A vodka and lemonade in a sea of Snakebites: a metaphor for my university life.
Growing up, I never had any doubt that I’d one day go to university. I didn’t know what I’d study, where I’d go, or what it would lead to– but I still knew that I’d go. It was just what you were supposed to do: finish school, go to sixth form, go to uni, and get a job. Fast forward to age fifteen, and suddenly I’m expected to know the answers to all those questions. So within a year I’d picked a degree and a place of study (but still had no idea on the job front, but let’s be real here, I’m 22 and I’m still not 100% convinced what I want to do with my life). I picked my subject, English Literature, because I liked to read, and picked my school, the University of Hull, because the degree they offered was very pick and mix which meant I could tailor something more specific to my interests. Also the buildings were very pretty.
Recently, however, there’s been a lot of talk about whether it’s necessary to go to university. Whether you should just work your way up and gain experience, take the time to really know what you want to do… or just become famous on YouTube. There was never this sort of talk when I was fifteen, and maybe if there had been I might have reconsidered things and taken a different route. So now, at the ripe old age of 22, I’m finally going to think about things.
So, do I regret my degree? Do I regret going to university? Do I regret spending three years of my life getting myself into debt? No, I don’t think I do. University definitely didn’t turn out to be the perfect place I thought it would be. I didn’t find kindred spirits who’d want to debate long into the night about the finer points of the human psyche (although I do remember one particularly long argument about the linear narratives of Doctor Who). But I did learn a lot. About myself, about literature and art and history and culture, about life. And ultimately, I think it was a good thing that I went. Here’s why.
3) The People: Like I said, the people I met at university were very different to what I expected. We had very contrasting ideas about what was fun, but that’s okay, because university was the first place where I got to choose my friends based on shared interests, mutual respect, and similar experiences, rather than because we’d been in the same class since we were eleven. I met a whole lot of different people at university, and I’m only still in contact with a few of them, but the friendships I forged there were very different to the ones I made from school, YouTube, and even here in Madrid. Studentdom is very different world, with distinct rules and priorities. And even if we’re different people now (God, I hope so, students are complete dicks), we went through that time together. On another note, the people at university were the first people to help me realise that I’m a proud introvert. Huzzah! Turning 18, I was so excited to go out every night and pregame with poorly mixed vodka lemonades in a Spongebob cup… but after the first semester I was done. Sleep and pizza and rewatching LOST on a constant loop, please.
2) The Knowledge: I’ll be honest here. English Lit is not what is considered a ‘proper subject’, and it’s even worse when your actual degree title is BA English and American Literature and Culture. After all this time, I still don’t know what it means* and usually tell people I did English or, at a push, English and Film. But as well as studying the given classic literature, I got to take classes on seventeenth century prostitutes, postmodernist architecture, and even masculinity in animation. So I may not have a pinpoint speciality, and may not have the knowledge of Austen and the Brontës like other English Lit graduates, but I am damn good at pub quizzes. I can spew out nonsensical trivia with the best of them, I have a picture perfect memory for obscure literary quotations, and my attention to detail thanks to my countless film exams mean I’m eerily good at guessing who the murderers are in BBC dramas. Never challenge me at Trivial Pursuit, but do call me if you ever want to go on Pointless.
1) The, uh, Me: This is the point where it gets a little tricky. Academically, university taught me about research and writing and time management, and how to get up at 7AM to take two busses for you 9:15 lecture (believe me, it involves a lot of willpower). Personally, it taught me that people have the capability to be both great and terrible, that hard work pays off, and that oh my God food and rent is so expensive guys. I am thankful for all those things. But the thing I’m most thankful for (which is where some of the anti-university protestors disagree with me) is for giving me three years to do whatever I wanted. Sure, I had essays to write and books to read and lectures to attend, but I had three years to think about what I wanted to do with my life and what I had to do to get there. So I may have had a year of unemployment, but I’m doing the whole internship thing, and all those skills I subconsciously picked up at uni are coming in full force right now. So yay.
Obviously I can’t speak for everyone. But if you’re fifteen and been told to decide your entire future without any help or guidance, don’t panic. It’s a good way to kill three years and think some more… whilst also picking up a whole variety of actual skills. Probably more if you don’t do my laughable degree, but hey, I once got a 1st on a presentation on suspended reality in Disney theme parks, so I’m pretty happy with my choices.
Go forth to university! Meet some people– love them, hate them, fuck them. Whatever. You’ll get some great stories and it may come in useful in later life… say, teaching English abroad. ‘Cause I definitely didn’t think I’d be doing that at age fifteen. I really doubt you can ever regret your time at university, but I do think you can regret not knowing. No one’s a real grownup at 18, you need to live on Planet Student for a while to figure things out.
*I never did learn if it’s English and American Literature and Culture, or English and American Literature and Culture. It will haunt me until I die.