I always felt like I was bitterly defending my decision to study English Literature at a higher level. Sometimes it felt that people thought I was synonymous with that of a leisurely drug dealer, or just a lazy sloth. It seems that over time, university students have inherited plenty of irritating generalisations that create a negative, and often hurtful perception of people who choose to further their education. Here are the five I encountered the most throughout my time.
1. We’re Lazy
“So what do you DO all day?”
Same as you or anyone else: I work.
Just because a job pays, has (often) more set, rigid structures and sometimes comes accompanied with co-workers you just need to get away from, doesn’t make the work at university any less valid.
Of course, there are some students who do slack, blast out a half-hearted assignment last minute and generally underachieve as a result – but that really doesn’t account for most of us. I and all of my friends worked exceptionally hard for our degrees. Yet when I was working up into the early hours of the morning, seven days a week, I was still condescendingly told by non-students that I will discover what ‘real hard work’ is once I enter the ‘real world.’
2. We’re Supposed to Land a Really Ambitious and High-Paying Job
This expectation can be quite damaging. I put myself under crippling worry and pressure right before I left university. It was a sudden panic to ‘prove myself’ and ‘prove’ my decision to study was beneficial to my future.
Yes, sometimes degrees are necessary for high-paying and ambitious jobs, but I was left on my own to discover that ambitious, high-paying jobs aren’t always necessary for everyone who completes a degree.
It’s also a really difficult expectation to fulfill. Just glancing through some job websites now, I can see an available post that requires a Master’s qualification, three years of full-time experience in the industry – and the pay? £18,000.
The competition, even for jobs on the slightly lower pay-range, is incredibly tough and on the increase. Meanwhile, expectations to land these jobs are still just as solid as they were before.
3. We’re Just Throwing Our Money Down the Drain
It’s no hidden truth that university comes with racking debt. Unfortunately, that’s just how it is – there’s not an awful lot we can do about that. However when I hear some people criticising others’ decisions to go to university while preaching that getting a job and saving money is far more ‘sensible’, it communicates the one thing society has become overly obsessed with: money.
There’s no doubt that it’s very important and we need it to survive. But what kind of message are people sending out if they place sensibility and favour on money over everything else?
Some people go to university for personal fulfillment: to expand their knowledge and skills on something that really interests and engages them. Should we be disregarding this, amongst the many other positive reasons people pursue higher education, for the sake of additional financial security? I don’t believe so.
4. We’re Reckless
“Don’t go spending all your student loan on alcohol!”
Too many times I’ve heard this, alongside other similar comments implying that being a student makes me a reckless idiot.
To speak honestly, once all my rent, bills and basic food costs were covered, I didn’t have a penny left. In fact, I had to work part-time to make those simple ends meet. Does this make me an impetuous wreck? Quite the opposite. My experience at university gave me a crash course in dealing with greater financial responsibilities and managing an abundance of situations that come with living independently.
If I wasn’t being stereotyped as a crazy spender, I was definitely confused with my priorities. I wouldn’t dream of telling non-students that I was struggling to meet a deadline because for some reason they would happen to just know it was because I partied every single night instead of studying (In case of confusion, it really wasn’t the reason).
5. We Think We’re Better Than Everyone Who Didn’t Pursue Higher Education
I get this impression quite a lot when I speak to people who didn’t go to university. I sometimes feel like there’s a conflict going on and that maybe some of the negative generalisations of students come from others who feel the need to justify their own reason for not going.
It doesn’t entirely surprise me. I think that, especially in the past, people have been put on a pedestal for attending university and some may have inherited some false belief that they are more capable and intelligent.
That dynamic has completely shifted today. Going to university does not make anyone superior – it does not make anyone more intelligent or able, nor does not going to university make anyone more sensible. It’s a personal decision. We should be celebrating and respecting everyone’s own life choices and pathways.
If we truly achieved that, I don’t think this article would have any further relevance.