uncertainty about your future? If you know university is right for you at this moment and can envision your next steps, keep reading because this is not a philosophy for early years only, this is a philosophy for life and could serve you well once you are outside the bubble.
Keep in mind, university is not a first-class ticket to the middle class, it is to equip you with a toolbox you may not be able to attain outside in the real world, but I can comfortably say, most of it can be absorbed through self-discipline, a willingness to learn and bank balance above negative.
You could start a business, read, write, record and even film things; become an apprentice, deep dive into everything that interests you or just start interning. Furthermore, travel widely, meet people you would otherwise never have met, learn languages — laugh, cry, fail and come out more resilient than ever.
From my own experience, university can give you glimpses of all this but in a very structured fashion that can quickly become unfashionable and difficult to replicate out in the field. Standing on your own two feet is not simply being more than 20 miles from your parents’ home county, washing your laundry on time and managing a weed habit. Independence is a state of mind and the know-how to react confidently when you lose everything or quite the contrary when the successes begin to rain down on you.
After a tumultuous past year, many of us will be accustomed to uncertainty by now, something that university does not and will not prepare you for. Being outside the college-sphere is not heaven or hell, it is a middle earth where you learn to duck, dive and roll with the punches, as well as refining your skillset.
Under the current system, you are given a loan to cover the cost of your tuition and living expenses — and for those fortunate enough to receive money from their parents, you are probably the most secure you ever will be. This mirage of adulthood is cast upon you by this cloak of invisibility hiding you from the rest of society for a few years. We are incredibly lucky to have this as an option but looking at a 17-year-old me, tearing his hair out over a few marks — I have now begun to understand the diet we were being fed in the sixth form common room.
Unhealthy, biased, and lacking confidence in our young people to go it alone. Everybody was given a copy of the complete universities guide and told to state their ambitions by circa January of [insert date here] — retrospectively preached, largely, by adults who have been to university at a time where it was not common practice to go. Not even an utterance of the hundreds of alternate routes you could take, oxymoronic when I hear my parent's complaints wherein they lacked open-access education.
Pre-Blair, university was free and reserved only for those displaying potential and admittedly, those from more privileged backgrounds that could pay the price of a top-class education. As I say, every Tom, Dick and Harry can now reach these heights, and we can now tap into the potential of those who previously might have been denied the opportunity to strut their stuff. No further need to cover that base — more access, more opportunity, lovely stuff.
However, I urge you, from the bottom of my heart to listen to yours and consider for a second this fallacy that most entry-level jobs now require a degree. If you have wanted to be a derivatives operations analyst since the age of 16 then likely I am wrong but If you are like myself and are quite simply attracted to the general area of politics, per se, a degree is not the binary route into that area.
We have grown up during the most incredible era, do not forget that. Yes, I understand, the generosity, grants, and cash splashing that went on during the Blairite years, pre-2008, may be gone but the internet has evolved tremendously and will continue to act as the profound social leveler of our time — never has there been this much access to information and opportunity without donning a graduation cap.
Like the wild west before the American expansion, rinse the opportunities that lie ahead and reap the rewards before it fully institutionalizes as our once-great university system has already done.
You may worry about feeling behind, although what else do you expect when 95% of your peers skip their way into university. It can be difficult to cut through the noise when your parents expect you to go and your teachers give it life and death connotations. Kind-hearted and well-meaning brainwashing I would call it because they know nothing different, therefore keep your finger on the pulse and dissect a starting point for when you do eventually finish your A-levels; after that, breathe for a second. You worked hard to get to this point.
I have met people starting university at 26 working at top companies, some who have quit in their 4th and final year generating 6 figure sums within a year of “dropping out”. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable and If you find your solo venture pulls you back towards the rigueur académique then I suggest you sail that ship but not after getting your hands dirty in the real world — maybe we should begin calling them gap year[‘s]?