Next month I’ve been invited to do something I never thought I’d be able to do. I’d deemed it impossible, been told by so many that it just wasn’t something that happens, not to mention that it was completely out of my comfort zone.
I’m going to give a talk at my old school.
Whilst I studied there, my school had a very clear ethos that heavily impressed upon each girl what it was to be a young woman. They encouraged us to go to a Russell Group university, work hard, graduate, take a conventional job in the city and slowly flourish down whatever socially acceptable career path we had chosen. They wanted these cookie-cutter girls to leave sixth form as petite, perfectly-formed representatives; a prim, accomplished endorsement of girls’ grammar school.
However, I never fit into the mould. I realised from a very young age that my favourite thing in the world was creating, whether that be drawing, painting, writing songs and poetry or filming videos. I won the Creative Writing Prize at the end of Year Thirteen, which I’ll admit isn’t exactly a renowned sign of your talents but as someone who hadn’t been a frequently recognised hockey ball chasing, violin playing teenager, I took it.
I’ve decided that I’m going to give my talk on what I wish I’d known when I was at school. I’ve had a lot of epiphanies about what I was taught was the correct route through adulthood, especially since graduating, and while I’m still old enough and ugly enough I figured I should impart it to every student who will listen. I thought it would be fun to share some of my more specific realisations here, focusing on the last two years of studying as those are perhaps the most crucial years that shape how you approach your career.
Going into Year Twelve, whether you’re at sixth form or college, is a big deal, primarily because lots of people start asking you what you want to do with your life beyond compulsory education. You don’t really know, of course, unless you’ve been dreaming of becoming a palaeontologist ever since you excavated that miniature dinosaur from the lump of salt rock you were given on your fifth birthday. There are so many paths and if, like me, you’ve been taught about hardly any of them, I hope this blog post can share some wisdom from a gal who’s gone through it and made it out the other side.
- University isn’t the only way to get a job you love. As I said before, there are many, many paths and spending three years studying the field you want to go into isn’t the be-all-and-end-all. I’d personally argue that the only reasons you should go to uni are if a job you want to do requires it, such as teaching or becoming a surgeon, or if you feel incredibly passionate about a subject. I love History, so in the end I chose to study that instead of Film Production even though understanding light temperatures might have made me a better YouTuber. You do, however, have to learn how to do the job you want to do, and there are many ways to do that. You can follow the classic advice and take on a BTEC or apprenticeship, which can be really effective to get into careers such as accounting or carpentry. I’ve got friends who make guitars for a living and friends who bake pastries in a patisserie, and they didn’t learn those skills by doing A Levels.
- It’s what you do outside of university that will get you the job. This is very much linked to point three, but if you do choose to go into higher education then you need to be building your skills and learning outside of the coursework and exams. You can study at as many Russell Group universities as you want but you’re unlikely to get a job with a degree alone, no matter where it’s from. Start a blog if you like fashion, do a local internship at a charity in the summer holidays if you want to work in an NGO, build minecraft servers (is this the correct terminology? idk) if you want to work in the gaming industry. Become a runner on a set! Join a damn society!! You want to be able to show off that LinkedIn once you graduate.
- Getting a degree proves you can read and write but it isn’t a requirement to getting a good office job. I know plenty of people who moved to London once they’d left sixth form and were able to get jobs based on the experience they’d gained doing other projects. We’re in a really interesting time right now where many companies need people with acute social media knowledge, which, surprise surprise, happens to be held by some of the youngest potential employees. Take advantage of that – I had a couple of jobs that involved programming tweets into TweetDeck and various equivalents that were relatively well paid and definitely a necessity to those companies. Once you get more relevant experience in those industries, you can build your CV without having to have spent £45,000 or more on higher education.
- Don’t implode with stress over getting amazing A Levels. They are important for getting into university but… that’s about it. Again, it’s all about the skills you can gather to do the job you want to do. Obviously if you’re dreaming of going to Oxford then keep pushing but don’t forget to look after yourself – and be forgiving too. There’s no use in shaming yourself over a bad grade – empathise with yourself, you’re likely under a lot of pressure from parents, teachers and not least yourself, and exams are incredibly stressful environments. Sometimes you just find a specific paper or assignment really hard. You still learned a hell of a lot and besides, we don’t grow when things go smoothly all the time. Forgive yourself and move forward onto the next goal.
This has been incredibly career-focused, and while of course there’s so much more I wish I’d known, I think in these trying times of personal statement writing this is what would have made the most difference to me in an environment where there was only one narrative. If I’d known that university wasn’t the only route to being financially stable I would have really assessed what I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and had I realised I could create for a living I would have jumped into many more endeavours a lot earlier on. I hope this helps at least one or two people knock down their personal barriers, whether that’s internal glass ceilings or deep insecurities about their own capabilities. Don’t be confined by UCAS.