I Want to Make My Own Mind Up About University, School

Copyright: Nikesh Shukla/UCAS

Copyright: Nikesh Shukla/UCAS

Cai Burton talks about being rushed into making choices about his future and what degree to do before he’d even decided whether he wanted to go to university.

Now I’ve finished my A levels, I’ve had time to reflect about my experience of sixth form. I look back on all the great times I’ve had… all the worries, all the stresses… with fondness.

However, there’s one thing I’m not sure school got quite right and that’s applying to university.
 Since I started sixth form, there was a huge emphasis on me going straight to university. At the very beginning, teachers start getting you to think about it. They introduce the idea of choosing a degree course there and then and going straight to uni.

But here’s the thing – everyone just automatically assumes that you’re going.

…everyone just automatically assumes that you’re going.

Don’t get me wrong, in my sixth form’s environment, university seemed like the best option for a lot of people. But does that mean that it’s the best option for everyone? No. In some cases teachers can generalise their students. This could be by having university-focused higher education days or just getting everyone to sign up to UCAS straight away, sometimes regardless of the student’s plans. I remember one of my friends was told to just sign up any way, even though she was sure she wasn’t going this year. So wait, we have to apply even if we’re not going yet? Because it’s more straightforward if we get rushed into making a choice we hadn’t fully thought through?

I know loads of people that share this opinion – ranging from friends who are simply deciding to take a gap year, to friends who abhor the way that students get ‘groomed’ for university – but I can’t speak for all of them. However, I can speak for my own experiences. While I was at sixth form, I submitted an application to study architecture. I’d been interested in architecture for quite a while, so it seemed like the right sort of choice for me. However, over the course of my time at sixth form, I began to change. I picked up new hobbies, made new friends, developed new interests. I grew and ‘matured’. Halfway through the year, and a few months after submitting my application, I realised ‘the person in my personal statement isn’t truly me,’ and that’s when things started to change.

…the person in my personal statement isn’t truly me…

I decided that I needed a gap year. How could I have possibly have thought I could jump straight from the madness that is sixth form, into an intense seven-year course? I needed a break. What’s more, as cheesy as it sounds, I needed to find out who I really was.

A friend of mine – who had rejected an offer from Cambridge to do medicine to pursue his interest in musical theatre – told me how he changed his mind, and what he said made sense to me. He told me that he didn’t decide to change his mind, he realised that he already had. Which was what had happened to me. In my heart, I’ve always known what I was interested in. And it wasn’t primarily architecture, but the arts. I was always more interested in the more creative courses, and I realised that what I actually enjoyed was being artistic.

Going to university is a huge decision and its not one that should be made lightly.

Going to university is a huge decision and its not one that should be made lightly.

When I actually started to think seriously about what I wanted to do, I realised that what I had chosen, wasn’t what I wanted. And that was my biggest mistake – not properly considering the decisions I was making. I feel like it’s one that lots of other people make too. The amount of people I know progressing straight to uni has decreased significantly since the start of the year, and almost all of my friends are taking gap years. I’m not saying that university is a bad idea, just that what you choose to study is an important decision.

Make sure you think it through.

Are you going to university? How did you decide what course to do? Are you being asked to put together a UCAS application? Do you even want to go to university? Let us know: @rifemag

Support more young people to have their voices heard

Rife is Watershed‘s online magazine created for young people, by young people.

We offer paid internships and publish work by young writers, photographers, illustrators, and filmmakers from all sorts of backgrounds, helping them get into creative careers. Rife has reached over 8,000 young people through our workshops, over 220 young people have made stuff for Rife on topics ranging from mental health to identity to baked beans, and last year, over 200,000 people visited our website.

In these complex and uncertain times hearing from and supporting young people who are advocating for social change and contributing fresh perspectives has never been so important. 

Through supporting Rife you can ensure that this important work continues and that more young people have their voices heard.