I’ve always wanted to go to university. My dream was Edinburgh – the same place my dad went, and where I was born. I was always a ‘bright kid’ too, and university was just the natural route for me.
Fast forward to college – I knew I wanted to help people, and I loved sociology – so I applied for a sociology & criminology degree, with the plan to go into the police after. I remember so clearly the first time I went to Lancaster University – I already loved the sound of the course online, but being there gave me such a weird sense of being home. I’d been set on Edinburgh or York, but I got such a good vibe from this local university. So, I applied!
I worked so hard through college – hours of revision, hundreds of late nights perfecting coursework. The grades I needed were easily achievable – and I was going to get them! But at some point during my exams, something wasn’t clicking anymore. I worked just as hard, but I didn’t know if I could cope with doing a degree after a hell of a year and the burnout of exams.
And then results day came. I was confident in my sociology grade, and I was confident in my photography grade. I knew my last philosophy exam had been a shocker, so I was expecting a lower grade – but I already knew a lot of people who had been accepted into Lancaster with one grade lower.
I didn’t get in. And I didn’t know why!
According to UCAS (where you apply and find out if your university applications were successful), I didn’t have a place at Lancaster. I didn’t have my results yet, and I was scared to admit this then, but I felt relieved when I saw the word ‘unsuccessful’ as UCAS loaded. To make the rest of a long story short, my grades were only 1 grade lower that my offer – and it was my photography grade that cost me my place.
I then organised a meeting with my boss at The Green Earth Appeal where I’d been working part-time for most of my second year of college, and I told him I wanted to go full time. I already really enjoyed my job (running a blog, replying to social messages and writing pieces of content for the website), and although it wasn’t something I’d ever seen as a career, I still wanted to get stuck in.
Fast-forward to today – I am working full time for The Green Earth Appeal, an incredible not-for-profit as a Trainee Assistant to the Head of Operations. I get to be creative, I get to write content, create social posts, run social media accounts and review my work using analytics. I’ve also started an incredible apprenticeship with Juice Academy and Apprentify.
And the best part? I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I can remember the exact moment I realised I maybe didn’t want to go to university. I was stressing about exams, what I wanted to do, moving away from home and my boyfriend said to me “you know you don’t have to go to uni?”. It sounds so stupid – it had just never clicked that my next step didn’t have to be a degree. I’d always just assumed that was the ‘right thing’ to do because I was smart, it was never an expectation from my parents or peers, but it was an expectation I’d somehow set myself.
I think that’s the important part of my story – not the university, not my A Level results, and not even my current job. What is SO important is not only educating people on university and the benefits of a degree, and making sure university is accessible to all - no matter their background or financial situation. It’s also CRUCIAL to also let people know that they don’t have to do a degree. They don’t need to go to university. And not wanting to do a degree when everyone around you is, isn’t something to be ashamed of. Scarily enough, even after all of this, I know if I’d got into Lancaster University I probably would’ve gone anyway because I’d be too scared to take the leap and not go.
SUCCESS IS RELATIVE, AND YOUR QUALIFICATIONS DON’T DEFINE YOUR SUCCESS.
I could now give you a list of people who have become multi-millionaires without going to university, but we’ve all heard those stories, and that’s not the point of this post. Do what feels right, do what makes you happy, and find a role or career path that makes you excited to come into work. Something that feels like so much more than a job – and I know I’m lucky enough to be in this position at 18 years old.
Ellie Burgoyne - Cohort 26
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