student life

Do you have to go to university to get an education?

student books
Written by Nigel Simpkins

No one would say that education isn’t important. Learning gives us choices in life, it opens us up to new possibilities and it propels our careers forward. Life-long learning should be a goal for everybody. But does that learning have to involve three to five years attending university to earn an undergraduate degree? Although attending university as a full-time student is the right fit for some, it won’t be suitable for everyone. Some people don’t like the thought of further full-time study after completing their A-Levels, others want or need to earn money and start working straight after school. Still more don’t want to incur the ever-escalating levels of debt that a stint at university can rack up, or they don’t believe it will enhance their job prospects as much as practical experience can, especially if they’re aiming to do something vocational – which could be everything from becoming a plumber, to working in tv production or even the huge proportion of people who now want to start up a business. There are lots of routes to being successful in life, and they don’t all have to involve halls of residence – if you don’t want them to. So if university isn’t the right fit for you, how can you make sure that learning is still top of the agenda?

Keep On Top Of Current Affairs

Self-directed learning can be a really valuable route into knowledge, especially if you’re a self-starter who is proactive enough to seek out new things. No matter the industry that you operate in, staying on top of current affairs and world news is an important activity. Not only does it broaden your horizons and your understanding of the world, but it can help you to identify broader trends, sociological themes and macroeconomic issues which may directly impact on what you do as well. Reading the news and understanding what is happening in the world doesn’t have to be too onerous – there are plenty of news digest services that will provide you with a quick round-up of current affairs in a certain sector, such as The Hustle, which focuses on business related news, or The Skimm, which gives you all the latest headlines. Sign up to a couple of different services and you’ll get bite-sized news delivered to your inbox every morning. If you want to dive a little deeper, The Guardian’s Long Read are beautifully articulate cultural pieces on a variety of topics – perfect for kicking back with a coffee and having a read. If you can, aim to schedule around thirty minutes out of your day just to browse the news – a lot of people prefer to do this in the morning, so they can start their day feeling informed.There are also some great world news YouTube channels and podcasts that discuss current affairs for you to catch up with.

Consider Alternative Learning

Achieving a degree or any other type of qualification doesn’t have to mean attending a university full-time. With the pace of technological change, distance learning courses are now a very real possibility in every subject, and they can offer you formalised learning and a recognised qualification without needing to move to university – many are offered part-time to fit around work, family commitments or other things. If you’re trying to launch a business or climb the career ladder you can gain practical experience while also cementing what you’re learning in the real world with the theoretical base of knowledge – considering doing something like business administration distance learning is a smart move to help you launch your company. Lectures and seminars are easy to access and attend online, and social media channels can help you to stay connected to tutors and fellow students. And you don’t have to pursue a degree – there is plenty of other online learning to go at, from the Google Garage series to teach you the basics of SEO and smart web design to LinkedIn Learning, which offers online teaching in a wide variety of skills. Even twenty minutes at lunchtime could be an investment in your future.

Upskill With A Mentor

Finding a mentor can be a shortcut to all kinds of valuable skills which can really accelerate your learning curve. No matter what career you’re pursuing, you can learn a lot from someone who has been there and done that before –  you just need to find the right fit. Sometimes finding a mentor is relatively straightforward – there may be someone senior at your company who you’d like to learn from, or perhaps you see someone speak at a conference who has the skills you know that you need to improve. Get hold of their contact details and ask to see them for a few minutes. Research their LinkedIn profile and come prepared with questions to ask them to gain the most out of your connection – and be ready to buy the coffees in return for their time! Think about what three things you most want to get out of your time with them. And consider asking them if there’s anything that you can help them with – for example, could they use help developing their social media profiles? Being a successful mentee is all about being proactive and finding someone who is the right fit for you in terms of their working style and the skills they have to impart. You can also search for a mentor online – they don’t have to work in the same company or even the same industry as you – often those outside your line of work can have an extremely valuable perspective.

Find Training At Work

Training of all kinds is usually available through your workplace if you have a current job – you just have to resolve to become proactive about seeking it out. Often training courses are offered on a formal basis, or it could be that you can create a learning opportunity by asking your line manager for stretch projects, or finding someone within the organisation that you’d like to shadow, either because you’re thinking of applying for a similar role in the future, or you want to gain a broader understanding of the business as a whole. If you have a yearly review, ask for some learning and development targets to be included. If your current job doesn’t have much to do with a field you’d like to move into, then look for local volunteering opportunities to broaden your skills base and allow you to gain skills you may not be able to in your current role. Often volunteering means that you get to do different things and gain confidence where you wouldn’t ordinarily get that experience. Educational opportunities are all around you – just learn to identify them and put yourself out there and you’ll soon be on the path to lifelong learning.