I did not attend university, which seems to be an unusual scenario for people my age – at least in my school. I completed my GCSEs, and (just about) got through my A Levels, but did not continue my education past that point. It was the best decision I’ve made.
My school strived to be high-performing. Like many secondary schools at the moment, it liked to brag about how many students it sent to Oxbridge each year, and how many grades were A*s. The sixth form was part of the school, and we were almost immediately thrust into the UCAS application process upon entering Year 12.
Less than a term in, those who were aiming for Oxford and Cambridge were asked to begin writing their personal statements – bear in mind this was just under two years before anyone would set foot in a university. And soon after, we were all asked to start on our statements. There were no ifs or buts about it – the default assumption was that we would all be applying to university.
Around a term into sixth form, I decided that school as a concept had run its course for me. I was no longer enjoying the environment – anxiety had crippled my excitement for learning, and I preferred my own company to being surrounded by judgemental high-schoolers. I discussed my views at length with my parents – having been a ‘gifted’ child, they were disappointed to hear that I did not intend to pursue higher education, but being the amazing people they are, they just wanted me to do what made me happy.
There were also the other factors to consider. In case you weren’t aware, university costs a lot of money. Unless one is committed enough to be able to land a scholarship or grant, one must be able to either pay or borrow upwards of £20,000, and that only covers the course itself. The other factor that played into my decision was that considering the cost, there was no subject I was passionate enough about to study for three more years. I needed a break from learning.
I settled my decision with myself, but was still being badgered about completing my personal statement and sorting out predicted grades. So with trepidation, I approached our UCAS coordinator to inform him. This should definitely be an opt-in process, not opt-out, but that’s another matter.
Fortunately, that encounter only made me feel better about my decision. He told me that I was very wise, and that I was the only person who had approached him to tell him, categorically, that I did not intend to apply. I left with his wishes of good luck, and it was a weight off my shoulders.
It’s not that my A Level grades ceased to matter; it’s just that there were no limits set which my future rested on. I gleefully told each of my teachers that I was not going to need my predicted grades. Some of them were surprised, having known me since I’d started at the school (when my performance had been better) – but they all shared the views of the UCAS coordinator. While most students were following the flow as if it were inevitable, I had actively decided to go against it.
Of course, I felt the normal stresses that accompany any schooling qualification – but it took a weight off my mind to know that I could choose my own path afterwards. Come results day, my grades were not great, but not too bad – but I saw other students distraught that they’d missed out on their first choice by a grade or two. I felt a level of sympathy for them – their best laid plans had been put on hold, and many would have to sit their exams again next year before being allowed to attend university.
After school finished, it took me a little while to find my feet, and I’ve been working for nearly three years. Seeing my peers graduating this year highlighted the difference between our paths, and I’m intrigued to see what they end up doing in the future.
I’ve not written off ever completing a degree – but it will be done when I decide I’m ready.