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One size does not fit all

By Ellen Stickland

Thursday 21 June 2018 NUS News

Almost every year 11 pupil has been through the assembly about going onto higher education.  Have you ever noticed how this is almost always focused solely on university? Whilst going to university and getting a degree can be a wonderful opportunity, it is not the only route. There isn’t even just one way to study for a degree.

University is presented as the default option. However, it is not the only way to gain qualifications. Whilst apprenticeships often lack airtime at school when discussing your options, they can be very beneficial. Apprenticeships allow you to earn as you learn, as well as giving you hands on experience in your chosen career path. There is a lot of pressure on young people to go to university, but the academic pathway is not for everyone. If exams and rigorous testing is something that makes you nervous, there is always the option of choosing a more vocational route.  Of course, some professions require a degree so it’s important to do some research.

Even for those who decide on university, from my experience it can be disappointing when it does not match up to the picture perfect idea presented to perspective students. Choosing which university you wish to go to is a big decision and can depend on many different, personal factors. Some students, like myself, want to stay close to home whilst others see it as an opportunity to gain independence from their family. Financial and personal circumstances also play a role in shaping your university life. For many, the heavy price of a student loan is already too much without evening thinking about maintenance grants. For those people, living at home and commuting to lectures may be seen as a necessity. Some students who suffer with mental or physical health problems may find that the demands of a full-time course are too much. Part time courses are on offer, and, whilst it’s not common for undergraduates to take them, they can be just what is needed to help a student complete their degree.

A certain image is built up of the ideal university experience.  However, circumstances can change and expectations may not be met.  I have recently made the decision to transfer to a different university, one that’s closer to home, because I found living in student accommodation was not the best thing for me. So much emphasis is given to the social aspect of university - living with other students and partying. The truth is, this simply did not fit with my personality. That’s not to say I didn’t socialise at all, but at times it can feel overwhelming.

No two students will have the same experience with higher education. It’s important to find the way that will help you get the qualifications you need and set you up for the best possible career prospects. There is no shame in going against the grain. You know yourself best and only you can ultimately decide how you want your academic career to be.