University's Only For Clever People

University was never something I’d seen for my future. All through my teenage years it seemed like a far-off concept, reserved only for the top tier of society. I passed my A-levels at seventeen and entered the world of working. I didn’t expect much more from my life, and for a while, I was fine with that.

For me, university was only for the “clever people.” It wasn’t a place where you could develop skills or hone creativity – it was where the clever people got together and got cleverer (like some secret society). I just saw the straight line from school to employment and followed it with my blinders on. I didn’t even stop to listen to people who said I could do more. I drove my college lecturers crazy with my stubborn attitude. “It’s for clever people. I can’t do it.”

I worked for three years in Devon and then in Norfolk. It was challenging work and I packed a lot in over those three years. Perhaps, in hindsight, a little too much! My writing, something I’d always loved doing, fell to the wayside. I just didn’t have the time or energy for it.

I was working with disabled children and children with mental health problems. It was rewarding work every time we had a breakthrough on their behaviour or some part of their learning – but it was also very draining. Many of the children I worked with were violent, which is an unsettling thing to see in real life. Children are meant to be the happy, innocent parts of society. They’re not meant to be hurting themselves or others. There were many days when I’d come away feeling my work was useless.

In the eyes of primary school children, eighteen-year-old me seemed a wizened old man. They couldn’t conceive of a time when I was young. I was an adult in their eyes. I’d talk to them about what they wanted to be when they grew up, and every time I’d think – what do I want to be when I grow up? I love writing, don’t I want to at least try at that? To really focus on it and develop myself?

All throughout my years working, I had a lot of people ask about university. I also got a lot of job rejections for not having a degree. All of my colleagues who had been to University told me I should give it a chance. People who hadn’t been to University told me I should go. I began to wonder about my options. My career prospects in the education sector would be forever limited without a degree. I’d be able to do more good in the world with a full education.

At my last job I became good friends with a then-recent university graduate. She had done drama, a subject she loved. She told me how my “clever people” hang-up was nonsense. She said, quite rightly, that university was for taking chances, making friends, exploring one’s creativity. Passion for a subject is the most important reason for pursuing a degree, not one’s self-perceived “cleverness.” I realised I’d made university out to be some big serious barrier, when really it was a launching pad to so many better things.

She said, quite rightly, that university was for taking chances, making friends, exploring one’s creativity. Passion for a subject is the most important reason for pursuing a degree, not one’s self-perceived ‘cleverness.’

When I finally decided to apply, things moved quickly. I researched a bunch of universities, but Falmouth was top of my list. It jumped out, both for its wide range of creative subjects and because it was in Cornwall (best place in the world and all that). After visiting I knew it was the perfect place for me. This was a place where passion and effort were important, and well rewarded.

My first year as a creative writing student went by way too quickly. I’ve made some great friends, written some trash, written some less-trashy trash, and enjoyed every second of it. Everyone I’m working alongside have their own amazing styles and ambitions. The lecturers have been interesting and informative in so many ways. I’ve read books that I never would have picked up otherwise; some of them I enjoyed, some I really did not. But I’ve learned something new about my own writing, every single time.

I’m working towards a degree now that doesn’t necessarily take me back into the education sector, but instead, anywhere I want it to. I’ve been working on a number of projects that before I never had the time for. I’m able to consider, for the first time, careers in writing. Careers where I’m my own boss, careers where I get to create. It’s exciting, less planned out than before. The “ball’s in my court” as they say.

Best of all, no-one’s yet realised I’m not one of the “clever people.” Let’s hope they don’t for at least two more years.

by Sam Goward