Growing up, I was almost certain that someday I'd go to University.
As a relatively successful academic, the prospect of doing anything but seemed completely nonsensical, for it was drilled in from a young age that "clever people" continued their studies in that way.
Whilst I'm not claiming myself to be the 21st century's answer to Einstein, I did do well in school, and my grades were good. If I were to excel in my A-Levels as I did in my GCSEs, then of course it made sense for the next step to be University.
Because, 'Good Grades + Good University = Good Job!'
Or at least that's what I was lead to believe, particularly throughout the majority of my life in secondary school.
Now, fast forward to Sixth Form, and the appeal of University is no longer limited to the career opportunities that it can bring.
Instead, it's advertised as the BEST 3 years of your life, regardless of the academic status you hold, and the majority of students are strongly advised to go.
You hear things like...
It all sounds pretty damn fantastic, right?
And, I'll be honest, I cannot single-handedly disprove any of those statements. I know students that are having the time of their lives at University, I know graduates that would give anything to go back!
But, I also know from personal experience that University doesn't always live up to these hyped expectations, and when it doesn't, you assume that there's only you to blame. At the end of each day, I'd clamber into bed and think to myself...
"What is it that I'm doing so wrong?"
To give everyone a little bit of context, I was at the University of Liverpool studying Sociology and Philosophy. My first year began in the September of 2017, and I moved away from home and into student accommodation.
I was in a shared flat with 6 total strangers, I was about one hundred and forty miles from my family, and I felt entirely out of my depth; a fish out of water. The very moment my parents and sister said their goodbyes and walked out of the flat, I was just left to figure it out. Left to my own devices. Left wondering what the f*ck I was supposed to do next.
(NOTE: this is standard procedure for anyone moving away to University, really.)
But, I powered through freshers week with alcohol and tears aplenty, and before I knew it, I was officially getting started with my degree.
Now, the subjects that I chose to study at University were two that I was extremely passionate about. The prospect of dedicating 3 years to those particular areas of study filled me with a great deal of excitement, so there'd never been any real doubt about the pathway that I'd chosen.
Having said that, within as little time as a month, I had this very persistent gut feeling that what I was doing, the way I was living, just wasn't for me.
And yet, I continued to stick it out, with others telling me to "give it 'til Christmas", followed by "you may as well do this term!", and then, "just do another term, and see how you feel after that."
So I gave it till Christmas, and then I attempted another term, and then I stopped listening to others and I started listening to myself.
I decided to drop out of University.
First of all, I was incredibly lonely.
Prior to attending University, we're told that we will meet friends for life, and please don't get me wrong, I met some wonderful people in my short time there. But, as an individual that enjoys their own company, I often found myself feeling like I hadn't quite created the bonds that those around me had.
I'd spend a lot of time in my room whilst the girls in my flat gathered in the kitchen, I'd choose to go into town alone, I'd sit alone in a lot of my lectures, and I didn't really go out that much because of my weekend job.
Perhaps, in hindsight, I did contribute to isolating myself. I didn't quite find the balance between spending time alone and forcing myself into social situations to meet people, so I ended up feeling like I didn't belong. To live in a brand new city, to experience brand new things and to lead brand new life, a sense of belonging was essential for my mental health.
I just never found it.
Next Issue? The Structure.
Now, I know people tell you that University involves a lot of independent, self-motivated study, but nobody told me just how little contact time there would be.
Walking into a lecture hall, I reckon I was one of around 170 individuals. For my course, there was no register to sign, no kind of 'clock in, clock out' system, no real track of my attendance. If I turned up, I turned up. If I didn't, I didn't.
It was all very impersonal, and I was just a number.
The majority of assignments were submitted via an online electronic system, and feedback was offered back for such in the same format. There was very little opportunity to form a bond with any of my academic leaders, and it began to dawn on me that nobody there actually cared whether I did well or not.
And, as a result, I stopped caring, too, which lead me directly to the next problem...
Do I even want to be here?
So, for those of you who have read my article on Existential Anxiety, you'll know that I have a very real, albeit irrational, fear of time passing me by and my life having no meaning.
Whilst everyone will define a 'meaningful' life differently, I can say for certain that none of what I was doing felt meaningful at all. In fact, coming to think of it at the time, I'd dreamt of a career in music for as long as I could remember, so why was I in a Russell Group University studying an academic subject?
Well, because I‘d felt that there was no other option.
I mean, as young adults, the majority of us feel a little lost. We have no idea what the future holds, no idea what we want from our lives, and, even if we do know what we want, we have no idea how to get it.
Then, in the midst of Sixth Form/College, we’re casually asked to decide which area of study we wish to dedicate 3 or more years of our life to, for the humble cost of £27,000+.
Of course, some people don’t struggle with that at all, and that’s great! They know exactly what they want to do, exactly where they want to go, and University just seems like the natural next step.
But, there are seldom conversations about the other options, right? The job route, the internship route, the travelling route, the I’m-just-gonna-see-how-things-go-first route. And, this is why so many people choose to stay in University, even if they don’t like it. Even if their happiness is being compromised.
Because, they simply don’t know what else they would do.
And, to make matters even more difficult, in the age of social media, it really does seem like everyone else has their shit together, and you just...don't. So, making the decision to leave University honestly felt a little like holding my hands up and saying, "hey, my life is completely directionless and I'm not enjoying this experience, even though everybody else is, so I guess I'm the problem."
But, I wasn't the problem.
Dropping out of University isn't a problem.
And I think the most crucial reason for me leaving University was because I wanted to.
There is so much unnecessary pressure surrounding the justification of our actions, these days. Everyone needs a reason to do whatever it is that they decide to do, and 'because, I wanted to' just never seems to be enough.
Sure, I'm speaking within reasonable terms here; by no means am I encouraging reckless, dangerous behaviour simply because you 'want to' engage in such.
But, for something like University?
If you don't want to be there, you don't have to be there.
Of course, I understand that everyone has their own personal circumstances. Perhaps you strive for a career path that requires a degree. Perhaps you're averse to quitting something until you've given it at least a year.
Everyone is different.
But, what I'm trying to say is that there is always an option. It's okay to defer your entry. It's okay to change your mind about what it is you want from life. It's okay to talk to others, to admit that you aren't enjoying University. That you're struggling with it. That perhaps you need to reevaluate your choices, to look at your options.
And, for anyone that needs to hear it - University is not the be all and end all.
You always have a choice.
All the love,