Should I go to university?

Should I go to university?

Is university right for you? You’ll have a lot of people giving their opinion. Teachers, friends, and random family members you see once a year. Then you go online and you get even more confused about what to do. So my goal today is for you to come away from this article having moved closer to making a decision and feeling clarity around your next steps. You can read through this and mull it over later or grab a pen and paper and turn it into a mini-workshop. There’s no right or wrong way to go about it.

Choosing a pathway to a career you want to follow is no easy feat. Around 38% of 18 year olds in the UK are preparing to start university this year. That’s higher than it's ever been. But what about the 62% not getting ready for uni? Clearly, it’s not the only option out there.

What options are available?

The long and the short of it is you have three choices after school. One of these will be your weapon of choice for tackling adulthood.

Higher education

Doing a degree will most usually take three years. For those unable to commit to full-time study, part-time is available for many courses. This is a whole other world from school and you’ll get to continue your education while in a totally different environment.

Further education

At around one or two years, this is less of a time commitment. Courses are usually more ‘vocational’ in that they focus on practical job skills to get you ready to transition into work.

Going into work or taking an apprenticeship

Getting a job right out of school doesn’t rule out going to uni at a later point in life. If you want to start earning an income right away, know exactly what it is you want to do, and are willing to go in at entry-level to work your way up, then this may be for you. Apprenticeships used to just be associated with trade industries (such as plumbers or electricians), but now include banking, law, IT, and others. 

We, humans, like to make the decision-making process very data-driven and analytical, but your imagination should play a key part in it too. Take each of these three options and really imagine you’re doing it.

Really picture what it’ll be like if you’re on campus.

  • What are your classes like? Do you enjoy learning more about new topics?
  • Who do you see yourself working with on group projects? For me, a few of these people became friends for life (others we just occasionally send cat memes to each other).
  • Where do you like to study? Every student has their favourite café.
  • What do you do in your free time?

Do the same for further education and going straight into work. Okay, now fast forward five years and imagine what your life will be like by following each option. Feel free to do what we call ‘blue-sky thinking’. If everything works out and you get all that you want, what does like look like? So if you do a degree, what job do you see yourself in? How will you be using the knowledge and skills that you learnt? What’s the office or work environment you’re in look like? Will you be living in a new city or country?

Hopefully, by now you’re starting to map out where each route will take you and what’s best for you. Let’s continue down this rabbit hole and see where it takes us.

Overcoming barriers

You may at this point be leaning towards not going to university. That’s great. As long as it’s because you’ve decided you don’t want to go, you should never feel that you can’t go. Time and time again I’ve seen students give every reason under the sun and moon why they can’t go to uni. It’s heart-breaking because 99% of the time it’s just not the case. Turn over every rock if you have to. The support is out there.

Don’t get the grades? You can do re-sits and ace it the second time around. Or you could do a foundation year before moving into a full degree.

Worried about the cost? There are a number of student loans and grants that you won’t have to start repaying until after you graduate. You’ll also have the option to take a part-time job (I worked in a cinema and it was amazing).

Caring for your child or a family member? You can do part-time study or look into unis that offer more online options.

The point is that you shouldn’t think that uni is off-limits to you. Read our guide to student finance here.

Key questions to ask

Let’s wrap up by looking at a few more questions.

What will you get out of it?

Despite having two bachelor degrees himself, Tesla and Space-X founder Elon Musk cautions students against going into higher education. At least in America. He says, “it’s basically for fun and not learning”. Does he have a point? Look, I’m not going to fault an industry-changing billionaire entrepreneur, but here’s the thing, ultimately a degree is about the skills, knowledge, and experience you’ll get that position you to transition into a successful career. Most people will find massive value in completing a degree. For me, it equipped me with everything I needed to get started in international business.

Question: So for you, what is it that you want to learn and develop in the three years you’ll be at university? What ‘hard’ skills like programming, accounting, or a foreign language? What ‘soft’ skills that employers value like working in a team, managing multiple priorities with deadlines, and critical thinking?

Will you need a degree for your career?

Some jobs will require a degree, others will see it as desirable, and others won’t at all. A good way to look at it is that a degree can be a direct route into many industries. It tells employers that you’ve succeeded at something. Many degrees also offer a placement component. For example, at Cumbria, you can study a degree in Illustration with a work placement. The idea is you’ll gain real-world experience in a company, make new connections, and learn how businesses work.

Question: Take a look at the job profiles on While you may not know exactly what career you want to go into, will doing a degree improve your ability to get a job in an area you’re interested in? Would not doing a degree limit your choices?

How much do you value the ‘wider student experience’?

For many people, it’s their first time living away from home. If you go in with an open mind and are willing to do new things, it can be an amazing and transformational time where you learn new things, have new experiences, and meet life-long friends. You can join a wide range of clubs and societies. I never thought that joining a society at uni would have me jumping out of airplanes, running for elections in the student council, and volunteering at food banks. If you have the chance to do a year abroad, living in Spain or Germany could be the best thing ever for you.

Question: Will you regret missing out on the fun of uni? Or is it just not a big deal for you?

Wrapping up…

It can be easy to get stressed about which pathway is the right one. It’s useful to bear in mind that you’ll always be able to make different choices as you go through life. After all, the average person will change careers five times in their lifetime. Whatever your next step, you can be confident that you’ve researched your options and are making an informed decision. Enjoy the journey and wherever it takes you. 


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