It’s easy to be apathetic about the time you’ve spent at university. Increasingly we’re being told that our degree won’t mean anything and that we won’t get anything back for the tens of thousands pounds spent, and so it’s very easy to be apathetic.
I studied English and Creative Writing at Brunel University. I’m certain that having my degree will not get me the job I want. The most common question asked of me since I started has been about whether I was intending to become an English teacher. If I wanted to be a teacher then this would’ve been great – coupled with the fact that my Dad’s been hinting continuously that a PGCE would be a good idea and my English and Creative Writing degree might seem more worth it. But I don’t want to be a teacher; I have the dreary ambition that one day I’ll be able to make a career out of words. Despite being a part of the apathetic generation of students, I still believe that in ten years time I’ll have bylines in Esquire and GQ, and books in the New York Times bestsellers list. And why shouldn’t I?
Education is a business – whether you buy into it or not. There’s a reason that, on results day, people that don’t quite get their entrance grades will go trawling through clearing looking for the best possible university that will take them. It’s because they know that going to Sheffield University and studying a course they aren’t certain about will be better for their future prospects than going somewhere lower down the league tables and doing the degree choice that they had their heart set on. Education, and in particular further education and higher education, has surpassed its scholarly beginnings and ascended into idealism. Aiming higher, for the universities like Cambridge and Oxford, is better for you than settling for somewhere at the bottom of the rankings – you don’t aspire for the bottom wrung of the ladder, you aspire for the peak of the mountain. I’m thankful that I didn’t have that worry – I applied to Brunel, and it ended up being my only choice, on the basis of the course and achieved my grades. I wasn’t forced to make the decision between what I wanted to do and what had the highest employability label.
…Education is a business…
Three years later and it seems to me that the best thing that I’ve taken away from university is an attitude. Since staring my BA back in September 2011 I’ve done a lot. I’ve interned at a magazine for half a year, I’ve written between 40 and 50 thousand words for this very site, I’ve fluked my way into a byline in The Sunday Times, and I’ve even written a whole book (though I haven’t quite managed the publishing bit yet). I’m not kidding myself at all, my degree didn’t have much to do with most of these achievements, except that it fuelled the willingness to drive for what I wanted. I couldn’t be more certain that, if I had not gone to uni, I would be sitting at my mum and dad’s house now, depressed because I haven’t made even the slightest move toward getting where I want to be.
I’ve been lucky at Brunel – I’ve been taught by world-class and world renowned lecturers, men and women who have given a huge amount of help and guidance. My dissertation tutor taught me more about being original than I ever could have learnt on my own. But despite all that, I still know that my degree won’t get me far. But I didn’t just come here for the degree, I came here for the experience, the opportunity, and the attitude.
…I’ve fluked my way into a byline in The Sunday Times…
At school I coasted. I skipped classes, messed around, didn’t revise, submitted first drafts, and got by on what I would hesitate to call talent, and prefer to call luck; this continued right until the end of my second year. But then I started trying – I realised that, at the end of the day, if there’s something that I want, then I have to be the one to go and get it. I should not expect my degree to get anything for me. I should expect me to get it.
I have no do doubt at all that on graduation day many of my classmates will collect their scrolls feeling proud of how much work they put toward them in the last three years. But if they’re going home to live with mum and dad again with what turns out to be no more prospect than they had at the start, then have they done the right thing?
…I skipped classes, messed around, didn’t revise…
There’s a grand belief that having a degree is meaningless now; the general consensus indeed seems to be that everyone has one. That’s not quite true. About 25% of people over 16 have or are working toward a degree level or higher qualification meaning that being educated to degree standard still places you in the minority. But beyond that anyway, a degree does not quantify you. What quantifies you is what you intend to do with the experiences that university gifted you. If you went to get drunk and have fun, then fair enough. If you went to get a first and nothing else, then I think there’s a chance that you missed the balance necessary to really making the most of it. My degree from Brunel on the outskirts of Uxbridge might not mean as much as my friend’s who went to Cambridge, and it may not be as prestigious as the degrees earned by the ladies and gentlemen at LSE, but that doesn’t matter because I’ve left university with the right attitude.
Going to university should give you something. You’ve paid between ten and fifty thousand pounds to be there. But for me I know that what university has given me is the absolute willingness to get where I want to be.
…a degree does not quantify you…
I didn’t work for three years to get a degree toward which I can be apathetic. I’ve worked for three years to get experience, to have fun, to develop my craft, and to build the right attitude. When I collect my scroll on graduation day I want to be able to collect it safe in the knowledge that I’m going to strive on because, thanks to university, I refuse not to get what I want out of life.