Monday, 31 August 2015

My Experiences with University

Unsurprisingly, the topic of choice lately has been university, so I thought I would weigh in with my little bit of advice and experience when it comes to the topic.

The first time I went to university, I lasted a grand total of three weeks because I didn't actually want to be there. I did like the idea of university, but I didn't get in to the subject that I wanted to do, which at the time was education. My grades weren't high enough, but the university contacted me and asked if I wanted to do social sciences instead, which I accepted. However, this topic was not what I wanted to do AT ALL, and so I stopped seeing the point of it very quickly. It wasn't what I wanted to do, so the idea of paying hundreds of pounds on books and immediately doing essays on a topic I didn't really care all that much about meant I quit within the first three weeks. Another problem I had at this point was that I didn't live on campus; everyone else on my course did, so they'd all formed really good friendships already which I wasn't able to be a part of. This isn't telling you you should stay on campus; I think if I'd have been more into the topic I'd have been more likely to put the effort in to making friends, but when you really don't want to be somewhere it's hard to do that.

The second time I went to university, I went purely because I completely failed at finding a job within the year so felt like I had no choice. Oddly, this time, with the exact same grades as last time and literally no work experience in that year, the university I went to previously decided that they would accept me to do education after all, and this time I completed the three years and got my 2.1.

Following this, I started the PGCE, which is the UK teacher training qualification. I was surprised by this as I thought I would love it and that it was everything I'd ever wanted to do, but I really hated it. There was such a horrible atmosphere. It was a really bitchy course, the teachers that I worked with when in schools weren't nice at all. I've continued to hear this a lot from teachers, that the PGCE is awful, so is the first year, and then after that it generally gets better. Well, for me I decided it wasn't worth it. I have never been as low as I felt in that first year; The teachers were horrible to me, I was paired with this absolute bitch who used to steal my lesson plans and do my lesson first, so that I would then have no lesson to do and have to wing it, and for some reason everybody sided with her. She was absolutely horrible, and it actually makes me sad that a bully like her has continued to be able to work in education, but there you go...

After this, I was really torn between doing a master's degree in early years education or a journalism course. The journalism course was the one that really interested me, though logically I knew that the jobs were actually available within the early years sector. Eventually, I admitted this, and the university offering the early years degree took away the fees for me and gave me a bursary to do it, so since I was basically going to get that one for free and a payment on top of it I chose it. I did actually really enjoy this course at first whilst it was full time, but then when it went to part time and I had a full time job as well I completely failed at being able to go in. Somehow passed this course though!

Here's what I will say. I got a lot of jobs in early years very very easily. I'm certain that the reason I got interviews was because of my qualifications. I got basically every job I went for, and in some cases the settings would actually offer to create a new role purely for me, because obviously it looks good on them to have someone so highly qualified. The problem? They're all basically minimum wage. So having my qualifications made it really, really easy to get a minimum wage job, which isn't how it should be.

And now? I work in an entirely different career. I work within the emergency services now, a job that pays double and didn't require a degree to begin with. So in a way I consider my university education pretty much worthless, although with the added bonus that I still get to pay towards it every month to work in an entirely unrelated sector...!

With that being said, here's my advice for university...

  • If you don't want to go, don't go. Honestly, I think unless you're wanting to do a job that actively requires you to have a degree, ie medicine, then there are plenty of better routes into your chosen career that are much more relevent to it and won't cost you a fortune.
  • If you do choose to go, make sure you're doing something you're interested in. Don't go just because you think you should go, and don't do a topic that you don't actually care about on the grounds that you think it's the only way you'll be able to get a job out of it. 
  • I can't reiterate it enough - do something you're interested in! Even if it's a topic that some people may consider to be a pointless one, if it's one you're actually interested in you're much more likely to enjoy the experience and do well in it.
  • Choose the university you like the best. Unless you're going for something ultra competitive, don't just go for the high ranking ones. Take the time to read all sorts of prospectuses, go and visit the areas and get a feel for them. I ultimately chose places where I thought I would have fun, and where there were people like me. Ultimately, the people you're with and the area you're in are going to be what makes the experience for you.
  • Don't feel you have to live on campus; My chosen university was a commutable distance, and I don't really feel like I missed out a whole lot by not living on campus. Worst case scenario, I'd sleep on someones couch who DID happen to live on campus.
  • If you can't decide what you want to do, there's no harm in having a year out to think about it. It's much better to take a year to work or travel etc and think about what you want to do than spend a few grand just to decide that you don't actually want to go.
  • Be prepared for the commitment - I had friends who made it into the third year, only to decide that they didn't want to continue anymore. While I totally get that, it was making them unhappy and they didn't see the point, it did mean that they'd spent £6000 on the fees and who knows what on living expenses and other loans - and this was a few years ago, so it would probably cost much more than that now!
  • Discover what works for you. I actually had the best success doing my essays all in one go and spending hours on them. The recommended advice will always be to take your time doing it over a few weeks - whenever I did that, I'd completely forget what I had already written, no longer understand what my bullet points for further topics meant, and completely lose any sort of natural flow. Use the first year to work out different styles and see what you find works best.


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