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Over the recent weeks, exam results and university seem to be the topic of conversation, as is always the case around this time of year. This year more than ever, it has occurred to me that nearly everyone I come across is opting to progress to university – some to very prestigious institutions, some to those less so. I know a selection of people who worked extremely hard to get on to their desired course, who are set on a certain career – such as medicine or teaching. I also know individuals who breezed through their A levels, scraped the minimal requirements and then progressed to study certain degrees that one might call, well, a little bit pointless. Some may spark controversy at this, and claim that any degree is better than none at all, but I can’t help but disagree. I always get slightly irritated by the sheer volume of people who seem to go just so they can say they’re studying a degree, or for the ‘life experience.’

However, I think it is vital to recognise that there is more pressure than ever for young people to go to university – and it is apparent that perhaps a lot of individuals feel it is their only option. I know for a fact, that throughout college and school, university is encouraged more than apprenticeships, gap years and employment, and it isn’t just encouraged to those who study hard and get good results – it is encouraged to those who fall in to the lower grade boundaries too. I’m not at all saying these people should be disregarded; I’m saying they should be encouraged to pursue the subjects or interests they are good at, rather than being urged to scrape a few minimal grades in the areas they are not.

It appears that schools and sixth-form colleges really do undervalue the benefits of their students pursuing an alternative avenue, and although there are plenty of options, it seems like teachers are eager to over-shadow these with the glorification of university. University isn’t for everyone, so why is society trying to funnel different people, of different abilities and ideals, down the same route?

There are so many other outlets to consider – entrepreneurial apprenticeships, vocational courses in creative industries or public services, voluntary and conservation schemes abroad – surely these can broaden a person’s experiences just as much as a degree can?  I think that teachers and parents often regard these options as being slightly precarious, mainly because they aren’t discussed or promoted enough. Some people may not even take these into consideration, as they are simply unaware of their full range of options, and I speak from experience – when I was studying my A levels, university seemed like my only option.

There are also those individuals who are passionate about the more artistic avenues –  such as music, film-making or photography, and yet even they sometimes find themselves in university, tied to a subject that doesn’t reflect their true passion and left to pursue their speciality in their spare time, where it becomes reduced to a mere hobby or interest. Isn’t this how people end up in careers they are unsatisfied with later in life? The discouragement of these fortes is usually due to the general consensus that these types of career goals are a non-sustainable source of income, but in our current economic climate, it seems that those with degrees struggle equally as much. Young people should be encouraged to follow creative goals just as much as academic ones.

Seen as I am a student myself, I’ve been very weary of digging myself a hole and entering the district of hypocrisy; but my aim is not to portray university itself as being negative, it is more to shed light on how the alternative options are often disregarded. I think it is essential that young people are made fully aware of all their options and are given not only support and guidance, but also time and space, to make a decision about their future – after all, they’re the ones who’ll be living it.