People who didn't go to uni on why they have no regrets
Five people open up about how further education isn't the only route into the career and future you want
image Theo Wargo/WireImage/Getty
words Louis Staples
It’s that time of year again when students across the country receive their A-Level results. After anxious waiting throughout what could otherwise be a truly relaxing post-school summer, people and their parents are met with news that they’re told might define the rest of their lives. But does it really?
For people who didn’t get the results they wanted, it can be a distressing and difficult time. And it can be made even more annoying by millionaires like Jeremy Clarkson and Alan Sugar smugly tweeting every year about how they did just fine without going to university.
But as annoying (and smug) as those two and their ilk can be, there is a point: university isn’t for everyone. While it can be a great experience and have lots of career benefits, there are loads of other pathways to a rewarding career and a fulfilled life. And there’s nothing wrong with simply not wanting to go, or not knowing if it’s for you.
If you didn’t get the results you hoped for, know someone in that position, or simply don’t think you want to go to university, you’re not alone. Woo spoke to five people who took an alternative path and don’t regret it.
I definitely considered going to uni and my older siblings both went and landed very successful jobs. Inevitably, I looked at them and thought that was what I was expected to do. Like most people, I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I had an idea but was never set on anything. I was in college studying journalism and media, and wanted to skip the university phase that everyone around me was going through.
To this day, I still get people shocked that I didn’t go, or ask me if I regret not going. The answer: no! There have been the odd occasion where I’ve wondered what it’s been like but I’ve always known it was the best decision for me.
After I finished college, I was juggling a few jobs to get by, before landing my first corporate role in book publishing, the industry I’m still in now. I love working in publishing, and have dedicated a side hustle of YouTube content to it. It was strange, because yet again I joined another environment where everyone around me had gone to university, so imposter syndrome was in full force!
I was part of the first cohort to do a publishing apprenticeship in the UK. Alongside my training. The apprenticeship was a fantastic way to introduce me to the world of publishing and expose me to the various departments. Apprenticeships are often misunderstood or executed badly, hence giving them a bad name but mine was so important for my learning and career development.
Not going to uni was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I didn’t have to decide on one course. I didn’t have to live in a permanently messy house with strangers. I didn’t have to take any extra exams. I didn’t have to spend loads of money. Don’t be disheartened if you didn’t get the grades. Nobody looks at them, but your experience and skill set instead. We’re a changing world and I believe the pressure to go to uni is dying.
I applied for several arts universities, but didn’t go due to mental health issues at the time. After doing several retail roles, I got into IT just before the pandemic and have remained at the same company and got several promotions since. Now, I have the money to fund my artistic endeavours outside of work as a result.
My partner is also currently a student and since meeting them I’ve seen through them and their friends' degrees and universities that my uni choices wouldn’t have been for me. My advice to people who don’t go to uni is to take every opportunity you are handed, as the worst that can happen is you’ll be in the same place as you currently are! I think for artists and musicians particularly, building a community or getting involved in local arts scenes can bring about the same level of success as a degree can.
I was due to study politics at Bristol in 2012, but deferred my entry because of my mental health. I never ended up going. I did an apprenticeship, which I didn't enjoy and ended up working as parliamentary assistant in the House of Commons aged 22. Now I work in the charity sector. I definitely lucked out by not going to university, I think. I’ve got no debt and I feel going to university would have exacerbated my panic attacks and I still ended up where I wanted to be. The journey definitely wasn't easy, though.
University isn't the only place to learn stuff. You can learn so much outside of it too and a lot of what you learn outside in the world of work is hugely beneficial and by the time others are finished university and finding their first job, you'll already be ahead with years of experience. The imposter syndrome is hard, though. It’s easy to convince yourself that everyone learned “X” in university and you missed out. But that definitely isn't true!
I had always intended to go to university, right up until I decided not to go. It was never really a question, because I was privileged enough to go to a grammar school, so not going to university was pretty abnormal.
I'd got my eyes set on a chemistry degree and did the uni visits, fully preparing to go. It was when I started my second year of A-Levels when I realised that, actually, I really didn't enjoy chemistry, but then couldn't find a subject I was passionate enough about to study further. The idea of another three years of structured education really didn't appeal to me. After all my friends headed off, I think I was one of two people that didn't go, I managed to get a temp admin job through an agency, which eventually became permanent. It was just a gateway into work for me, as I had no idea what I wanted to do. I've then kind of bumbled through jobs, moving down to London after my second job. I have now landed in consulting about six years after leaving school, but in a position more senior than some of my friends who chose the uni route.
I think uni isn't for everyone and in my experience, diverse routes into the job market aren't given the same value and are tainted with the misconception of not being able to get a degree. But it’s a choice for a lot of people where uni isn't the right path for them. I think getting into the world of work ASAP after school is a good idea if you're not choosing the uni route and temping is definitely an easy way to build some experience to pad it out. I've definitely felt the prejudice of not having a degree earlier on in my career, but now that I'm a bit more established, my experience is more valuable.
I just didn't get the grades I needed to go to uni. I applied to be a teacher but my A levels fell flat, because I didn't take them seriously! After that I was just applying for random jobs while working in a bar part time and a small engineering firm offered me an interview and I got the job.
Now I’ve been in engineering for 11 years and have worked my way up to be employed by some of the biggest names in our industry on a pretty good salary package (I only say that because everyone thinks you need a degree to be paid well!).
From an advice stand point, I guess just try not to get bogged down by the fact you didn't get the grades and focus your energy on finding a job or apprenticeship that you actually enjoy. I had no idea how much I love engineering until I started doing it and now I've travelled the world doing what I do and been paid for it too.