Growing Up At University

When I think back to my sixth form, I am reminded of hours spent poring over university prospectuses, trying to imagine my life in the glossy pictures before me. I had bought into the idea that a prestigious university would somehow imbue me with a sense of purpose I was lacking, and would be a period of maturation into to full adulthood. Whilst attending Oxford has been an amazing experience, I have begun to question the purpose of highly theoretical degrees and wider notions of university as a preparation ground for ‘real life’.

My Geography degree was highly conceptual, and whilst I thoroughly enjoyed aspects of it, now I’ve left the Oxford bubble I’m left with the question: what was the point? I’ve been driven to this question as I’ve reluctantly started looking for work in the ‘real world’, and tried to transfer my ‘transferable skills’ into a 9-to-5 job. Perhaps I have been particularly confounded by this stage in my life because I really enjoying delving into conceptual issues presented in weekly essays. Being quite an idealistic person, Oxford has further lifted my thinking even higher into the clouds, as opposed to grounding me firmly in reality. With this said, I am not belittling the importance of thinking ideologically. However, I believe there is a need explore what we expect from university and what prestigious universities do in practice.

I am one of those people who has never really known what they want to do. Since graduating this summer, I’ve never felt younger, or more vulnerable. This seems to be a common feeling amongst many people my age, and I am reminded of ongoing discussions in the media and academia concerning my generation’s state of ‘prolonged adolescence’. This idea essentially argues that younger generations are spending longer periods of time as adolescents, being financially dependent on their parents and the state. In this case, what role does university play in this phenomenon?

In my mind, I view my time at Oxford as a sort of buffer period between my teenage years and full adulthood. University presents many of us with probably one of the only times we’ll be able to focus on developing our minds solely, whilst financial responsibilities are dealt with. However, at many points in my degree I realised my education was geared towards further study, and as my interests developed along this trajectory, it became increasingly difficult to see how I could express these interests in the entry-level positions I considered. Upon graduation I also realised that wrestling with complex theories during university had shielded me from the reality of mundane, yet important responsibilities. In this respect, commitment to university societies prepared me considerably for the nitty-grittiness of post-Oxford life.

I am slowly settling on the conclusion that this period of uncertainty it both necessary and (hopefully) transient. Non-vocation degrees like mine play a significant role unsettling what you thought about the world, and causing you to become sceptical of claims to truth. However, they do not direct you down a career route, but leave this hard and yet rewarding process down to you. It has been refreshing, if not daunting, to take all that I have learnt in the past three years and try to see the ways my unique skillset can add to the world. It seems university for people like me has crucial for my process of growing up, but not necessarily in the way you’d expect. I am reminded of Tolkien’s words my IB teacher frequently borrowed: ‘Not all who wander are lost’.

Additional resources:

Higher Education: A Balancing Act
How to Really Prepare Yourself for University
How to Decide What Degree to Study

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