Reflections of a Twenty Year Old Fresher

Students are constantly pressured into making rash decisions

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.

One thought on “Reflections of a Twenty Year Old Fresher

  1. Jane says:

    Hi Jem! Interesting and enjoyable post again – and so, again, of course, I feel duty bound to respond :o)

    With a single generation between us, it’s quite astonishing how times, the education system, and ultimately how we shape our futures, has changed.

    In my day (oh! how old I sound!), it was a rare few school leavers indeed who went straight to university.

    I myself twice started sixth form college, (firstly with government and politics, english and sociology – latterly with Theatre Studies, Art and English) and twice dropped out to take up jobs, offered before i’d left, solely because I couldn’t stand not having enough money to go out and have fun!

    It could be argued that i’d limited my life choices by giving up an education, but for me, as a young person living at that particular time, and with the gift of the gab that i had, that was far from the truth. I fell into publishing, loved it, spent a decade or so working on titles as diverse as Chartered Surveyors Weekly and Supercar Classics. After a brief interlude of birthing your pal and her sister (financed by jobs on the local rag and a chocolate shop :o) I plunged headlong into organising picket lines for a trade union (as the Greater London organiser for the printers union) and managing a training centre for street wardens. The post that the coalition so blackheartedly made me redundant from in January was that of Development Director of a national youth charity. A girl who left school with precious little to shout about in the way of certificates and accolades – but more than my fair share of front and blag.

    I am not envious of young people today.

    My generation was so lucky.

    Back then.

    We weren’t pressured into choosing courses – we had the pick of careers if we simply chose to go out and pluck them.

    Now of course it’s a different story. The majority of people my age have been made redundant from posts they once thought to be their lifelong careers.

    I sit here, pondering working tax credits and housing benefit at gone midnight.

    But = when the boiler goes off to save money on the heating bill, I keep myself warm at nights reliving my delightfully misspent youth and the sheer joy I had unwrapping each adventure :o)

    Good for you that you chose a different path. And for all those that are being pushed, pulled, sucked and moulded into choices that weren’t for them … for shame on the society that’s let that happen.

    Crikey. I ended my last comment feeling guilty that my generation had screwed things up for you! When are you lot going to dig us in the ribs and reclaim the right to a decent life? :o) Aaaahhhhh = I feel another protest coming on :o)

    Keep up the writing Jem = I am muchly enjoying your posts and the opportunity to ramble :o)

    Sweet dreams, Anis mum xxxxxxx

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