University: the wonder years?

The clearing process is just beginning the long winding up in the UK. Clearing is a process by which students who don’t already have a university place offer, apply to various universities for available places. Picture call centres staffed by academics, answering frantic calls from students from 7.30am of the day A level results are declared. Universities trying to fill their vacancies and vying with each other for students with good grades, students with sufficiently high grades shop around for the best offer, and those with low grades scrounging for a place, any place. It is bedlam!

Every country has its own version of the admissions process to university. Each probably has its own madness attendant.
The range of issues facing students are quite bewildering:
– High tuition fees – is it really worth getting a degree?
– Study in a small, sleepy university town or go off to a big city? Go to another country?
– Contending with a global market- which degree and university will guarantee a job/placement/further study in such intense competition?
– Does a vocational course/apprenticeship hold better career prospects
– Logistics: housing, loans, social life…

It cant be easy to try and figure out answers to all those questions. Further study is not any easier with some variation of these very issues weighting on a person, in addition to others. All in all the start to a higher/further education is more and more challenging.

Is it worth all the bother?

I guess every individual needs to work out the answer for themselves. Do students have access to sufficient information to make well thought out decisions about these issues? Do they have adequate guidance and support from parents and schools? Some things like how a particular industry (and hence graduates in a linked degree) will fare 3 years down the line is extrapolation- how does anyone make a good call on that?

To me, university was about pursuing a subject I loved. I didn’t have the maturity or the experience to know all the options it could create for me, just a nebulous idea. Now, many years later, I realise that (for my particular profession of academics) the technical knowledge gained was important, and so were the skills I developed: analytical thinking, ability to concentrate for long periods of time, writing, ability to work with others and engaging and making friends. The list is longer but some things are intangible and we don’t even realise how we learned these from our peers. To me the uni years were truly the wonder years.

What is/was it like for you?

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