My Sixth Form education finally ended in June of 2016. It was the happiest day of my life to be able to walk out of the gates of that wretched school and never look back again. It is safe to say that Sixth Form were the worst years of my life, not because the courses I chose were hard (even though they were), but because of the lack of career focus. I was told I was a failure because I didn’t want to go to University. Told I was stupid; told I was throwing my life away.

University has never appealed to me. I mean, it does sound all fun and games – moving away from home and exploring a new city with newfound independence – essentially you are given a fresh start and a new life – but there was never a course I found that I was like “wow, I really want to study that!” I kind of let uni prospects drift away from me and didn’t give them a second thought. I was okay with this.

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We had a “careers day” in Year 13, where we were basically forced to write UCAS statements to use to apply to uni. Everyone around me was writing utter crap about their achievements and bigging themselves up and licking the unis arse in an attempt to get in. Honestly, writing untruthful statements about how DofE taught me to be able to “navigate myself through life”, really didn’t appeal to me. Instead, I spent the day planning my European tour and looking into places to volunteer around the world. The teachers were furious, and one removed me from the room to talk to me about the “bad decisions” I was making and how I was wasting my time by travelling and “throwing away opportunities”. I ignored her and carried on planning my tour. The careers adviser was then sent to my desk to talk to me about my plans for after Sixth Form. He said I was being irresponsible and my grades would allow me to get into a good university. None of them listened when I told them I didn’t want to go to uni. So I carried on planning my tour.

With exams approaching, I began to fall behind on work. Towards the end of my second year, I became very depressed; often avoiding classes and leaving school early to be able to escape the pressure and be in my own company. In my art or photography classes I would claim I was researching in the library for the period when really I would go home, or find an empty classroom to cry in. I started staying up late and sleeping in until midday with no motivation to get up and go to Sixth Form. I had no friends, they were all occupied with their own studies or new friendships groups or boyfriends, and I became very lonely and isolated – part of my own doing. I dropped weight, become too tired to eat, stressed because I was behind and couldn’t motivate myself to do anything about it.

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I was ranked by the teachers as one of the worst students in the year, and had to attend meetings to discuss improving my grades or removing me from Sixth Form. The teacher said to me in front of my peers “now Katie, I know you’re depressed but you’ve got to sort yourself out.” I was forced to discuss revision plans, had to have one-to-ones and talk about university. I didn’t want to go to university. I didn’t want to do anymore education after this one. They couldn’t see how sad it was making me.

I told them again and again that I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but they didn’t want to know. The teachers wanted big plans, big ambitions, big goals. I didn’t have those. I was trying to get by in my little life, taking each day as it came. I just wanted to be happy, less stressed and I wanted to travel. I wanted to travel so badly. So I did. Like I always said I would.

My boyfriend was the one that pulled me out of it. He still doesn’t really know he did. He became so unhappy in his job and suddenly I felt so responsible to succeed. I wanted to do him proud, I wanted to be able to support the both of us so he didn’t have to work there anymore. It was like a light flicked on, and I started working incredibly hard. I pulled my photography grade from a U to a B in a month and my English Literature and English Language grades from F’s to C’s. I felt so proud in my achievements. But the teachers still weren’t happy because I wasn’t going to uni.

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On the day I went in to collect my results, my boyfriend drove me to school and I went inside to get my envelope. I walked in, got my letter and left. Not one teacher spoke to me. Then we drove off, and that was it – the last time I ever had to see them again.

I got some grades I am very proud of. Very proud of. I feel like I achieved something that once I thought would be impossible – I finished Sixth Form. I hold up my middle finger to the teachers that doubted me, who to this day, still ask me when they see me if I’m going to go to uni.

My life completely changed when I left. I now do shift work in a no-pressure job, just for the moment so I can find my feet. I spend as much time as I can with my wonderful boyfriend. I’m rebuilding friendships I lost during my time of deep solitude. My favourite thing is that I can just get in my car, drive to the woods, and take my cocker-spaniel, Lola, for a walk on a Wednesday morning, no questions asked. I can visit the beach, the zoo, the park, whenever I want. I feel really free. I feel really happy. I feel like there’s no pressure, no restraints.

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I wanted to write this post to prove something. University is not the be all and end all for everyone. If you want to go, fantastic, I am so proud of you and I believe that you will succeed. I just wanted to raise awareness that not everybody is suited to the academic lifestyle. I just wanted to make sure that young people know that it’s okay to be unsure what you want to do with your life. It’s okay to take the time to figure yourself out, and travel, be adventurous and have some fun. Don’t let anyone force you be someone you’re not. Life’s to short to conform. You have time to progress and develop into the wonderful human being that you are. It’s okay to sometimes take longer than others.

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