This is the question that we are asked by our peers, teachers and family during our final year of college or 6th form. The majority of prospective university students will have just finished their final exams, which determine whether they will continue into higher education if they wish to do so.
There are great pressures that comes with not only deciding which university to go to, but also questioning whether it is the ‘right’ thing to do.
I was able to interview some students who had recently left university, along with students who had just finished their first year; I asked them about their experiences and drew some conclusions for those reading this article who may feel torn between going to university, or choosing another path. Myself and Frankie are prospective second year students studying at Portsmouth whilst Kevin and Russell are graduates from the university of Cumbria and Lincoln.
Would you be able to tell us about your current experience at university/overall experience, what was freshers like?
Kevin: Overall I spent three years studying but perhaps somewhat uniquely I spent two years in Ireland and the final year in England to complete the degree. In Ireland I was not in a university but what would be similar to a community college, with smaller grounds and overall less ‘university’ feel. With that, the whole freshers experience was sadly lost on me. The contrast between life in a smaller campus in Ireland at a community college and a larger university campus was interesting but no particular shock. The larger campus was a welcomed change with obviously more people to meet and make friends and more opportunities to uptake.
Frankie: Freshers was… interesting. I had a good time and it did have the feeling of a holiday, but you often go out with people you don’t actually end up being close friends with in the long run. In terms of the educational side of university, I actually thought A-Levels were more difficult than the first year of my degree.
Claire: Freshers was an enduring experience. You’re trying to establish what kind of a person you are whilst attempting to build friendships with people who you have just met overnight. It’s difficult and can be emotional at times. I love my course and what it entails, but there have been times I’ve wanted to pack up my stuff and leave.
Russell: I had 2 years out between high school and going back into further education so I arrived at uni when I was 20. I had already been through the “being 18 and free” stage so I was not all that interested in going out for freshers and partying, in my mind I was just there for a degree so I focused on that a lot. The academic side of university was good although I was definitely ready for a break by the end, my motivation had taken a battering and I was not as enthusiastic come my final semester. I think a lot of other students were suffering from “burnout” too, but you push through it as you have come so far.
Were you ever scared of the debt you would be in?
Kevin: My biggest worry with regards to debt was how I’d pay my parents back. I am very grateful to have been in a position where fees and general living expenses were covered by my parents. Even though they paid, I always felt and still do that I will pay them back when I am able to earn money in my chosen field.
Frankie: It crossed my mind, for sure. But it isn’t something I would say I’m scared of. The way I see it – whether rightly or wrongly – is that by going to university, I will be able to go for higher salary jobs that will offset the cost of university. The way the repayment scheme is structured means I will only pay what I can afford when I do graduate. Also: Three years at university means I will in theory be in over £30,000 of debt once you factor in the maintenance loan. That’s a drop in the ocean for the £70m I’m planning on winning in the Euromillions.
Claire: Yes. It was the only thing stopping me from going to university because the numbers scared me to death. After my first year I’ve realised just how minor the debt is because the money is never demanded if you aren’t earning. If you number crunch, and get a part time job if you are really struggling then you’ll be fine, but 99.9% of the people I know live luxuriously as students.
Russell: Yes and no. I was lucky because I had a family that could give me financial support so I did not have to rely on overdrafts, and I knew the tuition fees would only start to be paid back once I was working and earn over £15k-a-year.
Do you feel that university has prepared you for the rest of your life?
Kevin: Honestly I am unsure how prepared I am for later life and prepared for what exactly. University certainly gave me a taste of life in the workplace, to live on my own in a different country and to pay bills, but the whole experience was always one with a time limit on it. Therefore it’s hard to say how ready I truly am until I either do or don’t ‘make it’ in my chosen field.
Frankie: It is hard to say at this juncture. Having said that, I do feel a lot more independent and grown up. I’ve had to learn how to manage money; wake up and go to bed by myself and prepare meals and wash clothes. And while these sound like pretty simple things to most people, it was something I never knew or learned about prior to university. It sounds cliched and cringeworthy, but I do feel like I have learned a lot about myself being at university
Claire: To an extent, I feel like it has prepared me for my ‘life’ in the simplest sense. I can manage my finances better than a majority of my friends who haven’t had to pay for rent, food, clothes, bills and washing all at once. It may sound like simple things, but once you’re on your own, you realise just how much you have taken for granted. Whether university has prepared me for the rest of my life in the workplace, I feel thats a combination of 60% intelligence, 30% perseverance and 10% luck. For me, university has already opened so many doors that I wouldn’t have been able to do on my own at such a young age.
Russell: Yes and no again. It has made me more indepenent and self-sufficent but university has not prepared me for life in a workplace.
What would you say to those who are in two minds about going to university?
Kevin: For anyone in two minds about university I’d tell them to only go if they really envisage themselves in such a job in the future as to what they’re planning to study. Is there a real passion there or are they going because they feel pressured? If you don’t know what to do take a year out and think about it. University is a brilliant opportunity for the very few on a global scale. But going when you aren’t truly ready to embrace it in its entirety is just as much as a waste as not going at all.
Frankie: It’s a situational thing. As much as I like to think I am always right about everything, I don’t know the individual circumstances of whoever might be reading this. With that being said, if the issues are based around worrying about debt then you really should go. Don’t think about the loan as a loan. Forget about it. Think about it as opting in to a graduate tax scheme. And you might not get the opportunity to go to university again. Everyone who I’ve spoken to has said that their years at uni were the best of their lives. It’s something you might end up regretting if you do not pursue it.
Claire: If you are unsure, don’t go. My friends who have taken gap years to travel, earn money or figure out what they want to do have all said they feel a lot more ‘ready’ for what the experience is going to entail. I knew I wanted to study journalism when I was 14, which was why university was always in my life plan, as without a degree I couldn’t pursue my chosen career. Think about the career you want to have and see if you NEED a degree to get there. After that lay out your options. In life there will always be plan B’s, and you don’t want to be that student who has changed their course from english literature to forensic’s because you’re so confused with who you want to be. We keep forgetting that we are still children who whilst at 6th form still had to ask ‘sir, can I go to the toilet?’ I think university is a place for finding yourself and preparing yourself for the rest of your life, and if you don’t picture yourself there, it’s not for you.
Russell: Do not go until you know what you want to do and do not rush into a decision. Research the degree they are considering and see what doors in the wider world that usually opens, and make sure you are interested in that.
Overall, how would you describe your university experience?
Russell:A very positive one. A lot of the benefits from my experience at University have come away from the classrooms and lecture theatres and more in being part of societies and around many different people from different backgrounds.
Kevin: My university experience was an awakening. I woke up one day and I moved country, met new people, moved into a new house. It changed me completely. But now, a year later, the changes don’t feel as much as I would have perhaps expected.
Claire: A year ago I wanted to be a journalist and I still to today, yet I don’t feel particularly closer to achieving that goal. Like many students they should remember a degree won’t mean you suddenly walk into your field of choice. University was just the latest part of a journey, and one I’ve embraced beyond any extent I’d have ever imagined when I left school just over three years ago.