I have a complicated relationship with university as an idea, experience, and form of education alongside a place of growth. I always thought I’d go to university, do really well, make interesting new friends, and go on to become a successful author among other things.
But the universe had a different plan for me. When I attended university the first time, I chose to live away from home on campus and study Psychology and English combined honours. Long story short, after only 4 days, I found myself retreating back home.
Anxiety had taken over and consumed the whole experience. I felt worse than I ever had before. Of course, I wanted to stay. I wanted to push past it. I wanted to start a new life. And I wanted to make my mom proud. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t stay. And all of a sudden, my plan and my dreams were knocked off balance.
After a year of depression, anxiety, and finding my feet in my first job, I did return to university, but this time I stayed at home. I chose to study Psychology with Criminology (yeah, I don’t really know why I chose that and not English and Creative Writing, either). I was finally putting my life back on track; finally getting the dream.
Except, it wasn’t everything I wanted it to be. I had no real friends, I was bored on the course, and I felt just out of place. It didn’t feel right. Upon completing my exams, I dropped out after that first year. And so, I only have a Certificate of Higher Education, not a full Bachelor’s Degree.
For a long time, and even at low points to this day, I believed that I was less-than because of my lack of a degree. That society looked down on me for it. I doubt my intellect and potential because I don’t have a higher form of formal education.
But the funny (not so funny) thing is, I know this is absolutely ridiculous. Not because many successful people are college dropouts like myself. No, it’s because I know that education comes from more places than one. Real intellect is not defined by grades or a piece of paper that says, “I stayed in an institution and did what I was told for at least 3 years.”
I don’t mean that to sound like I think those who do complete university are less or bad or all the same. Not at all! Otherwise, I’d never compare myself to them and make myself feel bad for not having a degree. Instead, I mean that those who are self-taught, self-motivated, who question things, who are curious, who try new things, speak to new people, travel the world, and never stop reading are more likely to gain a diverse and rich education and intellect.
And therefore, I must keep reminding myself that education is all around me. Information is at our fingertips; there is no excuse for ignorance. One person’s worth is not defined by a degree or the lack of one. Life, education, intellect, it’s all much more complicated and beautiful than that. Anyone who can’t see that is the real unintelligent one!
Knowledge is different to intelligence. And to most, one is more valuable than the other. It’s fact-knowing verus critical thinking and thought.
So as I said, I have a complicated relationship with university as an idea and an institution. I felt out of place and unhappy there. It wasn’t for me, yet for most of my life (like most people) it was pushed onto me as the must do thing for success. And I think that’s part of the problem. I (like many others) have been conditioned to believe that I am not as good, or as likely to be successful, or as hire-able, because I don’t have a university education.
Want to know what I believe? University is for these people:
- Those seeking a social experience (partying, living away from home, new friends, sexual experiences, etc.)
- Those wanting/needing independence away from their home
- Those seeking a job that needs a degree: Lawyer, Doctor, Teacher, Accountant, that kind of thing
- Personal growth i.e. find yourself, meet new people, mix with cultures, develop in a subject area of keen interest
Who it’s not for and reasons that are not good enough for you to go:
- Not knowing what else to do
- Peer pressure or pressure from parents
- Following your friends/ conformity
- “I want to know more about X, Y, Z“
I want to be an author, so I don’t need a degree to do that. I have social anxiety and I’m introverted, so the social aspect doesn’t appeal much either. I love personal growth but the university didn’t give the space I needed for that. And I didn’t want to go just because my friends did, just because school pushed me to, or just because my older family members encouraged it.
The last reason that has made me reconsider since I dropped out was fear/not knowing what else to do. And as I say, that’s not a good enough reason.
To conclude, I want you to know that if you’re considering univeristy, or you’re already there and it doesn’t feel right, that’s okay. It’s okay to not want to go or to want to go. Your life will not be doomed if you don’t. I’ve been employed as a writer without a degree. I’ve written books, blog posts, articles, interviews, short stories, scripts, and poetry without going to university to learn how.
I know the fundamentals, and so as a writer, the only way to get better is to keep practising, keep sharing to get feedback and keep reading – that’s all!
You can teach yourself whatever you want to know. There are a plethora of other ways to get an education: online courses, local classes, short courses at institutions, books, museums, travel, other people, documentaries, GOOGLE(!), journals, libraries, and more.
Remember, not everything works for everyone. Not everyone learns or grows in the same way or in the same environment. I know I didn’t. University is sort of romanticised on television because American universities are different. I’d probably enjoy uni in America a little more because at least I could take a variety of classes! But even so, like I say, my reasons for being there, my choices, my social experiences just weren’t right.
But, I’ll never say never.
Final word: Make sure your reasons for going are authentic because it’s not easy; the stress and pressure on your mental health isn’t worth it for something that doesn’t have real meaning to you.