Originally published on: gothinkbig.co.uk/features/why-dropping-out-of-university-doesnt-mean-youve-failed
Raised eyebrows and questions about why I was throwing away my future seemed inevitable when I dropped out of university. But a year and a half later, I can safely say it was the best decision I’ve ever made.
Amelia Hartley, 22, who was studying Physics at the University of Southampton, feels the same way, having left during her second year. Amelia said she struggled at university after suffering a bereavement and initially failing to get the right support for her mental health.
“For my own health, mental health and future, the best decision was to leave university with my head held high,” she told us. Amelia has recently become the Training Programmes Manager at Student Minds after having volunteered for the charity while at university. She added: “I know now that I definitely made the right decision as things have turned around completely.”
Amelia also told us about the pressure she felt to go to university in the first place. “Those who weren’t considering university, or were choosing not to go, were perceived to be seemingly making a less worthwhile choice but this isn’t the case at all!” she said.
Personally, I definitely remember feeling this pressure too. As an A-grade student, I was probably the last person you would expect to drop out of uni. But when I arrived at university to study History, I soon realised that I had been shoved into a path that I really didn’t want to be on.
The course just wasn’t for me, and I didn’t want to be paying £9,000 a year to read some books and write the odd essay with barely any contact with an actual academic. I wanted vocational experience and to write. Not essays this time, but articles. Journalism was my goal, and though university could help me get there, it just wasn’t the route I felt like taking. So one month in, I left. Leaving meant I felt I finally had the chance to pursue what I wanted to do, rather than what people expected of me.
After emailing as many newspapers and magazines as I could find contact details for, I managed to secure six internships back-to-back. Soon I was pitching in meetings, researching, proofing and writing for some of my favourite publications, from Wonderland magazine to The Times (I still regret not stealing one of their mugs!).
I also discovered that I could study for an intensive four months to gain an NCTJ journalism qualification, which trains you in reporting, shorthand, production, media law and more. My NCTJ has been incredibly helpful to me while pursuing journalism as a career. It’s strange to think that my school never told me about any alternative routes to getting a degree. Whether it’s apprenticeships or volunteering, there are many more ways to build a CV than just going to university.
Naomi Sheppard, 35, left Kings College London during her first year after realising the course wasn’t for her and is now the Policy Team Leader at the Department for Work and Pensions. She told us if you don’t have a degree, it’s important to try and avoid gaps in your CV.
“I was never viewed as a ‘drop out’ because I’ve always volunteered,” she told us. “Think about your career goals and how volunteering can help you achieve them.” She added: “Having a positive attitude towards work meant that I progressed steadily, and was a senior manager at a national young people’s health charity within 10 years of dropping out of Uni.”
If, like me, your school isn’t offering you any alternatives routes, get proactive and have a look for yourself. GoThinkBig’s opportunities page is a great way to get your foot in the door, and is how I secured one of my favourite placements at The Debrief. There’s also the apprenticeships page on the Gov website and several trainee schemes that don’t require you to be a graduate.
Throughout my school years, teachers had always scared me by saying you need a degree to have any sort of career. Though university is definitely an option, it’s not the only one. Just like with a degree, as long as you’re prepared to work hard, great things can happen.
As Naomi told us: “In my experience, being able to evidence my achievements in the real world (work place and volunteering) has been just as good as my friends who have degrees, plus I don’t have a heap of student debt!” A University education just isn’t the answer for everyone, so start thinking about what you want and be inspired to explore the alternatives.