University Experiences – Is it Really Worth The Debt?

University is no longer an option only for the rich. But whether it is the right option is something to consider. When it is clear cut (that the route to a certain occupation requires it) at least that decision is made. But what about those who have the option of an apprenticeship, or going straight into a trade or just don’t know what they want to do?


What are the pros and cons of university? Currently I can tell you about my experience of university as a mature student; how I feel it has been a benefit for our oldest son and why our current teen has deferred going for a year.

Going to University as a Mature Student

Why I went to University

I grew up with my own mother telling me how important it was to go to university. That she would have been paid more for the job she was doing, if only she had a degree. When she died when I was twenty years old going to university felt like a way of coping. It felt like it is what she would have wanted me to do.

Options after School

After my GCSEs I stayed at my school to do an International Baccalaureate. During this time I left home due to abuse and was living in a hostel. In order to claim benefits to pay the rent and be able to afford to eat I could no longer study full time.

I only lived there for about a month before I moved in with my boyfriend. We had got together when I moved into the hostel. He was over 9 years older than me and it was only when we lived together that I started to experience domestic violence.

domestic violence

My Gap Year

After only two months of abuse living with him I asked to go home. When back I was expected to pay my way. After many failed job interviews I ended up taking on an NVQ. This meant I could get a qualification and be paid for work at the same time. This was only until I had completed the course and I was not employed afterwards.

There are lots of apprenticeships these days that offer qualifications as you work – including a degree itself. It seems to make sense to get a degree whilst gaining real world experience at the same time! Plus the company pays, so no student debt!

Back to my A-levels

All this time, however, I was still seeing the same boyfriend. He was “sorry” and I thought we were in love. Despite him keeping chipping away at my confidence my A-levels were going well.

Pregnancy During A-levels

I was still only 17 when my oldest son was conceived at near the end of the first year of my A-levels. The first thing I did was to drop Maths A-level – convincing myself that I wasn’t smart enough to do it anyway.

Next I dropped Psychology, keeping only English and General Studies. I had visited some universities and one had told me that I could get on and do English with Creative Writing if only I could obtain a B in English and an E in General Studies.

pregnant at university

However, I was entered for my Psychology A-level exams after I had dropped the subject as the teaching staff believed I was really good at it. My confidence was low though, and the boyfriend would call my mobile as I was due to go in to the exams. Making me panic that there was a problem with my son. I left the exam as soon as I could. I went straight to the psychology teachers and was able to tell them the answers needed for those questions! What a shame that that isn’t how exams work!

Difficult getting into University

Needless to say my A-level exams did not go well and I did not secure the grades I needed to go to university. But I kept repeating my A-levels trying to get the grades. The domestic violence continued to chip away at me, and I was also caring for a child. I never did get those grades.

Then I was old enough to start an Access to Higher Education course. I had actually only done half of it when I contacted a university through clearing and they let me on to the course.

University was Life Changing

For me university was life-changing. Not only did it allow me to escape abuse but people there gave me confidence. I was able to help support others with understanding and they helped me with child care and by accessing places easier because they had cars.

I often had to wait longer than most to get my work back because those awarded grades above 70 (which was needed for a first class honours) had to be moderated.  It turns out that I was the first member of my family to get a degree.

It is also where I met my husband. We were young and in love and couldn’t wait to start our lives together. I was pregnant very quickly and ended up doing my finals at 8 months gestation.

mother graduating with two children

After My Degree

After I obtained my degree I mostly ended up staying home to look after the children. I did get non-degree work to fit around them but then the oldest was diagnosed as having Aspergers Syndrome (note this is no longer the accepted terminology) and more and more my role became that of a carer.

Consequently I have never actually done anything with my degree. I still think that going to university was the right decision for me however.

University with a Disability

The oldest of my boys just naturally went to university. It just seemed the natural progression after his A-levels. At the time he had been diagnosed as having Aspergers Syndrome for over 8 years. I think we had done a good job of supporting him however, so he did not really consider he had any additional needs.

The Benefits of Going to University having Aspergers Syndrome

We actually feel that going to university was a good choice for our son. It has meant he has been able to move away from home and live more independently. More than anything I think he has found what is hard for him and ways he can cope for himself.

The Cons of Going to University with a Hidden Disability

However he has now got quite a considerable debit and is still trying to complete a 3 year degree 6 years on. There does not feel like there has been much support and his mental health seems to have suffered as a result.

Planning the Perfect Sleepover for Teenage Boys*

Before he went off to university he had a job as a lifeguard, which paid reasonably well. I am not sure what will even happen when he graduates as he finds it difficult to focus on things. Things associated with being autistic do not seem to have been addressed to help him finish his course.

Again, I still think university itself has been an invaluable part of his life and growing up. But I am really not sure what happens when he finally graduates.

Deferring University

Our current year 13 has put off applying for university for this year. He took up Economics at A-level as the school had suggesting taking on a fourth A-level. Consequently he really enjoys it but this has confused him about what he wants to do as a career. Plus he had to think about which A-level subject to drop. Coupled with the pandemic it has not been an easy time for him.

Driving Lessons with Young Driver™

Now there’s confusion about what to do. He knows that, like me, he could even go as a mature student. So there’s no pressure. But it’s what to do and where to look in the meantime. There are even apprenticeships that offer paid placements and a university degree to take into account.

Thinking about what Others Have Done

I had the discussion with my husband because the rest of my family went into work and do not have the debit and are in a better position than myself. My husband also dropped out of university to earn money because I was pregnant. He says that those who work with him who graduated got a higher income a lot sooner. This includes recent graduates – so degrees are worth it. I guess it is still all a lot to weigh up.

This post was inspired by MumofThreeWorld’s Post Apprenticeships: A Realistic Alternative to University and Dad Blog UK’s post University Education: Is it overrated?

6 thoughts on “University Experiences – Is it Really Worth The Debt?”

  1. You and your sons have such different experiences, but this is a really useful read for people in different situations trying to make a decision. I am in awe of your determination to get to university. Most people in your situation would have just given up.
    Thank you very much for linking to my post too.

  2. What a story! That is quite a background you have there and as Sarah above has pointed out, required some determination. It leaves me wondering if you got more out on university because you went later with more life experience (albeit, much of it negative). it’s also interesting what you say at the end about your husband’s colleagues earning more. I’m not sure the same applies any more. I think apprentices who go straight into apprenticeships often out earn graduates by the time graduates enter the workforce (and graduates these days often run the gauntlet of unpaid internships before they get an entry level job). It’s all such a muddle! Nonetheless, I do hope voccational qualifications become more popular in the coming years. There is a place for them. Bets of luck to your sons!

  3. Interesting to see the different experiences and love how different they were. We are speaking to my oldest about this, but he has no idea what he wants to do right now, so we will see how it goes xx


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