Last weekend I was a bridesmaid for the very first person I met at university. I think it’s quite an achievement that this lovely lady is one of my best girls rather than someone I spent three years trying to run away from. With freshers week looming it’s made me feel very nostalgic about my time in higher education.
I went to university because it seemed like a natural step. I detested my Saturday job and the idea of working full time really didn’t appeal. I had no idea what I wanted to be when I grew up – those career profiling exercises drew blanks and said I wasn’t suited to any particular role. I think I met with a career advisor once at school and once at college and other than that can’t recall of any investment into determining my future. I had no self-confidence and the future terrified me so to move on to higher education rather than go out into the big wide world was the easier step to take.
I enjoyed Media Studies and so decided to focus on that. I’m ashamed to say the course was a secondary consideration, it could have had an incredible syllabus but if the town didn’t have good bars and decent shopping you wouldn’t have found me there.
I received a conditional offer for Nottingham Trent, 45 minutes down the road from my parents in Sheffield and began the Media and Cultural Studies Course which wait for it, involved just six hours of lectures and seminars a week. I spent much of my time in academia highlighting word documents and watching films. It wasn’t very challenging but left a LOT of time for socialising.
Three years later I graduated with a 2:1, a future husband and £13K debt. I worked two jobs for six months and paid off my significant overdraft in my first year of graduating. I finally paid off my student loan after about ten years.
There is little I have ever put into practice from that course. In fact I would say that degree gave me zero preparation for the world outside. My first real job, a marketing assistant for an IT company came with the requirement to have a university degree or equivalent. A few of us started on the same day and our qualifications differed wildly though that particular company did favour higher education and I saw colleagues gain promotions after studying post grad qualifications. It was one of the main reasons I pushed myself to get a CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) diploma through distance learning as again I was ignorant of the skills I needed to progress.
Several years later when I moved companies and started to recruit my own team I have to say it was experience, not education that secured incumbents their roles. However I also appreciate experience can be exceptionally hard to come by and I was stunned by the number of requests I used to get from people who were willing to intern. With student debt rising to over £50K due to increased tuition and living fees staying at home and working for free simply wouldn’t have been feasible for me.
It was hard work and developing commercial awareness that got me any promotions, not those qualifications. Looking back on that first role I was so naive to the ways a corporate environment operated and until I began management training and no idea how my own style could impact others.
Still, university remains one of the best things I ever did mainly because I got to meet my husband. It boosted my confidence, taught me valuable lessons about who I wanted to be, made me stand on my own two feet and enhanced softer skills such as teamwork and time management. I left with no understanding of my alcohol limits, dubious cooking skills but so many memories. Would I do it all again? For £50K maybe not but if I had my time again I’d definitely go in less wide-eyed. I’d grab the opportunity of work placements with two hands and use my own initiative far more. I have to say my desk at uni definitely didn’t look like this gorgeous one from Nat’s Home Tour either!
What’s your experience of university life? Did you go out into the world of work or go off to a new city? Any regrets and would you do it differently if you had your time again?