I was often challenged when I told people that I was going to study history at university. “History? What a waste of time, it’s already happened!” was the usual response. It was only ever a gentle tease, but I couldn’t help but doubt the choice I was making for the rest of my life. A flood of daunting questions always flared up: was this worth the new £9000-a-year fee? Would my degree realistically increase my career prospects? And would the benefits outweigh the impending debts? These questions were always exacerbated by endless doom-and-gloom recession headlines and the routinely low placement of arts degrees in relation to highly paid graduate jobs. Nevertheless, I threw caution to the wind, trusted my instincts and went for it. And now, having accomplished my first year, I am reassured that I made a decision that I will never regret. Overall, I have realised that university offers so much more than meets the eye.
My initial doubt stemmed from the very reason I wanted to study history – the fact that I truly enjoyed it. Rooted in my desire to choose it was an overwhelming sense of guilt and unease based on the need to justify my subject on firmer grounds. Unlike other subjects, I relished the chance to explore history: the chance to learn about unknown cultures, dramatic political changes and iconic individuals, essentially, the opportunity to piece together my own identity. And yet the traditional stigma attached to studying, ubiquitous in school environments, had led me to believe that subjects were not meant for fun but hard work and academic achievement alone. By contrast, my experience at university has set the record straight. Instead, higher education has infused me with renewed passion for the subject I have always loved.
Why? Because for the first time in my life, I have found myself being genuinely asked what I think, and what my opinions are. And if I disagree with something, I am not restrained by a course syllabus, but welcomed with open arms to express it as strongly as I want to. It’s therapeutic, empowering and maturing all at once. Having found myself on a gap year, I gradually craved the opportunity to be intellectually absorbed once more and my degree has not failed to deliver. I no longer leave the classroom lusting after lunch, instead I depart feeling captivated by the discussions just had and eager to research more. Admittedly, it’s not always easy – sometimes it’s hard to actually know what you think or how you feel, and harder still to articulate yourself. But it’s a learning process, a system of trial and error with vast and unprecedented outcomes; from a reduction in the time I spend deliberating over which cereal to choose, to an improvement in the way I cope with stressful situations.
The benefits of university extend beyond academic fulfilment – it has also helped me to grow up. My eyes have been opened to a wealth of new ideas, people and experiences. I have been thrust from my tight-knit school community into a broadly diverse hub of individuals who have enlightened me beyond my textbooks and inspired me to look at things differently. I find myself fulfilling the old cliché of learning something new every day – from analysing the role of women in medieval England to discovering that broccoli can be cooked in the microwave. I feel reassured that regardless of what happens at the end of my degree, I will have learnt, amongst many other lessons, the invaluable skill of being able to think for myself. Whilst I may have been unsure about higher education at the start, my journey has only just begun and I have not looked back once.
Cost of university: £9000.
An exciting, enlightening and life-changing transition: priceless.