The day the last of my friends left to go to university was one of the worst days of my life. How could I go from being the girl who had it all, to the girl who never even got a university offer? A string of sparking As and A*s, a part time job and every extra curricular under the sun had somehow left me high and dry, sitting alone in my own four walls as my friends partied it up across the country.
The day I told the admissions tutor I was going to stay on another year he dropped his pen in shock. We can get you “somewhere decent in clearing” he urged me, determined to implement the college to university mentality. Aside from being far to vain to accept a place in clearing, I knew what I wanted to do with my life, and taking a year out, even if not entirely planned, was the right thing for me.
This doesn’t mean I wasn’t bitter. As the happy pictures and statuses flooded through my news feed I did the only logical thing and watched sadistically for drop outs. I’d get a vicious little bubble of satisfaction every time someone realised the course wasn’t quite right or in fact they’d made completely the wrong decision and wanted to be an astronaut. Yet as the number of drop outs slowly crept up into double figures, I pushed aside my jealously and started to wonder; surely this many people can’t be anomalies?
Whilst I am safe, happy and content as university this year, I’ve watched my new, younger friends with interest, only to find the same pattern emerging. Talented, qualified and high achieving young people all over the country are dropping out of subjects they realise they never wanted to do in the first place because of a system which never lets you stand still enough to realise what you really want.
I had a similar experience with my A Levels. Following advice from well meaning teachers and parents I picked an A Level combination of Physics, Chemistry, Maths and a token show of English.That doesn’t mean to say I don’t find Physics dull and lifeless, I just picked it because I was good at it. By the time I’d reached my second year of college I knew I’d made a mistake. Who really wants to work in a laboratory puzzling over things you can’t see all day? So I decided to take a year out. I studied Classics and English, travelled, got another job. I did some work experience and took a degree unit in practical writing and by the end of it I was certain I knew what I was doing was what I wanted to do forever.
Even at University I feel older. It’s only a year but I’m surrounded by people who aren’t sure they made the right choice, are here because they didn’t know what to do otherwise or are only sticking it out because they’ve shelled out so much to be here. I feel more sure and focussed in my determination, I know what I’m doing and how to get it; I don’t need to jump onto every single bandwagon that comes my way.
My sister is thirteen and will shortly have to choose her GCSE options. This will in turn affect her A Level choices, which in turn affects that of a potential university course and ultimately the career and life ahead of her. We’re all products of the education system, pushing us to make rash decsions and move as quickly as we can from one stage to the next.
I’m not saying we all need to take a year out and go and “discover ourselves maaaan”, but we should stop pressurising our children into making such life changing choices so early. Everyone should be allowed their own personal space, to realise what they truly enjoy and what they really want out of life. Whether that be astrology or gold smithery, that’s okay, and you can take as long as you need to decide.