Thursday 26 November 2015

Dropping Out of Uni - One Year On

Whilst keeping us hooked on documenting and publishing every moment of our present tenses, social media seems to have recently grown a little fixation with retrospect.

Nostalgia is so easily accessible now, and scrolling through Facebook and twitter, we can't help but be bombarded with people posting Timehop links and sharing '5 Years Ago Today!' posts. These little nuggets are as insightful as they are irritating at times, whilst simultaneously casting a light on the somewhat uncomfortable reality of just how long now social media has been intrinsic to our lives.

As of late, these posts have begun to remind me of what was perhaps one of the hardest times of my entire life. (Cheers, Facebook.) I didn't know it then, but this time last year was when I hit rock bottom, in therapy and on anti-depressants from crippling anxiety and depression, stemming from being in my 4th year studying a course I should have loved, at a University I simply loathed. 

In theory, I was due to complete my studies (albeit graduating with a very low grade) within the next six months, and then I'd be free. But both my professors and I knew that was never going to be the case, and I was suffering so painfully for something that was never going to end in justifiable reason.

That's why just before beginning my 'final semester' of my 'final year', I dropped out of Uni. And the blog post I created after explaining why I did so, has become my most viewed and most commented blog post of all time.

Occasionally I get emails from girls just like myself, having found themselves in a similar position and googling their woes had led them to my post. They ask me if it's right. They ask me if they should. They ask me for permission. 

And it was only when I received one of these emails a few days ago and started crafting a response, that I realised alongside these damn memories appearing on my newsfeed every day, it had been almost exactly one year to the day that I finally held my hands up and said: Enough. 

So I'm not gonna try and tell you what to do, or what is right, because I'd be a liar to say I have those answers. Instead, I'll tell you the one thing that I know for certain; what I did, and what I've done in the year since I packed in the charade and finally dropped out of Uni. 

Because all we can really do is tell our own stories, and hope they help others right? That's why this isn't just about me, either. Alongside, I am so excited to present six other amazing women who have allowed me to share their stories of dropping out of uni - or not - too.


I went to London College of Fashion, studying Fashion Design Technology: Womenswear

After a year of studying I was an absolute shadow of my former self. I had lost all confidence in my abilities due to lecturers telling us week in, week out that all our work needed to be scrapped and started again – but when asked for constructive advice would respond with ‘What do you think?’. It absolutely baffled me that I was paying £9,000 per year to bumble blindly through the course, and I went from being hungry and driven to confused and pretty down. I left the course at the end of the last term of the first year.

My initial fears were pretty standard – what next? Who will employ me without a degree? Worst of all was the reaction of others. Those who had experienced Uni were all really supportive of my decision and yet the older people I knew were the most negative – those who had lived a life and had fruitful careers but hadn’t been to Uni as it wasn’t the done thing in their day – it was bizarre.

I left Uni a year and a half ago now and in that time I have been promoted twice – starting out as an Assistant Visual Merchandiser, I am now an Assistant Store Manager. I’m not sure what I want to do in the long run (certainly not Fashion Design!) but I am pretty pleased with the progress I have made in such a short space of time. I feel like so many people have degrees now it’s as good as no-one having one. Like that bit in The Incredibles – ‘…and when everyone’s super…no-one will be!’ - to stand out you need more now.

For me it was the best thing I could have done. I feel sad that I didn’t have the same ‘University Experience’ that a lot of people have had but I know that it was the right thing for me to do. I am a grafter and I like to see real results, not just grades on papers.

Go with your gut, but don’t make rash decisions.


- Ella is a fashion and lifestyle blogger at Drive Mode -

By the end of my first year on my Fashion Design degree I knew that I wanted to leave. But I was stubborn, I didn't want to be seen as a failure or for people to think that I'd given up too easily.

I'm definitely the academic type, I loved learning at school and relished coursework and tests. I'd come from a great college course where I developed a real strong ability for design. I left with a triple distinction and I don't think I've ever felt so enthusiastic about my future and career. That pretty much all evaporated after my first few months at University. 

The lecturers did not seem to have the same want to nurture us as I'd experienced at college. In one of my first few months there, we witnessed a lecturer tear pages out of a classmates sketchbook (that she'd spent weeks working on) in full view of everyone, leaving her with barely a few sheets of designs and telling her she had a lot of catching up to do for hand in.

 She quietly sobbed at her desk and a few months later she had gone. There was a lot of incidences like this and by my final third year there were barely 20 of us left. The workload was so intense, it was that cliche of - Eat, sleep and breathe fashion, if you had time to go out socialising and were actually getting a good nights sleep, you didn't 'want it enough'.

I forced myself to complete it despite all of the warning signs that it was too much for me. I suffer with a fainting condition anyway and my brain was such a fog I'd sit at home just staring at blank pages for hours, willing myself to draw something (anything!) but even just picking up my pencil felt exhausting. 

By the end of it all I'd become like a robot, I had no pride or enthusiasm for my work any more, or anything for that matter. It had sucked my creativity dry, left me physically and emotionally drained and just completely blank, a shell. I felt like I didn't know who I was any more, or what I wanted to do with my life, I just knew I couldn't face a career in this industry I'd once loved and that kind of killed me, all that work and stress for nothing. 

Looking back I think it's pretty obvious I'd become seriously depressed as a result of my course, it took me a good few years after I left to start feeling remotely like my old self again, but I don't think I'll ever be fully that person again. My biggest regret has been sticking it out, it wasn't worth it in the slightest and having that degree hasn't helped or been of any use to me in what I've done since then either.


- Steph is a fashion and style blogger at Faiiint -

I went to University in Birmingham to study fashion Design, and needless to say as soon as I got there I immediately regretted all my decisions. 

As soon as I got there I felt I didn't fit in on the course, in my charity shop outfits and homemade clothes. For a start I got lumped on the furthest campus away - a 45 min bus ride on a good day - and with some questionable housemates. Living with four girls there became an immediate divide, and it became clear pretty much straight away. 

After a week of term, the tutor became sick and would subsequently get replaced by various tutors over the year - no one permanent and no one who really seemed to care. I just became fed up and uninterested, I felt like no one at the Uni cared. 

I think I pretty much knew straight away that it wasn't for me, and in two weeks I ended up blowing my student loan on hair extensions (why) expensive clothes and going out all the time, instead of actual turning up for the lessons, which got cancelled half the time due to lack of staff -really fun to find out when you're halfway there after getting up at 6am.

But then the summer after first year was the best summer of my life. I went to live with my uni best friend in London and we had some of the best times of my life. You know when you just have so much fun and every moment you make, you know you're gonna remember forever? It was the first time that I have ever so felt young and free and invincible. I just wanted it to last forever.

 However, I somehow managed in between to do a few resists and submit things to ensure that I could actually get into the second year, however the thought of it filled me with so much fear I just couldn't handle it.

A few of us from Uni moved into the scummiest disgusting house ever, still too far away, and by this point I wasn't caring or trying to go in. I fell in L-O-V-E and travelling all the time to Bournemouth (where he went to uni) and finding every excuse I could not to be there. My uni best friend took it pretty hard that I wasn't glued to her side any more, and her and my housemates decided to take it upon themselves to gang up on me. 

Things had built up so much that I was having panic attacks at the thought of going back to my uni house/university. It felt, the whole world closing in on me and I felt so alone. I fell out with everyone and just wanted out. I packed my bags and moved/ran away to Bournemouth. I didn't tell my mum for three months and no-one took it well at home, I remember my mum and nana crying, wanting to know what I was going to do with the rest of my life.

I just remember days of crying and sitting in my then boyfriends flat wishing I knew the answers. He then finished his course and on a whim we and his uni friends all decided to move to London. We moved into a little flat in Kings Cross (no living room/bars on the windows, however it did have a jacuzzi!) and the universe was definitely looking down on me as I luckily found an internship through a friend of a friend of a friend at the ASOS studios.

And the rest is history, I started my own business, Waiste Vintage after 4 years in the studio at ASOS and never looked back since.

 I wish I'd never gone to uni, as apart from being about 10,000 k in debt and some life lessons, I've got little else to show for it. I wish so much there'd been some more kind of guidance at school, I had no idea what course to even apply for, and back then the internet was pretty useless. 

If someone is thinking of dropping out, honestly just do it, I can't tell you how much better I felt, even though it was the scariest decision to make of my life, and I can still remember those dark days thinking I had no future, it was honestly the best decision I have ever made. 

I needed the life experience, not the university experience.


- Sara is a style blogger at Waiste and runs online store Waiste Vintage -

I joined Leeds Met Uni in 2004, (now known as Leeds Beckett) to study International Tourism Management.

My dad had passed two years previously and I think that there was an expectation of me to study at uni. When I told my mum my plans, she replied 'your Dad would just want you to be happy' and so that sealed my decision.

It was a four year course with the second year being a work placement. I knew I wanted to work overseas and so I applied for a job as a holiday rep with Cosmos Holidays and I got it. But I flew out to Turkey in May 2004, and hated the job immediately!

The management wanted me to change resorts but I told them I would only be happy working somewhere I was familiar with (my family and I had been to Marmaris for the previous 7 years), and when they told me I had no option, I decided to leave. As I had no ties back in the UK, I stayed for an extended holiday... and ended up meeting my future husband.

We married just four months after meeting, and 11 years and three children later, we are still together.

We spent three years in Turkey, but now own a successful coffee shop in Leeds. I also run a small home decor business on the side. I am glad I went with my gut instinct, and although my life now has nothing to do with what I chose to study, I am happy and successful and I would advise anyone thinking of dropping out to do the same - trust your gut instinct.

Our lives can change at any moment, and if one door closes, a thousand more may open.


- Rachel runs online store Moon & Sixpence -

It was towards the last semester of my final year, that I was contemplating dropping out of university. With only two months to go until I would have a degree to my name, I was on the cusp of packing it all in and walking away. 

In all honesty, I had been the world’s worst student since the very beginning of my degree. I only attended maybe two to three times every term and came away with average grades whilst everyone around me was studying day and night. 

I had chosen to study illustration as I loved drawing, painting and creating; it was my escapism. I had been told countless times before university that art and design was where my talents laid, but a few weeks into my course at quite a prestigious university surrounded by talented art school folk, I sucked in comparison, and that’s when I lost all of my enthusiasm. 

Eventually, instead of quitting university all together I took a year’s break. 

The plan was to have a break from the strains university and then take nine months to focus on my Final Major Project. Instead, I ended up starting and finishing a mediocre project in the last fortnight and still coming away from university with an average grade.

It’s drummed into you that going to university is the next step, and if you decide not to go you’ll always be one step behind on a career path. That’s honestly a load of bullshit.

 I’ve found my way into a career in digital marketing and that’s through everything I’ve learnt off of my own back.


 - Leigh is a fashion and style blogger at Fox & Feather -

On my second week of university, I sat in my tutor’s office sobbing because I hated what I was doing.

I’d sat through the first four days willingly believing that this dry monotonous never-relenting speech is just how lectures were but, on the fifth day, I attended my elective English Lit class and everything fell away.

My lecturer was actively interested in what we, as teenagers who still had the A2 mark schemes memorised, had to say and was invested in making the department an academically vibrant place to be.
I didn’t understand what had gone wrong; I’d researched and planned meticulously, but the department I was in just didn’t fit me. None of the open days and prospectuses could tell me that our personalities would clash.

So when I sat in that ikea-standard office chair being told that there was no way to transfer courses and my only option was to drop out and reapply, my whole life fell out from underneath me. So many of my coursemates resolved to just “make the best of it”, but a further £18,000 is a lot of money to spend on something you’re just going through the motions with.

I finished first year just to prove that I could, and then ended my studies to take up a place reading English Literature at the same school.

I’m the first person in my entire extended family to go to university.

And in less than two months, I’ll be moving 3,539 miles away to study abroad at an Ivy League institution. Without university, I never would have moved to London not two months after turning 18; I wouldn’t have my own radio show broadcast from a studio overlooking central London in all its glory, I certainly wouldn’t be getting up before 6am multiple times a week to row down the Thames, and I definitely wouldn’t be moving to Philadelphia for half a year at the age of 20.

But university is more than that; I love academia. It’s not just a means to an end for me, and I think that’s the most important thing. If university’s simply a box to be ticked, a line to be written on a CV, it’s not worth it. Further education is different to school because it’s exploring what you’re interested in rather than learning how to write what the examiners are looking for, and if you’re not getting something more than that then there’s no point spending an obscene amount of money and time on it.

People drop out of school to follow their dream, but university is that aspiration I’d be dropping out to pursue.

There are plenty of industries that you don’t need a degree to be a part of, but academia isn’t really one of them. I could read for 20 hours every day and still not gain as much as I do by going along to my lecturer’s office hour and having a conversation with them about the paper they’re about to publish that will revolutionise the way we see one of Shakespeare’s most widely-performed plays.

There's no shame in being taught. It's important to go out and learn for yourself, yes, but there's no shame in sitting in a lecture theatre admitting that the academic in front of you knows a hundred times more than you about the performance culture of Jacobean theatre.

And, bloody hell, it takes so much courage to admit that further education isn't for you, but it also takes a lot of strength to write thousands of words worth of essays in a week whilst simultaneously working to pay rent and trying to keep up with the training requirement of a uni sport.

I dropped out of university in order to follow my dream of going to university and it was the best thing I could ever have done.


- Amy is a writer and lifestyle blogger at Vermillion -

I must've experienced every emotion humanly possible in regards to my Uni experience - and all in the extremes. But my story is one I've told before, and you all know how it ends. 

So instead, I'll explain what I've done since. 

I never returned after the Christmas break in my 4th year studying Mass Comms at the University of Hertfordshire. It'd been such a challenging year, and there was only one person left I felt obliged to try for - my personal tutor. He'd personally taken me to my first ever therapy session when I was ill, and reassured me it was okay that I needed medicine to help my brain. He was the only professor I told I was leaving, and his reaction was heartbreaking. 

The rest, I just never saw again.

After I dropped out, I signed on to become full time at my job working in a coffee shop inside a cinema. It was actually quite fun and I got free movies, so a girl can't complain. But I knew that was never, ever going to be enough for me. The liberation I'd gained from dropping out had set fire to my blood, and adventure soared wildly through my veins once more.

My mantra sung louder than ever. 

' Forever remain curious, refuse to remain unremarkable. '

Monthly I would exhaust my wages gallivanting off on crazy adventures, including booking a last minute trip to Iceland to watch the solar eclipse and getting Icelandic runes tattooed on my hands, driving hundreds of miles to go on a murder mystery tour and dedicating my time to my passions of painting and writing, a purposeful kind of rebellion rising within me.

That's why I deliberately didn't complete my drop out forms... and instead, I waited until I was deposited my final maintenance loan payment, then quit my job, sold my car, moved out of my flat, and used that money to book some flights, and three weeks later ran away to New York City all on my own. 

I'd found the volunteering website 'Workaway' and was accepted a job historically restoring a 108-year old boat in a Brooklyn shipyard. I toiled and laboured, sweating out the rage and frustration 4 years of creative suppression had instilled in me. Later I left the boat and moved in with my newfound friend, an art student from NYU, in her apartment in the East Village which sat directly opposite the Hell's Angels HQ. 

For the final month my best friend joined me in New York and together we found a place in East Williamsburg, where we passed our days selling our art to make a living, and drinking beers on the roof.

At the end of summer we returned, he moving to Brighton to pick up easy work in a coffee shop, and I back to my parents. This was the first time that the severity of my actions set in, and for a few dark weeks I was terrified. 

But then, completely out of the blue, a friend reached out and asked if I was looking for work. She worked at a Marketing and Advertising firm in London, her boss was looking for a writer and she'd sent him my blog. I was stunned and truthfully, afraid. I wrote about my fears here.

Two months on, the summer of my dreams hangs delicate and beautiful like lace in my mind, as I sit at my desk in the heart of soho, London, where I work as an Assistant Creative Director at an ad agency. In short, I've somehow been lucky enough to land myself an incredibly exciting job as a part of a small, intense team of creative magic-makers and marketing dream-weavers, working on music festivals, immersive theatre, book publishing and brand advertising. 

And to think... I could still be in Hertforshire, crying in the library.


And there we are. Six completely different stories, but each part of the bigger picture of what it's like to go to University, in all it's torture and it's glory. 

So if you're thinking of dropping out, I hope this was food for thought. Take in these tales, contemplate your own future, and take your time to decide what is right for you, whether you stay, or whether you go. 

And if you know someone who wants to drop out, I hope this perhaps allows you to cut them a little slack. Whether the course is difficult or not, going to University and moving away from home for the first time is one of the most challenging aspects of coming-of-age. 

Because as you can see, even the most ardent academia lovers do not escape without battle scars. And the question which remains now, is what is it worth to you?