£45k debt: is university ‘worth it?’ A personal experience

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To get ahead and get the best job, you need a degree.

Or so we have been told for many years.

If anything, it’s often expected of young people these days, although we do see people starting or returning to study later in life.

But, with only 25% of graduates fully paying off their student loans, it raises the question of how valuable having a university education really is…

There’s a lot to unpack here, so be warned that this is going to be loooonnngg one! Let’s just say it’s only a little bit of the build up from the past half decade.

According to The Times, the average student debt is £45k. However, it’s wiped off after 30 years (but then I’ve also seen articles saying 40 years), or when you die (how thoughtful).

I start this by stating that the average course is 3 years and £9,250 a year (minimum), where others costs are then added (like your maintenance loan which depends on household income – I could go into another blog on who is expected to take the burden another time. Hint: look at who brought the student into the world). Don’t forget to throw increasing interest rates into the mix! Woo!

Is university a waste? A personal experience

If you managed to read my graduation blog, it briefly covered my experience of university, although I kind of breezed over it, proud to have made it through 4 years of tears, late nights, early mornings, long days, a part-time job, frustrating students (and module leaders) and tiresome work. However, I feel my experience was tainted by not only anxiety and elements of depression, but a constant feeling of whether I should even be there. It wasn’t a case of ‘do I deserve to be here?’, but a question of ‘what is the point? Will paying x amount really be worth it in the end?’.

About 18 months on from graduating, these are questions I continue to think about now.

We could link such things to opportunity cost, although the experience made me realise what I don’t want to do. And thankfully what I do! All at the cost of £30k+ debt at least…

Needless to say, those few years, and now recent years of working, have driven me to chase my dreams even harder and stand out from the numpties I worked alongside. (It really was mind boggling how some people made it through university with the attitudes they demonstrated in their work.)

Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams.

If you want it to come true, you will work for it. I know you can. Just like I’m trying now. Think about it, you could be a year ahead already and closer to achieving one step of your goal.

Future you will be thankful.

Benefits of university

Not everything is bah humbug about the university experience. Many look forward to it whilst others refuse to acknowledge the slight anxiety of living somewhere new surrounded by people they’ve never even met.

I like to break it down into time, experience and money.

It’s both an exciting and daunting experience, where you can have the time of your life on little money. You’re living away, making new friends and developing your social skills. You might even be free from your parents’ nagging for a little while. And have your own room! You might even learn a little more about yourself. Fall in love. Explore a new town or city. Maybe a country.

The history of University (and Education)

University was originally for men, the upper class and those seeking skills in specific professions (medical, law, veterinary), where women have only been awarded degrees within the last 200 years.

Now it’s been made a lot more accessible for different classes, albeit still expensive. For many, it has become a lifeline of making their way in the world, with access to student finance and online learning. I won’t even get started on particular establishments associated with meritocracy…

What they don’t tell you about university

Forgive my biases already emerging, but I’d like to think you can picture it by now. It saddens me to say it, but a lot of time is actually spent by yourself. I guess that’s mainly for the ones who want to do well and don’t often find it easy to read a page and remember everything for exams.

The culture can also ‘get a bit much’, putting it lightly.

I didn’t get how or why people were leaving assignments until last minute and then complaining when they weren’t given an extension, or put in minimal effort and thought that was enough for a group project (this is my degree too, I’m not sacrificing a grade!). Make sure you hold people accountable. Let people know when the work isn’t good enough.

The real world isn’t easy.

On the social side, I’ve heard people say you can enjoy uni without drinking – I’m not so sure. But I suspect it’s because I hadn’t ‘found my people’ at that point.

There is also a fortune of hidden costs to consider before even starting: books, living costs, social activities, societies, transport (around your uni area, to and from uni), storage (if you live abroad), laptop. And that’s just a handful of the things I can remember.

My disdain for lectures

About 4 hours a week were scheduled for lectures, with a matching 4 to 6 for seminars. Most people who attended sat on their phones – why bother coming?

I will admit I ended up skipping some lectures because they were so dull and I could watch it online later (read next section). The lecturer read off the slide – I can do that and I’m paying upwards of £9k?! After a few terms and several modules, it became pretty clear that a lot of (if not all of) the content was based on a textbook. How distasteful. To charge people that much just to copy and paste from a textbook.

With the growing prevalence of technology and remote work, why wouldn’t you watch online in your own time, at your own pace and in your own comfortable space?

I know someone who’s switched to the Open University for their remaining years so they can continue earning money alongside and they’re doing just fine. Why not?!

Some lectures were a bit better than others thankfully, which came down to the luck of knowing I had a good seminar leader (and group) to discuss topics with. As it was all theory based, it bored me knowing there was no practical element. What’s the point?!

What did I learn from university?

Here’s a clue: I remember nothing. Honestly. I can’t recall anything I learned from my degree than I use in my job now. In fact, only yesterday did I come across an inkling of things I learned in my final year – whilst doing a free Google course in my own time.

Fortunately I gained a handful of lifelong friends and connections with I still keep in touch with, unlike the uni content which has dripped out of my brain.

It may be influenced by the fact I did not enjoy my university experience until final year, which was disturbed by a certain pandemic (remember the tiered systems? No one knew what they were doing). I’d wanted to drop out of uni several times. I vividly remember breaking down on my uni floor, calling my parents in tears.

Yet at the same time I’d hate to think where I’d be now if I’d have quit.

Did I gain anything?

Overall, you could say I paid tens of thousands of pounds to get 3 things:

  • Professional connections
  • Level up – Network! It’s who you know, honest!
  • Lifelong friends

I hope this has provided a raw insight into what the university experience can be like: it’s not all rosy for everyone. What’s your experience been like? Maybe you can relate? Or have massively gained from getting a degree?

This time, I choose happiness.

See you for tomorrow’s Blogmas!

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