The idea for this blog post has been with me even before I started this blog. It was meant to be published on my previous one, where I was writing about getting into university in the UK. However, as this blog became my main one, I moved the idea over, and its lone draft (or just a title, more like it) has been sitting here for the past 2 months. Honestly, I just didn’t have the mojo to dig into my past.
(To be honest, even after I wrote it, it was sitting there as a draft for good 3 weeks or so…)
Going to University of Oxford to do Law used to be a big dream of mine. And when I had people constantly telling me that it’s very unlikely I’d succeed, I wanted it even more. As you can probably figure out from the title of this post, succeed I did. Someone fell in love with my Personal Statement, references, LNAT score and my dashing persona at the interview, and gave me an offer. Months, if not years, of effort had paid off.
I basically devoted my life to school work. I was never a going out type of person, but at that time there was pretty much nothing in my life beyond books. I put a lot of work into my Personal Statement, with countless edits (at one point I chucked out everything but the introduction). I managed to get 30/42 points on the LNAT (which is a really tough logical reasoning test, and a score of 30 is amazing for anyone, not to mention a non-native speaker). It was all about making my application as strong as humanly possible.
And then I left after one term.
But to really understand the magnitude of my decision, you need to understand how big it was for me to get in. I come from a fairly poor area of Poland, I went to a school with no real Oxbridge traditions. I have never been declared a genius, or anything like that, nothing more than a bit above average. So for many people, it was a bit of a shock when I got into Oxford. And I had a lot of people being super proud of me (I swear to God, my mom, aunt and gran probably told half the city where I was going to uni). Most of all, I was crazy proud of myself. It was like a stamp of approval, saying I am officially smart. And when I decided to leave, it was really difficult to accept for many people in my life.
So why the hell did you leave, you might ask me?
It wasn’t an easy decision, nor was it made lightly. When I went home for Christmas break, I was sure I was coming back, I was preparing for my January tests. Despite the fact that I didn’t enjoy my first term at university in the slightest, I was hoping it was all going to get better. I had second years telling me it will improve. I believed them…
…then one day realised there was no way I could handle any more of it.
But I wasn’t yet ready to turn my back on it completely, I worked way too hard to get where I was. I thought maybe I just needed a break. So I decided to suspend my studies for a year, or to use a fancy Oxford word, to rusticate.
I think that year was one of the most important ones in my life. Although I had some personal troubles (about which I might write some time soon), they were an important lesson too. For the first time in my life I actually had the chance to sit down and think about what I really want from life. To do things I enjoyed (I did a really great make up course, for example). Get some work experience.
I know it still doesn’t feel like I had enough reason.
Before you write me off as insane, because Who the hell gives up a spot at bloody Oxford?, hear me out.
3 years ago, which is when I graduated high school, I would have said the same. I remember going through The Student Room, and whenever someone said they hated Oxford, I thought “Are you insane? You’re in the best place on the planet”. I totally believed that.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s an insanely amazing place for you if you’re very academic. If theoretical debates are something you love. If you want to spend your days reading textbooks, and scholarly journals and, in my case, legal cases, then write essays on them. If you want to completely immerse yourself in your chosen discipline. If you can see yourself in a place like that, you’ll love it there. I know so many people who can’t imagine studying anywhere else.
Sadly, I am not one of them. I could very clearly imagine studying somewhere else and, even more sadly, studying something else. Because studying law doesn’t resemble Suits in the slightest. It is, frankly, rather tedious. It wasn’t for me.
And, right then and there, I realised I no longer wanted to be a big shot lawyer. I hated every minute of being there. The dark room (because I had a tree right outside the window), the endless hours spent reading, writing essays on topics I didn’t care for, lectures that weren’t exciting. I didn’t really make friends, either. The city, though totally beautiful, can get suffocating as well.
I changed, too. The dream of becoming a lawyer, one I dreamed up at 11, wasn’t really mine any more.
I no longer knew what I wanted to do with my life, and that was petrifying. I only later came to terms with that, and I’m still at the point where I’m not exactly sure where I see myself in 5 years. But that’s a topic for another post.
I am not writing this post to tell you that Oxford and the likes are terrible places to study. They totally aren’t. I am writing it for a completely different reason – I want to pass on to you a message that I wouldn’t have understood at 19.
Some places, no matter how great they seem, just aren’t for you.
Not because you’re not smart enough. Not because you don’t have the skill or ability to succeed.
They’re just not right for you.
I didn’t leave Oxford because I couldn’t handle it academically. I left because I didn’t want to sacrifice 3 years of my life to pursue a dream I no longer had. And, of course, an Oxford degree is a very valuable piece of paper, but I weighed up all the pros and cons and concluded that, to me, it’s just not worth it.
And here we come to the most important thing I wanted to say through writing about my 2-month-long adventure. It is that when you make choices in life, especially important ones like choosing your degree and university, you should think not just in terms of what is universally agreed to be good. You should think what is good for you.
Because that idea that you should aim for the best university you can get into is, frankly, bullshit.
You should aim for the university that will make you happy. I don’t mean one that won’t demand anything of you. I mean one that will suit your personality and future plans. One that will be aligned with your ultimate goals in life. One that will challenge you and give you skills that you want.
My current university couldn’t be any more different from Oxford. The focus is more vocational, our lecturers want to prepare us for the workplace because they realise that we won’t be at university forever. Most of them aren’t even academics, but people who spent most of their lives working in the industry, and then decided they actually want to teach. And I really value that highly. Because, come to think of it, studying business from people who never worked anywhere other than a state-run educational institution would be a little bit ironic.
What I discovered during my time off education (I had an almost 2-years-long gap year) was that I am a very hands-on person. I like my education practical, directly applicable to my future career. Sitting and discussing abstract problems and endless ‘what ifs’ simply annoys me.
But if you’re super academic, my university would piss you off. See what I mean? It doesn’t mean my university is better or worse than others. It just means it might not be for you while it’s perfect for me.
It’s not about finding the best one. It’s about finding the right one. It’s like finding a husband – your friend’s might be, objectively, more handsome, funnier and smarter. But if you love yours like crazy and you couldn’t be any happier, is your husband actually worse?