It's that time of the year again for many different people across the world, for many different reasons. For those who work in fashion, today marks the 1st of September - otherwise known as the official start to autumn/winter and gives way to any excuse to bring out cable knits, ankle boots and faux fur collars galore. For kids, it's back to school nearly for you - although going off stationery shops you've been 'going back to school' now for approximately all six weeks since you broke up from said school. And finally for those who got accepted into university you're about to start what they coin as 'the best three years of your life' (or four if you're lucky enough to have a sandwich year).
As it's now been two years since I've graduated and been in the 'real world of work' I thought I'd share my experience of university. This post was also inspired by Becca's really insightful post on her time at uni - you can read that here. Some of the below may come across negatively but that's not my intention at all, I just want to be completely honest and really is just a lesson to myself to think about my decisions more.
So let's rewind quite a few years...
The sixth form I went to was part of the secondary school I also went to - when it came to applying for university I just went along with it because I couldn't really see any option - for me it was just the 'done thing to do.' I didn't know what I wanted to do or where I wanted to study. My teachers were quite good at giving advice but in all honesty how can you help someone who doesn't know what she wants. I always remember one of my teachers saying that when he chose where to study he drew a 150 mile radius on where he lived with his parents and then deliberately went outside of this. I'm quite a family person so couldn't imagine being that far away from home. I pretty much rushed my application and applied for an array of different courses from journalism to media production and technology. I didn't put much consideration into where these courses were or what the course itself involved - which I wish I'd done. I went on all of the open days - some I knew straight away were a no and in the end I ended up going to UCLan in Preston and studied Journalism and Communication (with journalism as my major).
I'd always enjoyed writing but never really looked at it as a potential career until (ironically) a teacher I really didn't get along with at school pointed out how natural it came to me - so annoyingly I sort of have to give her credit for that. At the time of me going to university I did feel a little disjointed from the stage of life my friends were at. My older friends had been to university, already graduated and were either in work or going into jobs. Friends my age were doing foundation courses before going off to uni so it was tough leaving them and my family behind.
The start of University
I went into halls as most freshers did and had some really nice flatmates - one of which is still one of my best friends now. Looking back now I really did waste first year. I didn't go out as much as I probably should have or made as much effort making friends with people - instead I just got my head down, got the grades and handed in assignments early so I could go back home. It didn't help that I was only in university Monday - Wednesday so that gave me an excuse to run back home to my friends and family. Because of this I don't think I ever really settled in.
Second year I enjoyed a lot more. The course got more interesting, I went out more and I'd made more friends and moved into a house. It was also the year I started this blog so even though I wasn't still 100% happy at university, I had something else to distract me. I still came home quite a bit but not as much as I also started spending time in London going to blogger events and meeting even more people. In all honesty I think this blog changed my life for the better and whilst in the big picture it's amazing, whilst at university it then made me want to be in London more than in Preston. There was much of a buzz down there, more opportunities and if I could do it all again I would without thinking have gone to university there instead.
By the time third year came around all I could think about was graduating - I wanted a job and to start earning money. My hours at university were hardly anything and I learnt quite a lot from reading and running this blog that I was ready to go. I didn't want to quit at that point as it would have been a waste of time and money. I started writing for the university magazine which was really good experience for me - I had a great team to work with and at the end of the year I won the award for 'Style Writer of the Year' which I didn't expect at all. I'd also ramped up the amount of time I spent on the blog, whether it was coding, designing, writing, interviewing or going to events - again the majority in London - so I split my time between Preston, London and back home in Derbyshire. From that sides of things half of my personal life was going great however on the other sides of things they weren't - a close family member died and being away from home was even harder. I spent more time in my room then I should have done and because of this some of my friendships suffered. Compared to the person I am today I let a lot of people walk all over me and the last few weeks of university didn't end the way they should but things happen for a reason.
In terms of third year work it was pretty similar to the workload of second year. I'd always worked well with deadlines and I really enjoyed writing my dissertation and I wouldn't mind writing a second one. I graduated with a 2:1 which I was happy enough with but were they the 'best years of my life?' - No. I definitely didn't make the most of them but I firmly believe it was down to numerous reasons. Most of it was probably down to me not researching what and where I wanted to study before I went. As they say 'Fail to prepare and prepare to fail' - whilst I didn't fail as such, I didn't have the time of my life at university. Don't get me wrong there were good times and there are a few people I'm glad I met but I've grown a lot more in the past two years of my life being in work then I did at university. I'm a lot happier and feel surrounded by some amazing people.
So my advice would be if you want to go to university go - if you don't - don't. Now the fees are the price they are, it's even more important to really ask yourself if it's the right path for you. Don't go because like me you think it's the 'done thing to do' or because all your friends are doing it. You only get one life so do what's going to make you happy and get you where you want to be.
If you already know what you want to study - great! If not, again don't rush it. Some people find it's better to take a year out and decide what exactly it is they want to invest tens of thousands of pounds into - part of me wishes I'd done this. See what you enjoy doing and what you're good at - ask your teachers what they see as your strengths. Once you've nailed that, look at where you want to study. Want to be as far away from your parents as possible? That's fine, but maybe don't tell them that if you want to come home at Christmas to smiling faces and home-cooked food. For some university isn't about living away from home - there's always the option of staying at home and commuting in. I technically could have done this as it was about 90 minutes each way from Preston to where I lived but I wanted to live away from home and get the whole experience.
Before you choose your university - do as much research as possible. Go and see the cities/towns, visit the open days, look at the course modules and what you're going to be assessed on. Make as much of an educated decision as possible because I certainly didn't.
If you've done all that and are about to start your three years - make the most of them. Work hard but play hard too. You'll never get those years again where going out four times a week is acceptable or rent is ridiculously cheap. Meet as many new people as possible, join a club, get a part time job and more importantly make the most out of your course. You have to do a lot of self motivating whilst you're there as the lecturers aren't going to hold your hand. If you get there and decide you don't like it (hopefully you'll have given it at least a few months), then leave (after giving it as much thought as possible of course). It's better to leave at a time you know you want to leave than wait another year and waste more money or even worse stay put for three years and really regret them.
Or maybe you're not going to or want to go to university at all, and that's fine too. Getting a degree doesn't automatically make you more employable or shiny. You can still get onto your career ladder with hard work and determination. Do some interning or voluntary work. Start a blog. Make a portfolio - just make sure you do something to show your passion and drive. Whilst I think going to university helped me in some ways to get my current role, I think this blog and my other work experience contributed too.
Just do what's right for you. I read a quote the other day that sums up this post quite well: "If you're trapped between your feelings and what other people think is right, always go for whatever makes you happy. Unless you want everybody to be happy except you."