More and more students are going to university. This year, over half a million people were accepted onto a degree course, the highest number ever. Increasingly, it seems that university is simply a rite of passage – a necessary extension of school – in order to achieve a career.
But higher education is different to school. For the first time, students are asked to choose one subject to dedicate their time to. It's the first time students can choose to do something they really enjoy full-time.
Yet how much I enjoyed the subject I was choosing was never of paramount importance to me – and it certainly didn’t matter to my school either. The career that my degree could lead to was of far greater importance.
My head of sixth form kept asking me: "Is it an employable degree?" and "Will you be able to study it at a Russell Group university?" Sure, these things are important, but they don’t necessarily lead to an enjoyable three years.
It’s hard to study something you don’t enjoy. Personally, I never realised this until I was flung into doing it full-time. Between the stress of applying to university admissions body Ucas and the pressure of A levels, I never stopped to ask myself the vital question: "Is this really what I want to do?"
Excitement and joy lost
As a student, I’ve felt that an elusive and intangible end goal has been constantly out of my reach. You do your GCSEs to move on to A level; you do your A levels to move on to university; you do your degree to get a good internship, which you do to eventually enable yourself to build a career. There’s little time for celebration or relief before you’re forced to move on to to next set of exams. And it seems that in our obsession to follow this cycle, we’ve let go of the joy and excitement of learning.
Many students follow this same pattern. When I told my friends at university that I was thinking of leaving because I felt that my course didn’t suit me, they seemed confused. "No one really likes their course," they said. "You just have to get through it to find a job." It’s a similar story with many of my friends from other universities. However, at £9,000 a year for tuition alone – not to mention the living costs – the idea of being unhappy for three years simply doesn’t make sense.
Studying at university is important not just in applying for jobs but also for growing into an independent and confident adult; it’s something that should be enjoyed – and not just because of the social life.
That’s a principle that should apply to school, too. It’s time we started asking more about our children’s happiness, rather than focusing just on their exam results. We need to start teaching students to enjoy the journey and to really love learning, not just to aim for the end goal.
Georgia Ziebart was previously studying psychology at university. She will be reapplying to Ucas this year
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