When I was at school, I always thought I would study English at university.
A week or so before the deadline to apply, I decided to study Anthropology instead.
A year later, I officially left that university and went to York to study Music.
My journey to University has not been exactly smooth, so I thought I’d talk about how it all happened and why you shouldn’t worry too much about the terrifyingly big decisions you’re being asked to make these days.
I went to a fairly high-pressure school, and since I was a nerdy and supposedly intelligent student it was generally supposed that I would apply for Oxbridge, symbol of Academic Excellence and Backbreaking Workloads. But I knew myself well enough to be fairly sure that, while going to Oxford or Cambridge might bring on a nervous breakdown, there were in fact other institutions in the perceivable universe where I could potentially receive a fantastic education. So, I decided not to apply, and although I have no doubt that students at Oxbridge have an amazing time with amazing resources, I would encourage you to think very hard about why you might be applying (wherever you might be applying to) and whether you are truly being driven by your own ambitions and what is best for you, or by the opinions of others, an abstract sense of “prestige”, or a feeling that it’s what you’re expected to do.
Having decided not to try for Oxbridge, I had already written my personal statement, gone on multiple open days and chosen my shortlist of unis, and yet I was feeling so depressed by the idea of doing English that I eventually made the terrifying leap into the unknown of choosing a completely different course. Anthropology felt exciting and new, while English felt pointlessly familiar – Anthropology felt useful, real-worldy, and worthy. So I went through it all again, top-speed, and ended up going to to study society and culture. I was extremely excited, convinced that this change would fix everything and make me supremely happy. Long story short, it didn’t. I had a horrible time, both because I hated the course and because I made virtually no friends.
So a year later I was back at square one, changing direction once again. Anthropology had proved too academic, theoretical, wishy-washy for me – and it’s a very personal thing; I have absolutely no disagreements with everyone who found the course very fulfilling, it just wasn’t what I needed. Despite feeling worried that I would never find something I really enjoyed and would keep hopping around trying random things, never settling for anything less than “perfect” … I decided to take the plunge once again into the unknown and apply to study Music.
Having always loved the copious amounts of music I did at school, and knowing that the musical things I did in my first year at uni were the only things I really enjoyed, it seemed in some ways an obvious choice. But I hadn’t studied it at GCSE or A-Level (which people still find hard to believe when I tell them what I’m doing at university, for obvious reasons) and was very worried I wouldn’t get in. However, through numerous emails to Admissions Tutors and a series of unconventional submissions, I eventually did just that. And I am (as may be obvious) very, very glad I did.
I’m not exactly happy about most of my convoluted journey to where I am now. But I am proud that I took my post-school life into my own hands and didn’t settle for what I was expected to do, or even what I’d expected for myself. At times it felt like I kept giving up, but I also know that I was doing what was best for me, which is the best I can do.
And even if I don’t end up teaching music or performing, I will end up with a good degree studying something I find interesting, and having spent three years doing something I love.
Also, and perhaps most importantly, I left a university where I felt out of place, lonely, with few resources to making good friendships…and found myself somewhere new, where – I won’t say everything is perfect! – but I feel part of a community, or several, I have good friends, and I love the place itself.
So, my advice to you reading this – and the reason I thought I should write about it – is not to stress too much about all these massive direction-taking decisions. You can change your mind. You do not have to know right now what you want to do with your life. Do what you want, because you want to, and things will work out for the best.