I grew up in northeast Cumbria and attended the University of York where I studied a degree in Philosophy, Politics and Economics. I started my degree in September 2019 and graduated in June 2022.
Throughout school and sixth form I never had a specific career in mind, and nothing stood out to me as I got moved through my education, for example, in contrast to pursuing medicine which is a very clear route. It sometimes felt as if I was alone in this and everyone else knew what they wanted to do, however I realised later there were so many people in the same position. Hopefully, my journey through HE will show you that not having a clear plan does not limit you in any way.
Firstly, I wasn’t specific with the GCSEs I chose. As well as science and maths I also took Childcare BTEC, Food Technology and PE, all of which I enjoyed and helped broaden my perspectives on what I was interested in. Similarly for my A levels, I didn’t want to limit myself by choosing subjects that might mean my next options were restricted. After a lot of deliberation, I chose Biology, Chemistry, English Literature and Philosophy. At first, I thought I would soon be dropping Philosophy, but I really enjoyed it and after a year I stopped Chemistry instead;. I would go on to use Philosophy as a main part of my degree. This shows how important it is to try new subjects if you are interested and the opportunity is there, it might surprise you how much you enjoy something you’re initially not sure about.
At the end of my first year of Sixth Form, I was still unsure of what I wanted to do after school. There seemed to be so many different universities and so many degrees – I needed to narrow down my options, a process which was overwhelming at times.
Eventually, it was a progress meeting with my headteacher that helped me achieve this. He suggested PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) to me which I had never heard of, but it sounded perfect as I still didn’t have to specialise to an individual subject area). I knew I had an interest in politics and I was really enjoying philosophy at school. I did have some doubts, as I had never done economics before and I wasn’t currently studying maths, but the confidence my teacher had in me helped me believe this was something I was capable of. Listen to your teacher’s advice if you are not sure, because they will have a good idea of your abilities. Following this, as I had taken a while to make this decision, I was worried I was too late to visit universities on open days. However, many offer multiple open days at different points in the year. The most useful thing I found when visiting a university was how much it gave me a feel for the campus or city, as well as being able to ask questions about the course. I also found out that many universities are happy to give you a tour or more information if you miss the open day and get in contact with them; there are also always offer holder days.
I was initially disappointed on results day as I didn’t get into my first choice at Warwick, and I had decided by that point I didn’t want to do my second choice at Bristol for Philosophy and English Literature. Having had more time to think about it, I had decided I was still really interested in doing PPE, so I decided to go into clearing. This is where universities advertise the spaces they did not fill, and you can see if you might be able to get onto one of those courses. Thinking about it beforehand, I really didn’t want to be in clearing but, it was probably the best thing for me. I managed to get a place at York University to study PPE, where I was really happy and definitely felt as if it was the best fit. Looking at the modules Warwick had, I think I would have struggled as they were even more maths and economics heavy, which was my weakest area. I also loved the campus setting of York and it was closer to home which meant it was easier to get there and to visit my family.
Something I didn’t think too much about before going was whether I wanted to be in a city or campus setting, but looking back it was more important than I realised. With a campus, you are more separate and enclosed, whereas a city university can be more intense. This absolutely depends on what you think suits you better, but I would really encourage anyone going to university to consider this carefully.
Once at university, I really enjoyed my course, but I also loved the social life and all the different societies that were available – it’s a fantastic way to make friends. Particularly during the first few weeks as everyone is in the same position, and I have never known people to be so friendly! During my time at York, I did lots of sport and I got involved in my degrees committee and the student newspaper, gaining so many skills from the whole experience. My advice would try out as many new things as you can – even if you’re a complete novice. If something isn’t right, there are so many other things to try.
Have more confidence!
Looking back at the whole journey, this is something I wish I was able to implement more. I found it hard not be stressed, as the process of getting to university can be overwhelming and there is often pressure put on you by others. However, for me and my friends, we found things work out even if it’s in a way you don’t expect. I have found that if you’re looking for opportunities and trying new things then everything will fall into place.
Extracurricular activities – gain more skills than you may realise.
Doing activities you enjoy outside of school is really important. In the classroom, your grades can clearly show how good you are at a subject but there is so much to explore away from school. For example, you may really enjoy working outside and thus not like the idea of an office job. Or, you might have a creative hobby and may want to go into something that lets you have more freedom with designing and creating. The key point is that there will be reasons why you enjoy the things you do outside of school, and you can try and identify these strengths for your future.
How we can help
Hello Future is something I wish I knew about at school so I really encourage you to take advantage of all the resources we have available. The website has information about all routes into higher education, open days, as well as e-courses, workshops and much more. There are also blog posts and case studies where you can read about students from Cumbria and their higher education journey.