student life

Are You a Victim of The Conveyor Belt Syndrome?

A Good School + Hard Work = Good Grades = University = A Good Job + A Good Life. It’s a simple equation, right?

A Good School + Hard Work = Good Grades = University = A Good Job + A Good Life. It’s a simple equation, right? Wrong. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to pinpoint the moment I stepped onto this conveyer belt towards ‘A Good Life,’ but I can probably hazard a guess at the exact moment I threw myself off.  

Leaving university after five weeks, I thought my life was over. How could a ‘bright,’ ‘conscientious,’ ‘hard-working’ student who finished sixth form with top grades drop out of university?  

Surely university was made for people like me!

Perfect fit for university?

Looking back on it now, eight months later, I have no idea why anyone thought I was ready.  Sure, I had good grades and enough extra-curricular activities to demonstrate my intelligence and worldliness, but I could barely make my own dentist appointment, or even order food in a restaurant.  

At the age of eighteen, I had never had a job interview, let alone a job.  This wasn’t through laziness though—I was so focused on getting the perfect grade, or the fastest time around the athletics track, that I thought the life experiences could wait. I told myself that university would be the making of me. Who cares if I can’t order a Chinese takeaway now? As long as I get that A*, everything will work out.

Of course, for many people it does work out that way—they ‘find themselves’ at university and emerge as beautiful butterflies ready to take on the world.  

But not everyone. In the few weeks before I was due to leave home, I think a part of me realised that, somewhere along the line, I had been boxed up and shoved on to this conveyer belt, heading towards a life that wasn’t for me.  But what could I do?  I couldn’t understand these feelings myself, let alone express them to anyone.  

So I turned in on myself and just got on with it.  The result?  Me + University=Five Blurry Weeks of Hell.

The next step

For young people today, it seems as though something is only worth doing if it’s going to lead you to that next step. You choose the GCSE’s that will allow you to choose the A-Levels that will allow you to go to university.  

Now, of course this is a huge generalisation, as many schools and careers advisers are keen to stress that university isn’t for everyone, that there are apprenticeships and various other pathways to take. But in my experience, if you’re a straight A student, university will be for you—doing anything else means you won’t reach your potential.

This is all very well, as long as you know what you want to do with your life. I have always envied those people who are determined to do anything it takes to become a doctor/teacher/lawyer etc. For these lucky individuals, their pathway is somewhat clearer and perhaps that equation ending in ‘A Good Life’ and ‘A Good Job’ might just about work out.  

But what about those of us who find ourselves stuck behind a pile of prospectuses, trying to write the first draft of a personal statement about our ‘passion’ and ‘enthusiasm’ for a subject we only picked because it’s ‘a good degree?’  

“Just find something you’re interested in!” is a phrase often tossed in the direction of students like me, who don’t know what career they want to pursue. Every time I heard this, I wanted to scream: “But I don’t know what I’m interested in! I’m not interested in anything!”  

Still uncertain

Of course not. I hadn’t had a single second free to discover the thing (or things) that truly get me excited.  Every moment of every day had been squeezed and twisted into something productive, that would apparently lead to a glorious end point, making all this determination and hard work ‘worth it.’ 

So, why am I telling you all this? It’s really to say that if you can identify with anything you’ve just read, don’t be afraid to just stop, take a step back and re-evaluate things. Give yourself some time and space to work out who you really are and what you actually like to do. Maybe it will be university, but maybe it will be something completely different. As several people have pointed out to me, leaving was actually the brave thing to do.  

In many ways, it would have been easier to stumble along for four years, hiding behind the façade of the perfectly contented student but wanting to scream out at any available opportunity. But why should I have to do that? 

I shouldn’t. And neither should you.

What do you think? Are school leavers sometimes forced to go to university? Share your opinions and stories below!