Reflecting on my college years

2017 marks 11(!) years since I completed college and started planning for my move into higher education (at university) in the September. By planning I mean choosing a course to study and then a university to study at, visiting the universities in my short list (I toured 4 university campuses meeting tutors for the courses I applied for, seeing the dormitories, the refectory (cafeteria) and the classrooms), sorting out application letters, student loans, choosing whether to move into dorms and of course, buying stationery. πŸ˜‰ The latter was my favourite part about ‘back to school’ season and I still love stationery now!

Newest addition to my stationery collection — penguin erasers! (Thanks mum) 😍🐧

As it’s been over a decade since I was last in formal education and exam results days are very close, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on my time there, the choices I made and how it affected my life in the future.

I should probably start with some background information for my international readers as the education system in England may be very different from what you’re used to.

In England we generally start with nursery school (which is like kindergarden), primary school (which is like elementary school to middle school) and lastly secondary school (which is like high school). Typically after secondary school we have the option to go into work, start an apprenticeship or go on to higher education – usually at sixth form which is similar to senior year in high school or college.

Going into higher education does come at a cost and many students find themselves leaving in massive amounts of debt, but that shouldn’t put you off! There are many options to assist students with financing. In the UK you can apply for student loans or ask your bank about student overdrafts. In the US, where there is no maximum price for higher education, companies like Earnest* offer students options to help save money such as refinancing your loans after graduation.

For me, I spent two years at a beacon college studying three A-level courses in the first year and two (plus a compulsory general studies course) in the second year. My first year courses were an ICT double award, Psychology and Archaeology.

I wanted to be a palentologist and, if I’m honest part of me still does, I love dinosaurs, have a small fossil collection, enjoy natural history museums and like learning about ancient cultures. Archaeology should have been the perfect course for me but I didnt enjoy the first year as much as I thought I would, this was mostly due to the modules the college chose for us. I ended up dropping the course in my second year.

Plaque at the entrance to the Roman Amphitheatre

Living in an area full of Roman history I thought the college would have selected the Roman module for us to study. Instead they chose the Paleolithic era, the stone age and the bronze age, while they were interesting to learn about they weren’t subjects that inspired me personally. Although I did enjoy the camping trip we took to Sutton Hoo and the dig we went on, we were allowed to keep what we found. I still have my two clay pipes. 

Unfortunately without the Archaeology A-level I wasn’t able to study further in that field, as one of the entry requirements for my chosen Palentology course was one or two sciences and Archaeology was on the list of acceptable courses (others included Geology and Biology); palentology remains a hobby of mine. My second career choice was ICT and specifically web design which was my focus in my second year.

College was a time where I grew as a person. I made a lot of mistakes but have learnt from them and also that it’s OK to make mistakes and be yourself. I embraced my inner geek and was so much happier for it. I tended to hide that side of me in secondary school for fear of bullying, it wasn’t “cool”.

It was also around the time I started to lose touch with my old friends, make new friends and have my first really serious relationships. Some in particular had an impact on the choices I made throughout college and through my university application process.

Last day before Christmas break 2005. I had a bad cold that day and only came in to exchange gifts and have this photo taken. Excuse the terrible quality, it’s from an old Nokia camera phone!

I chose a local university so I could be closer to home and my boyfriend at the time while my friends, both from college and some from secondary school went to universities across the UK, some stayed on at college another year and some went into work.

Many universities in the UK are made up of β€œcolleges” which are dedicated to a specific subject matter. I studied at the university of Gloucestershire at their Park campus. Park campus is the “college”, but a different kind of college to the one I metioned earlier.

Park campus – the park between the car park and the main campus buildings. If I’d stayed for the full 3 – 4 years I could imagine spending a lot of free time here, it’s so pretty!

I studied ICT but dropped out after a month for a number of reasons.

  1. Retaking GCSE Maths – Although it was never mentioned as part of the admissions process or when I got accepted to the university, shortly after my induction (“freshman”) week we were told anyone who had lower than a GCSE B grade in Maths had to retake it. This put me off. I have dsycaluia and it was a struggle to achieve the GCSE C grade I did get.
  2. Public transportation – I was told their was regular transport from the university campus to my hometown but this was not the case. I ended up needing to get up an hour earlier to get to my classes on time and there were no evening buses. I didn’t drive and had to ask my parents or my boyfriend at the time for lifts.
  3. Repetitiveness – the university course I chose sounded perfect on paper but in reality was practically a repeat of my college A-level except with more computing (which meant more numeracy).
  4. Missing the social aspect – while my new friends spent a lot of time of campus, I had to rush around getting buses back home or waiting for lifts. Would I have been more inclined to stay if I’d been living in halls? Possibly, with a different course or some significant changes to my chosen course for example dropping computing for the media module as I’m very much into film.

My very last intention writing this is to discourage anyone from attending university. I won’t lie, leaving university a mentally draining experience but I don’t regret my decision and still maintain it was the right move for me. It took a lot of courage to tell people I was leaving but everyone was very supportive and I made the appointment at my university to officially withdraw.

The experience made me realise you don’t need to have everything figured out at that age and I wish I could tell my younger self that and that everything will work out OK. I’d also tell her not to feel pressured to apply for university. There are many different career paths and you need to chose what’s right for you and know that not choosing university does not make you a failure. As long as you’re happy that’s what matters.

I’m in a very rewarding job now that I got through an internship, a career path I never would have thought about when I was younger. There are so many different options available.

Have you been to university or other higher education? How did it affect you and any career choices?

* I received no endorsement or sponsorship for this post and all opinions are my own.