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I Tried Not Going to University and I Got Left in Life's Wilderness

08/04/2016 15:32 | Updated 08 April 2016

If you don't go to university when you finish school, the government are forgetting about you - so says the House of Lords social mobility committee. As someone who turned to wallpaper the minute I checked out of sixth form, I think it's so important that we're finally talking about this.

The most maverick thing you could do at my school was not go to university. Naturally, then, I decided I was going to do things my own way and get a job and study a vocational course part-time at a local college.

That'll learn 'em, I thought. All these teachers are saying I need to go and read books for three years, but I've ALREADY read loads of books.

I had good A Level results. I'd worked part time whilst I was at school. I was even voted the class president of our GCSE citizenship project where we promised to eradicate poverty in Africa. I was employable and I was going to beat the system.

Except the thing was, I couldn't. After working for three months on a temporary contract at Waterstones and delivering disappointing news to customers who asked me if we had the latest book in by Charles Darwin, it seemed like my only option was to get a sandwich board that said Aw Please Give Me A Job Go On and walk the streets wearing it. Except I couldn't afford to buy a sandwich board.

On two separate occasions, I found myself in the store cupboard of La Senza as a woman said "sell me this pen". If I could sell her the pen then I could have a four hour contract selling people fancy knickers. Apparently I couldn't sell her the pen.

I couldn't get a job for an entire year, and eventually I conceded defeat, trotting off to uni to read some more books, get myself in loads of debt, write searing op-eds about Ed Miliband in the student paper, and sit in the pub a lot. After I left university, I interned for free and wrote my socks off until I ended up in the job I'm in now. It was soul-destroying at times but it was worth it.

Of course, I was lucky enough to have the option - but I wonder where I would be now if I'd stuck to my guns and not gone to university? The committee warned that 53% of 14-24 year olds have been "forgotten and left behind" by Whitehall - which is unsurprising. If you're not in education, employment or training, you feel lost, afraid, and like society couldn't care less, even if you're crying out to contribute.

This isn't about feeling a sense of entitlement about getting a good job - or, in fact, getting a job at all. But we are all told that if we work hard at school then we'll do okay. That's starting to feel like a fallacy.

For those who do what they're told and go to university, the job market is brutal. Even though a degree is so often a prerequisite to getting a job now, there's a supply and demand problem in that there's just not enough for jobs for the number of graduates.

If you decide against university, you won't get yourself into thousands of pounds of tuition debt, but you might end up on the scrapheap before you've even started.

The committee has suggested that there needs to be a cabinet minister who will take responsibility for the transition from school to work. If this is to happen, there needs to be an understanding that the issue is not that young people don't know how to adapt to the wider world, but that the wider world is failing to offer them opportunities in the first place.

So take it from me - I tried skipping uni and I was left in the wilderness. If you're going through the same, it's not a personal failing. You upheld your end of the bargain - our society now has an obligation to find a place for you and let you become a member.

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