Amelia writes about how university is not for everyone, and how leaving can open up many doors to new experiences
Often when I tell people I withdrew from the University of Southampton after studying Physics for nearly two years, they tend to look surprised, confused and occasionally horrified. To the latter, I’ve packed in an amazing opportunity and I have closed all my doors. No one wants a drop out who can’t stick with something, no one likes a ‘failed’ degree.
Luckily for my self-esteem I have never felt like I have failed. Instead, I have taken an opportunity to walk away with my head held high and I have acknowledged that University isn’t for everyone. And that’s the message I want to push. There are so many 17 year olds, who don’t know what they want to do but who are then pushed by parents and teachers into choosing a subject at degree level and choosing a University to go to. University itself can be a very daunting place. Young adults are living away from home, often for the first time. They are cooking and cleaning for themselves. They must learn how to pay bills and rent. They try to get to grips with the social side of uni, including drugs, alcohol and sex. And that isn’t even mentioning the academic side!
For me, University just started unfortunately. Someone very close to me suddenly passed away in December of my first year, triggering a downwards spiral of my mental health that I was unable to prevent. Despite attempts at turning things around in the gap between first and second year, I had already missed out on too much content and felt behind. I couldn’t get things together in my second year and was finding my stress levels were soaring and my anxiety and depression were torturing me. The thing that saved me in my second year was running the Positive Minds peer support group for Student Minds. Not only was this an incredible opportunity for me, it also helped me realise that Physics was not what I wanted to do for my future. I wanted to work in mental health and without attending University up til that point I never would have known how enthusiastic and passionate I was about it.
I initially had the idea of leaving Southampton and beginning another degree, probably Psychology and began researching open days and courses and ordering prospectuses. I thought I could get some work experience and applied to volunteer at a number of places. I wanted to get as much as experience as I could in mental health related areas and I now had the time to apply and investigate. However, I saw a job at Student Minds advertised and completed the application, emailing task and an intense interview day, to be rewarded with a job offer. I will be starting there shortly and things have turned out better than I ever could have dreamed. I’ve made my own future and opportunities and have learned so much from this experience. I’ve gone from feeling so low and defeated to being incredibly optimistic about the future and relieved with my decisions.
In my life there are many people who have been impressed and proud by what I have done and those people have kept me going and allowed me to pursue what I love. I have a mum who is endlessly supportive and loving. When trying to study for my final second year exams, I kept spreading my work out across the table, staring at it for one minute and then bursting into tears. My anxiety was so acute I felt in a complete daze and my body was getting infection after infection whilst my stomach was suffering from constant tummy aches. My mum gave me three options – 1) I study as well as I can and try as hard as I can in an attempt to pass the exams and get a Diploma of Higher Education, 2) I don’t bother working hard but go and sit the exams just to go through the motions and know I am dropping out anyway so it doesn’t really matter or 3) I stop now and begin my preparation for the future. I tried option 1 for about a day, I tried option 2 for two days and after no improvement in my emotions and feelings towards my studies, I went for option 3. My mum helped me so much and gave me many hugs and cups of tea. I am very grateful to to have such a supportive parent when there are many people who wouldn’t be as lucky. Hopefully other people would have a family member or friend to offer support and guidance even if their parents were against the idea of leaving University.
There are many people within universities who will want the best for you and these people are happy to talk through every possible option, answer countless questions and pass you a tissue when you cry. If there is someone out there considering a change in course or university, or feels the way I did and wants to leave altogether, weigh it up and talk it through to as many people as you can. But ultimately, do what makes you happy and less stressed. Don’t push yourself into illness and stress and don’t do anything that will have a long-term detrimental effect on your mental health. At the end of the day, we’re the ones living our lives, not our parents, college teachers, university lecturers or otherwise. We must be stuck with ourselves with or without a degree forever and it’s far more important to be happy and healthy above all else.