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Articles > School October, 11, 2022

A letter to my Year 13 self: It’s okay not to go to uni

Katherine Blakeman
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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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  1. Amelie Jouan

    I think I’m so glad I found this info now before I move to Uni!!

  2. Rose

    I think… you made a good choice. Uni just isn’t for everyone. I took a gap year too after not being able to get into medicine. I didn’t even get a single interview so you can imagine how I just lost my way then, and a gap year definitely helped me. Now I’m studying pharmacy and I can say it’s a lot of work that I miss my gap year. So, yeh, uni isn’t the place you HAVE to be at, it definitely isn’t the “be all and end all”. Only go to uni if you want to.

  3. Greta

    Kathy this was amazing…I was also in the same position as you in 2021 and also withdraw my application. I feel as if we are the same people. Its nice to know that there are others like us, so well done for sharing your story, and thank you.

  4. Gabriel Brookes

    I think that you made a very good choice, Uni is a mentally hard option to pick, after years of education. I know friends that took a gap year, and then got right back onto the horse, and studied well. Personally, I went straight into Uni, and it isn’t bad at all. It is different for different people and this is just how you set your mindset and mentality in order to get your degree.

  5. Madvin Mexis

    Each one experiences a unique journey called life. One’s life doesn’t ought to be the same with the norm, just like uni is simply not for everyone. The growth uni offers can be found in spending years interacting with strangers, wandering in the countryside or following the steps of a mentor. No matter the number of bumps on the road, if you say you’d do it all over again, you’ve lived a great life.

  6. Victor

    I think… your points are valid, how beautiful would it have been if everyone can see this.

  7. Aliya

    I think… we have now moved away from the traditional ideas of university being the only path to a great career ahead. However, we have many great opportunities, through social media through apprenticeships that really push away from this narrative of wanting to go university. Degree apprenticeships give you the same advantages as university, even more with the many years of experience as well as a degree. I would 100% say, only go to university if your future course requires you to.

  8. Rose

    @Fridan Dan
    I think those -10 like are saying a lot about your outdated views. Uni and books does not equal success. Success is defined in many different ways, and if success to you is about getting a job then all you really need is a CV. And here’s a newsflash for ya. CV is not taught by the education system. It’s taught by everyone outside the education system: library, C+K Careers, and many more. I work in a pharmacy as a dispenser. Did I go to uni to work in a pharmacy? LOL no I did not. I gave in a CV and they accepted me. Got me to do an online corse that takes literally a year to learn about the basics of the pharmacy services and the medicines and boom I’m a dispenser with good wages for a woman already.

  9. Fridan Dan

    I think…going to uni is good please my dear go to uni and read your books cause that is the key to success