Dear Katherine of early 2021,
This year’s going to be one of big change for you, isn’t it? You’ve already seen some big changes, with family bereavements and this tiny thing called Lockdown 2.0, but you’re aware of – and preparing for – the biggest one of all. Your whole life is going to be turned upside-down come this autumn, because you’ve accepted London Metropolitan’s offer, and you’re going to start a three-year Bachelor’s degree. It’s a bit scary, isn’t it? Especially because your heart’s not in it.
Your gut is trying to tell you something. It’s been trying to tell you since Year Seven. Remember telling your mum on the way to school one day that “I think I’ll do an apprenticeship rather than go to uni”?
Even then, you knew uni wasn’t for you.
I know you’ve been trying your hardest to convince yourself, and everyone else, otherwise. Your personal statement was excellent, even if it took approximately twenty drafts to create. The piece that your teachers wrote about you for your UCAS application nearly made you cry, it was so flattering – even if you didn’t think you deserved it. (Side note: YOU DID.) You were working yourself to the bone to achieve good A-Level grades, although you constantly dreamt that you were going to get all U-grades. (Side note: YOU DIDN’T.) You were joining in with all the discussions and chats about your uni, even though underneath your stomach was filled with dread and anxiety.
Well, I have news for you. In March 2021, you will provide your friends and teachers with a shock twist by withdrawing your UCAS application.
It will take a lot of backwards-and-forwards, will-I-won’t-I thinking, but you do it. Immediately you feel relief, although not without the twin horrors of anxiety and FOMO lurking in the background. Now, you’re not going to uni. You’ve decided to take a gap year – just one, of course, to prepare yourself better for going to uni next year. (Or so you think.) You optimistically write ‘gap year, then psychology at uni’ as your future plans in the yearbook. Then A-Levels are over and you get a taste of freedom, without the constant niggling anxiety of ‘must study, must be productive, must work self to bone otherwise YOU WILL FAIL AND NEVER HAVE ANY PROSPECTS EVER’. And you begin to wonder if you will even want to go to uni next year. Or indeed at all.
It’s not that you’re afraid of hard work. How could you be? You’ve written an entire book throughout your GCSEs and A-Levels, for Christ’s sake! (And you publish it. Seriously! You do! And write another!!) It’s just that you’re undecided. I know you thought you wanted to be a primary school teacher, then a therapist, then briefly an educational psychologist, but all of those were passing phases. You don’t actually know what career you want.
Now, eighteen months on, I can reveal… you still don’t! You’re working in retail at the moment, you have been for over a year. It’s not exactly saving the world, but it’s a start… and like you’ve taken to saying, “if I’m going to have an existential crisis, I might as well be paid while I do it!” – to much merriment. You’re part time, but the extra free time has given you time to… well, live. You’ve travelled the UK, met some online friends, ticked off a few bucket list entries. (Not the one about getting a tattoo, that one’s still a work in progress, but you published your book and dyed your hair pink!) Oh, and you finally get an explanation for that long-term health condition you’ve been battling since you were about thirteen. (And you write about that in one of your blogs!) That part’s not exactly fun and games, but it’s progress…
So, in short, young Kathy, it is possible to lead a happy and fulfilling life without going to uni. Despite what the colleges and the wider world say. Your alternative route post-A-levels isn’t one that’s talked about enough, so you decide one day to write a blog post about it. It’s this one. The one I’m writing right now. In the hope that someone else will read it, and relate to you, and realise that there are other routes to success and happiness that don’t involve back-breaking work and £30,000-worth of debt.
Because it is possible.
Listen to your gut.
You’ll work it out.
Love, Kathy of 2022.
P.S. If you’re wondering why I’m calling you Kathy and not your real name… it’s a pen name. Don’t judge. I was in a rush when I came up with it. Loooooong story.
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