As I stepped off the bus after an exhausting day at an assessment centre, I heard someone calling my name. 

It was a former tutee’s father and he began to discuss the current situation he was facing with his son. To uni,  or not to uni. 

He was of the opinion that going to university was not worth it for his son as he did not know which career path he wanted to work towards. The cost of university is far too high so doing so only makes sense if you have a clearly defined career path. 

That was his opinion and I could understand where he was coming from. But I reminded him that by going to university, students can end up discovering themselves and that journey can lead to them deciding which path to take in their lives. 

The problem however,  is that this is not guaranteed and it is this element of risk coupled with the cost of university that makes people more reluctant towards university. People are beginning to realise that perhaps university isn’t the first and optimal option for their children. From a young age,  students are taught the pinnacle of their lives will be when they get into a top university but the reality is that even graduating from a top university isn’t that stunning a milestone. The key milestone of a student’s educational journey is actually when they stop becoming a student. It is taking that first step onto the career ladder,  in a position that they are genuinely interested in. 

So what other options are there? Why was the father considering something other than university? Well in the UK, there has been an increase in the number of apprenticeships offered by businesses. Think of an apprenticeship and it probably conjures images of working in a garage or a similar type of job. However,  the apprenticeships on offer are improving with each year. Consultancies, banks, ‘the Big 4’ and many other companies have begun to offer them and so students are beginning to realise that there are other options. 

Of course competition for these apprenticeships is extremely fierce but the lucky few who secure them are able to dive straight into the world of work, earn a great wage for a 19 year old and skip the debt of a university degree. 

Apprenticeships aren’t a magical solution but they are a great option.  One issue is that you will have to be sure that you want to enter the field that you are applying to. The skills you learn will be tailored specifically to that area which is great,  but not if you are unsure if you really want to continue in that field. 

The father said he would encourage his son to apply for any apprenticeships that interest him but if that doesn’t work out then university is always the option. 

I think that is the most sensible route a person could take in today’s world. As a university student myself, I know that many of the benefits that people proclaim about university is subjective. These are what you could term ‘soft benefits’ in the sense that they are not tamgible and depend on the person’s own actions whilst at university. If a student simply does their degree,  then they probably would feel that they aren’t getting their money’s worth. If they get involved in societies and build upon their other skills,  they may begin to feel that the benefits of university is quite great.  It is this risk and uncertainty, that worries people and they rightly should be worried,  especially when tuition fees in the UK look like they are going to rise even more. 

What advice would you give if a young adult asked if they should go to university or not? 

Until Next Time 

A Worried Student

31 thoughts on “To Uni,  Or not to Uni? 

  1. As an IT apprentice, this relates to me a lot. I was encouraged to look for alternative options to university but I submitted my uni application early beforehand just in case I definitely felt that university was the right choice. I got the right A-Level grades and was accepted to my first choice university.

    However, I decided to defer the place on the spot in search for alternatives and I had a year to do so. I got a part-time job as I applied for apprenticeships I was interested in, where were in the field of IT. I got accepted into the one I am currently on now and I am enjoying it thoroughly; there are so many opportunities that are on offer and I do truly believe that this debt-free and skill-honing experience can outweigh a graduate fresh out of university.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks for sharing your experience. I would say you are one of the brave few, I don’t think many people would have taken the risk of deferring especially aftet securing a university place! So congrats on that and it is really awesome to hear it worked out well for you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi there,

    I’m based in California, and am guessing that the situation here is quite different than in the UK (…if I’m correct in inferring that’s where you are?). Where can I start? Well, as a youth, I pretty much knew that I would have to be able to support myself, one day. The trouble I had was not being able to envision living past 30 when I was 23 (I’m almost 35 now). And…I am still in University.

    But, by far, I think that the biggest gift University gave me the first time around was a knowledge of what it was like to live on my own. Up until my first five quarters (almost two years) at a University I eventually withdrew from, I had not been so “independent” — I put that in quotes because my living was still being subsidized by my parents and loans, which were a big help. But the first $13,000 in debt I incurred, I still have, from that specific place — and not from additional training in community college or my latter (much less expensive) University.

    I don’t really regret my experience at the first University, but there were other, better options (for example, I could have gone into molecular biology or chemical engineering at a closer, more highly regarded University for a lower price — but I would still have been living with family. In any case, these options are not things which presented themselves as desirable until years after graduation).

    As things are, I’m sure that my writing skills are salable — like you, I became an English major (I didn’t want to deal with math anymore, from burnout), but more specifically, I was a English — Creative Writing major. What this has done is made it exceptionally easy for me to express myself in writing, except when I worry about being judged for my content. ^_^;;

    The major problem I have run across is trying to get beyond my own self-imposed limitation; the major one, at least, which is pervasive shyness, which makes getting a new job something I have to put a large amount of effort into. I’ve been working on disrupting the shyness in my first job (I presently work as a Library Aide in a Public Library: a very low-paid position which I could have gotten in high school — and which probably would have massively helped me at that time), but can see that it’s about time to move on (as most of my colleagues have).

    Currently, I’m in a program geared toward Library and Information Science, which is…interesting, though I’ve realized that I am not best-suited to be the person on the front lines dealing with the public; hence, my information needs at this time may be better met in an organization I want to stay in for the long haul (if…’the long haul’ even exists, in the US, anymore?).

    I’m hoping to at least move on into a more information-oriented position, or to get experience working in either an Academic (think: college) or Special (think: business) Library setting. Optimally, I would be working in the tech sector and helping in some way with Knowledge Management…I think that could be a really cool gig; attainable with a Master’s Degree in Information Science (covered by my MLIS).

    But the reason I’m even here (in the Master’s program) in the first place is that I wanted to be something more than a secretary. Honestly, I don’t know what kind of stable job I can get, just by writing well… On the other hand, I’ve spent so many years in school, accruing information, that it is a realistic possibility that I may move on to a Doctorate (say, in Ethnic Studies), though when I was in college the first time, I expected never to go back (and wanted never to go back).

    The expanded worldview attainable with education isn’t anything to sneeze at; it makes one much less vulnerable to manipulation, for one thing. For another, it exposes one to ideas which will shake up a student, hopefully in a good way which shows them more about who they are than they would know about themselves, had they not met conflicting and contrasting ideas in the process.

    In undergraduate work, though…it may be important to find a mentor to speak about these things with. I know that in my own undergraduate training — this is before my experience in the Art program at a nearby Community College (I just got an Associate’s degree [in Art] from there, in between my BA and return to the MLIS program) — having someone I could trust to bounce ideas off of did help with the isolation I was feeling. (I went to a commuter school, and as such didn’t really…have a strong community. Sure, there were open mics and stuff…in San Francisco…)

    In addition, the faculty in many of my classes at both Universities (within both Sociology [my first hypothetical major] and English; but not, interestingly, in Creative Writing) had a tendency to be bizarrely politically opinionated — and it helps to know that not everyone is like this. In particular, the quality of my English education was such that it made me want to stop reading — which IS NOT THE POINT of an English education! The discouragement rode with me through the Art program until I reached the point of realizing that there is no monolithic “correct” reading of any piece of art or literature; that we bring as much to it as we take away from it…and I’m not necessarily exposing all my flaws and wounds to the world when I write! You know? It doesn’t have to be like that.

    Right now I’m attempting to work my way back into writing in some way which is enjoyable and not dredging up old pains which had been previously happily forgotten…but anyway, about the question of whether to stay in school or not? Whatever you do, do something that helps you grow. For some people, University is the right place for that; for others, it could never be. I’m related to one of the latter, by the way. 😉

    To a certain extent, all of school up until an undergraduate degree is embarked on, *is training* to have the skills to get that undergraduate degree; in turn, you’ve gotta also have an idea of where you want to go *after* obtaining that degree. I did not have that idea, and so I am back in school because I need and want to obtain gainful (and not just subsistence) employment. Then again, writing and art are two skills which don’t seem to be highly valued in the US at this moment…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about your experiences!
      Your point about doing things that help you grow is something I really connect with. It is the advice that was also given by recent graduates from my university, some people tend to ignore this and want short term gain (high salaries) without developing themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi! Thank you! 🙂

        Yes, it becomes even clearer in grad school that you get out of your education what you put into it. It was something of a shock to me when I went through my first semester in the MLIS program (some years ago); I’d always been something of an overachiever, but in the Master’s program I was suddenly among people who were at my level or above. This, combined with a number of other factors, were enough to cause me to duck out at the end of Fall 2012.

        Now that I’ve gone through the second semester, though (I reapplied and took second semester last Fall: I believe I have five more possible ahead of me before I will need to retake my first classes) and have taken some classes with others who have cleared the majority of their core courses already, I can see what I will have to do — for myself, and to really stay afloat and have the possibility of a success that goes beyond a piece of paper.

        In this situation (I am attending online classes), it really becomes apparent that I am responsible for everything I do and do not learn. Assignments are guidelines, and deadlines: things to push and stretch one outside of their comfort zone, and keep one on a set schedule. Not everyone needs this, but from what I can see, it does help. 🙂

        And in my opinion, though it may be obvious that this is coming from a Library worker… 😉 …you gotta do what you love, or at least work that is meaningful to you, to keep at it. It’s possible to have tons of money and hate your job, which is the main reason I did not go into Geology and work for Big Oil. I just could not see my ethics being able to deal with something like that, no matter what I was paid. It’s the same reason I am not working as a commercial artist. Do I really want to decorate that soda can and increase its desirability by doing so, when I know excess sugar is killing people, and a key source of that sugar is soft drinks?

        (I know I did mention chemical engineering and molecular biology, earlier; both of these paths are ideas which I later thought of in relation to medicine, for the latter; and art [and medicine], for the former — a lot of recent pigment formulations [some of which are vastly safer than their predecessors] were originally developed for the auto industry, for example.)

        Then again, I may have a brain that is wired to desire rewards less…

        I’m in the middle of reading a book called _Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking_, by Susan Cain (2013) …it was recommended to me by a counselor.

        Apparently, I’m extremely clearly what Cain calls a “high-reactive” type, meaning that small details are things that I catch; I need less stimulation to fulfill me and am easily overwhelmed by too much information (making things like going to a bar, a very poor decision, because my brain can’t handle the overload — let alone an overload on top of an intoxicant).

        Chapter 7 of this book goes over reward pathways in the brain and how those who have a certain brain type (extroverted), tend to seek rewards more than others. This goes into brain structure and the limbic system vs. the neocortex, which I’m not entirely sure I can fully elucidate here, but the argument is compelling, for someone not a psychology major. 😉 (I have at least taken an introductory Psych class, though, don’t worry.)

        A high salary is a reward; it may just be me, but honest work and actually assisting things in changing for the better, matter more to me than having a huge excess of money. Having *some* excess of money is fine; after basic comforts and leisure are accounted for, however, it doesn’t seem to…well, matter. That is, satisfaction at the work done matters more to me than the reward received, unless that reward is so low that it does not allow me to have a pleasant life, or keeps me in debt.

        And yeah, you gotta kind of wonder about people who want rewards, but don’t want to earn them…? heh.


      • I also felt that and continue to feel the daunting yet also refreshing challenge of having my peers at or above my level in university. This takes some getting used to.
        I heard about that book just yesterday! Will certainly try and give it a read (If I am not swallowed up by the upcoming semester’s readings..)

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m at uni now and some of the things I’ve learned.. are quite crazy. Maybe it’s the particular uni I’m at?? It’s a transformation that I can’t quite believe- I’ve discovered things I never knew, made friends I will keep and love forever, and grew as a person like I never thought possible. I agree with you that it’s about what you put in- picking courses you enjoy and actually attending them in person is so important to enjoying and getting something out of uni, as is making connections with others and having a great time 🙂 Fantastic read, I really enjoyed this article! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi! Really enjoying your blog 🙂

    I’m from Sweden and here all form for higher level of education (except some very few private institutions) are free. I think this is a game changer, since it gives you the possibility to try anything. In reality most have student loans here too, but for their accommodation.

    I was lucky and finished my studies quite early and got into an industry with a lot of job opportunities (the lovely game industry) and though an internship landed my first job.

    In Sweden, like in the rest of Europe, we have a high number of unemployed young people. I think there is a trend here to study while “figure things out”. I don’t think this is bad, but I wished more people would try to figure things out while working – only because it’s so liberating to to be young and have your own money!

    I think, like someone else wrote, that you can always go back to study while you are older – you are never too old to learn new things!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Free education you say? Alas that’s merely a dream for us!
      It certainly does sound like a game changer and I think it allows students to take more risks as well so you get a more diversely qualified workforce.
      Wow that sounds great!

      True, but the issue for students also is that getting into good entry level jobs is quite difficult without some sort of qualification/experience.


      • I think free education’s strongest point is that it gives all people a fair chance in life – regardless of background.

        True about the entry level jobs. But if we take te example you wrote about, a young adult who don’t know what he/she want to do with their life, like at all, then maybe they could try working at a cafe or some shop as well as studying. I don’t think neither is bad – I did personally study after high school (or upper secondary school as we call it), but I also did have an idea of what I wanted to do. It’s quite nice later in life to have a buffert.

        But yes, maybe because of the high percentage of unemployment, it’s hard to land most jobs without any form of higher level of education.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Definitely.

        Oh yes having a part time job whilst studying is important, even if you are not in need of money as it teaches you valuable skills. Those types if jobs are not too difficult to come by as student, although I always recommend my friends to go into offering private tuition to kids as its almost the ideal job for a student.


  5. I worry about this pretty regularly. My degree-a triple major in anthropology, political science and international relations, doesn’t have any defined career at the end of it. Which worries me. Because I don’t want to spend all this money, defend my degree choices for three years, only to be unemployed at the end of it. I know I want to work in the human rights sector. I don’t know how to get there, just making it up.
    I do know I need a uni degree, yet some days I just want to pick up an apprenticeship or work at a store. It wouldn’t suit who I am, but it would be simple. Plus then I could stay at home and be near my boyfriend. I just have to remind myself that this is what I want to do and that an opportunity should present itself…wish me luck

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I come to the end of my degree, I do have some good news to report. Opportunities will present themselves as long as you are proactive about going out and seeking them. Engage in extra-curricular activities, join a club, set up your own, do some work experience at organisations you admire, build up your CV, and soon you’ll find yourself feeling quite confident about getting a job once you graduate. Your degree sounds great for the human rights sector so you’ll be fine! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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