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Life Sentence: Going to University is one of the most important decisions we make yet we’re forced to make it as teenagers

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As I write this, I am 3000 words away from the end of my degree. A degree that I have reluctantly struggled through because when I filled in my UCAS form 4 years ago, I barely knew myself let alone what I wanted to do with my life.

If you could go back, what would you tell yourself? Not to worry about missing your old school friends? To appreciate having meals cooked for you while you’re still at home? To pick different halls or to pick a different university altogether? I would tell myself not to listen to anyone who thought they knew what was best for me.

There is so much pressure on teenagers to know what they want to do, want to be and to begin their careers. Doesn’t is strike you as slightly ridiculous that we ask all these questions of (basically) children who haven’t even begun to live their lives yet? They’ve been in training for the world since they were born and suddenly they’re flung into it and expected to thrive. Some of us have just been trying to keep our heads above water.

Some lucky people just know what they want to be. I always thought that was ridiculous and laughed at my year 7 classmate for declaring that she was going to be a marine biologist. 10 years later and that laugh haunts me as I imagine Heather-Rose on a boat in the Seychelles tagging lemon sharks. My dream.


In my first year I was lucky enough to take modules in phonetics and phonology. As I discovered later this is the only area of linguistics that I actually enjoy. I failed my second year because I spent all my time working on Seren and not doing any uni work. Year 2: The Revenge I was strictly off societies until I had passed and year 3 has been a slow and painful slog through weeks of lectures on grammar and psycholinguistics.As I overhear classmates excitedly saying “I asked *insert leading academic* for some advice and they said…” it feels like nothing has ever been less funny. 4 years after myfirst eagerly anticipated lecture and I just want it to be over.
Graduation will not be a celebration of my time here, but a celebration of no longer being reduced to tears over the constant battering my self-confidence is taking. As Einstein said “if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” That is all academia is and when it comes to the subject of linguistics, I am most certainly a fish. It’s just a shame that no one adopts this attitude as you’re doing your A-levels. Everyone is too busy shoving prospectuses and free pens emblazoned with “The University of Exeter” into your hands.

If we didn’t throw teenagers from A-levels into university and expect them to know what they want to do with their lives before they’ve even had a chance to live them, maybe people like me wouldn’t end up wasting this opportunity that we’re lucky to have in the first place.

Perhaps I should just be grateful for what I’ve got. Yes I feel spoilt and yes plenty of people don’t have the chance to go to university at all, so I should get off my privileged soapbox and shut up. But I can’t shake the feeling that something is terribly wrong with our system when we churn out so many graduates with useless qualifications like mine. What is sadder than missing an opportunity as great as this because you let yourself be pushed into it?

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2 Comments

  1. Good article. Having graduated from Bangor more than a few years ago and just starting now to use the my qualifications, I’d say that you’ll never know when a dgree in a ‘useless’ subject might prove useful!

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