Sarah Powell, heat radio presenter and blogger: What university taught me

This week hundreds of thousands of teenagers in the UK received their exam results in A-Level and AS. Despite rising tuition fees the administrations body UCAS revealed a record 424,000 university places have been offered, which is an increase of 3% on last year, but is university all it’s cracked up to be?

Sarah Powell, heat radio presenter and blogger- What university taught meWe asked radio presenter Sarah Powell whether she believed her choice to go to university was the right one.

Sarah Powell is a heat radio presenter and blogger who describes herself as having had the same fringe since she was six.

Powell recently shared her experience of university with WeAreTheCity and how she believes the experience shaped her as person.

Throughout her career so far she has appeared on Channel 5’s Celebrity Big Brother’s Bit on the Side, This Morning on ITV talking about entertainment matters and has impersonated the Queen singing Could it Be Magic to a corgie. She also has a weekly podcast called Jules and Sarah The Podcast. She writes her own personal blog and has blogged for Huffington Post, in addition to contributing to heat magazine and online for Standard Issue.

For three years she was the continuity girl on ITV2 informing TV audiences that The Xtra Factor was starting and she launched the live interaction around The Only Way is Essex. She has also done voiceovers for the BBC and commercial radio networks as well as narration and TV work including 4Music, e4 and ITV.

When collecting her A-Levels results her grades were not what she hoped for, so her next step was to opt for UCAS Clearing: “The day I got my A-Level results was bloody awful. I was the first year that they had changed from good old fashioned A-Levels to new fancy A2s and no one really knew what to expect.

“I got my worst case scenario and walked past happy girls posing for photos with their envelopes for the local paper. My conditional offer from Warwick was out of the question and I was put firmly in the direction of clearing.”

Despite being added to the Clearing list Powell was unsure about university and was leaning towards staying at home instead: “Oddly, I decided I didn’t fancy going to university at all. I liked it at home with my sister, hanging out all summer in the garden and we were about to get a puppy so what was the point of going?”

“However I certainly didn’t want to get a job so, since staying at school a bit longer wasn’t an option, I was going to university. The clearing results are published in alphabetical order so right at the top with places open for Drama and Theatre Studies was AB-erystwyth. ‘I’m not going to Wales!’ was my initial response, really because I didn’t want to go anywhere. Having never been there before, and with no clue what the course offered, we packed my Minnie Mouse bin into the car and drove through the Welsh hills.”

Powell admitted that she did not enjoy her first year of university and that she wanted to leave: “I hated being away from home, I hated halls and almost every night I rang my mum begging to come home.

“When the answer was ‘stick it out darling’ I thought I’d better make the most of it and started getting involved in a few societies and a lot of the pub. The next two years were the greatest thing I could have done. My course was incredible and I know it gets said a lot that university teaches you ‘life skills’ but it is true. At 18 I didn’t know a thing but university gave me three years to figure myself out. It gave me breathing space to try things and make mistakes all within a safety net,” she explained.

Powell said that going to university and learning to endure the first year, as taught her that things can get better if you are willing to give them a chance: “Probably the biggest thing I learnt was that even if things are so bad you’re crying and begging to leave, it will turnaround and all work out.”

In addition to ‘life lessons’ Powell said her decision to go to university helped her to figure out what she wanted to do career-wise: “It also made me realise whilst I liked costumes and prancing about, I didn’t want to be an actress. I would probably still be starving in an attic and playing Serving Wench 3 now if I hadn’t got it out of my system at university.

“It was also where I fell in love with radio. Sara Cox and Zoe Ball became life long heroes and Jo Whiley was gospel. After three years of Radio 1, I graduated, moved home and called a tiny local station and asked if they needed presenters. I made the tea and did the graveyard shifts no one else wanted.”

She said she believes that she got on well in this role because of her experiences at university and moving away from home: “I was confident; I’d lived away from home for three years and hadn’t set a kitchen on fire or pickled myself in vodka.

“I had written theatre pieces, essays and done performances I’d been passionate about. I’d met new people and I’d held my own. I’d learnt my own rules of what was ok for me and what wasn’t. I could do anything, that’s what university taught me.”

Sarah Powell’s show is on heat radio every weekday 4-7PM where she host guests such as Kelly Clarkson, Calvin Harris and Caitlin Moran. You can find her tweeting at @ThisSarahPowell.

Kayleigh Bateman
About the author

Kayleigh Bateman is the head of digital content and business development at WeAreTheCity. As a journalist there she covers stories about women in IT and looks after its women in technology community. She was previously the special projects editor for Computer Weekly and editor of CW Europe. Kayleigh attended the University of Hertfordshire, where she studied for her BA in English literature, journalism and media cultures. You can contact her at [email protected]

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