More often than not, the message given to 18-year olds is “finish school and go straight to university”, supported by higher education progression statistics published by schools and colleges.
However, it is crucial to take a minute to think about whether that is right for you, if you are leaving school this summer. And if you’re questioning whether now is the right time, be reassured: you’re not alone.
A survey from Arden University found that nearly three quarters of parents with children of school leaving age did not know what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives when they left school. So, this dilemma isn’t new.
Also, what if you are already employed somewhere? Would it be the right time to quit and go back to studying or take the option to go to university if that wasn’t open to you before? How do you decide? Interestingly, the research also established that over three quarters of these parents were no longer in the same career – so taking the time to get it right can really pay off in the long term.
Going to university is a big decision, with financial, practical and emotional considerations to be taken into account. So, reflect and talk to people you trust as well. Often, universities will put you in contact with existing students if you want to hear about their experience first-hand. Do you have friends or family that are studying now? Ask them to share the honest highs and the lows about their experience; a university course is demanding and requires lots of independent study and research.
If you’re already in work, the key question is going to be: do you have to give up work to study at the same time? Can you work part-time and study part-time? You may also feel concerned about returning to study if it’s been a while since you finished your education. What has changed; can you cope with it? If you have other family responsibilities, or you are a carer, then that also must factor into the decision making.
Did you know that full-time study, starting in September on-campus isn’t the only option? So many students pursue alternative paths within higher education that don’t follow the traditional route. More students are looking for different ways to progress their education with part-time, blended or distance learning, which present a number of viable options.
Blended learning compresses face-to-face study hours into one or two days at university, with an additional online element to be completed in your own time. Distance learning is wholly online, allowing you to fit your study around your other commitments. This means you can stay at home to study avoiding additional costs, such as accommodation which are growing year on year. You can also stay in work, gaining that valuable experience and whilst still earning an income.
If you want to gain experience as well as a degree, why not consider a degree apprenticeship? That way you have a job and a salary and there are no tuition fee costs at all. You’ll end up with a degree and work experience which will set you apart in a competitive job market. Apprenticeship graduates often go on to be promoted within the company that they worked for whilst studying, and you are guaranteed off-the-job time to study as part of the qualification as well.
You don’t have to start in September. Universities now have many intakes at various points through the year. If you don’t feel ready for this decision just yet, but equally don’t want to miss a whole year, why not start in February or April 2020? This would give you time to work through the practicalities and also spend additional time preparing. Universities may offer study skills courses, pre-sessional activities or inductions that help you prepare for life as a student. You could begin reading around different subjects to give yourself chance to see if it interests you before you commit.
Going to university – when, where and how – is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make. Before embarking on this exciting journey, don’t forget to keep these essential key points in sight:
- Give yourself time to reflect, don’t be rushed into a decision
- Speak to those around you, people who you trust to give you an honest opinion
- Consider alternative routes to achieve your goals, don’t just follow everyone else if it doesn’t feel right for you
- Talk to universities about what they offer to help you prepare
About the author
Siân Duffin is a Student Support Manager at Arden University. A psychology graduate with a special interests in mental health, wellbeing and skills for learning, she assists undergraduate and postgraduate students from the UK and across the world, from enrolment to graduation, with every aspect of their learning journey.