A-Level results are coming out this week, which took me back a few (many) years to the fateful day I went into college to pick up my results.
Turns out, inside my brown envelope was a message asking me to go directly to the Vice Principal’s office. Obviously, I was convinced I had failed and he was going to offer me a job in the canteen making toast for hormonal teenagers, forever. Turns out, I was a suspect in the recent ‘egg and flour bombing incident’ that happened to the hotel directly opposite our flat on a Theatre Studies trip to the Edinburgh Festival. I was innocent (honestly) and managed to get the grades to get myself into University.
Now, I’m not claiming to know everything about University, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and there are certain things that I would definitely re-consider if I could go back in time and know what I know now. A few things to bear in mind:
1. Going to University does not guarantee you a good job. By ‘good’ I simply mean a position that would facilitate moving out of home and being able to feed yourself and is not so entirely soul destroying thus making you suicidal.
2. You will undoubtedly gain at least a stone in the first 3 months.
3. A student loan is not ‘free money’. It seems like it. You will enjoy it but sooner or later a letter will arrive from The Student Loans Company and you will realise that you have to pay it back. With interest! I honestly never knew they added interest. Incidentally (and inspiration for this post) I got a letter this morning. It’s been a decade since I started Uni and I’ve been out for 6 years. I’ve paid back nothing. Honestly… not a penny!
4. The following subjects qualify you for absolutely nothing (unless you want to teach that particular subject)
- English – not vocational. If you want to be a writer, then writing essays on the literary greats doesn’t really cut it. If you wanted to work for a magazine/publishing house/newspaper/any company at all, graduate or not, you’ll still start at the bottom of the pile. The very bottom. And they will make you make tea and open envelopes. This will be your actual job.
- Drama – if you’re going to be an actor, go to drama school. Otherwise you will spend 3 years playing zip, zap, boing and reading weird monologues you’ll pretend to like and won’t understand.
- Sociology – I don’t think this one needs explained…
- Philosophy – Study in detail only if you want to spend 3 years asking ‘why?’ and also realise that you have not had one original thought ever in your entire life.
- Art History – If you are a Royal and don’t really need a job, or genuinely want to work in a gallery/museum, then ok. Otherwise just go to the Vatican/Le Louvre/National Gallery etc and make up your own mind.
I made the ultimate faux pas in selecting a subject that I liked. Something I would enjoy spending 3 years studying and researching. When I was 18 I presumed I’d bump into Simon Cowell immediately after throwing my cap into the air and he’d just insist on giving me a record deal, a penthouse apartment and a ferrari. What actually happened is I moved back into my parent’s house, got a job at a charity (a nice job and noble cause) but had no money & spent more time than entirely necessary for an adult wearing a bear suit & shaking buckets. There was no hope of ever moving out. So I ended up going back to uni as I realised that I needed something else on my CV. Then I had a few more jobs: sales, events, conference production, account management… you know the kind of jobs that when someone asks you what you do, you tell them and they give you this look that sort of says ‘oh…’ in a way that really means… ‘I don’t really know what that is and please don’t talk to me anymore.’
So, to all those young A-Level students out there who are calling up UCAS and claiming places at University, here’s what I recommend. Do a course that actually leads somewhere. Go to a university that graduate schemes have heard of. By the way, I was very anti-establishment, I’m never working in an office, I’m not doing a graduate scheme… a few years ago. You know what? I was an idiot. I never wanted to work for a big company in an office. Why? because I thought everything would be as fun as uni. It’s not. You know what’s less fun? Beans out the can and a pay as you go boiler. If you want to go to parties in new shoes and get cabs home instead of the night bus; a flat near a station instead of a bedsit 2 hours away with mice… then get a proper job.
I’m not saying you should only ever be motivated by money… but don’t be put off by a job because you think it’s dull, or too normal, or not for you. I’m also not suggesting that everyone becomes a big city honcho, you just need enough. Don’t think about what would be fun to study at 18. You have to tap into your thirty year old self and think about what kind of life you’d like. Then work out the most likely route to that lifestyle. Unless of course, your family are rich or you don’t mind being poor/hungry. But to be fair, there’s always Primark & freeganism. 😉
Here’s something for a laugh. Check out these utterly ridiculous courses. David Beckham Studies? I kid you not!