With GCSE and A-Level results fresh in the hands of thousands of young people in the UK this week, it's important for students and their parents to be aware of the wide spectrum of available options. University will rightly continue to be a place for generations to continue their education, but it's naive to think of it as a 'one stop shop' for getting onto the career ladder.
I think it is fair to say I have an adventurous streak. I have hitchhiked and used local transport to cross West Africa and the Sahara Desert, via Timbuktu to Morocco; snow-boarded in the Himalayas; kayaked the White Nile; started an on-going volunteer project in Uganda and also driven a taxi around the world!
People were friendly and joked around, no one snapped at colleagues or interns, everyone said 'please' and 'thank you'. I was given articles to write and each of them was published on the website, with my byline. The online editor would take time to go through each article with me, explaining what I did right and what I could improve on, as well as teaching me how to use the CMS, Google Analytics etc.
Last year, when I was 23, I was asked to do some freelance work for a website. It was a really exciting opportunity, and I couldn't wait to take on a new challenge. A few days in, my boss emailed me. Nestled between the chitchat was a question about my age. As in, what is it? Happily, I told her. And that's when everything changed.
Being at university was very different from being at home changing nappies and reading stories to my three babies... Investing in young mums (and dads too) by giving support, encouragement and free or affordable full-time childcare is vital, as is removing barriers to education. Who knows what those other young women - insultingly known as "pramfaces" - could turn out to be if they were helped and supported as I was.
There will be moments when you do a double take on your lifestyle... Just because there isn't a graduate scheme for it, doesn't mean you can't do the work you want to do. Go old school, send some emails, make some calls, and set yourself up... if you offer something good enough, the clients will come trotting.
Be warned. If you're considering a legal career, make sure you've thought it through carefully... Today, law firms and chambers are expecting more from potential trainees and pupils than ever before. Before embarking on this major journey, start to think about what it is you really want to do and what will make you happy.
I was recently asked by someone why I do or want, to carry on doing what I do. It's such a simple question yet it startled me. It's easy enough to jump into a knee-jerk textbook answer but its really hard to articulate why it really is that you do what you do (short of things like necessity, habit, or lack of choice). The 'why not' is not a valid answer.