What a university prospectus doesn't tell you | Rebecca Jane column

We’re firmly underway with graduation season and the intake of fresh new students, ready and willing to conquer the world of education.

Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 3:45 pm
Updated Wednesday, 15th September 2021, 5:00 pm
Rebecca Jane

This week, I ‘graduated’ as a ‘Bachelor of law with honours’, I actually graduated 18 months ago, but...well, COVID!

It was 7 years ago this month that I was one of those fresh faced students too, although I was 29 and not so ‘fresh faced’. I was happy in my working career, but I always felt unfulfilled that I hadn’t taken the university route.

Law had been a passion since I was a child.

I remember heading to the library to take out legal textbooks! After owning a company that worked in the family legal field, I thought it would be a ‘fun’ idea to go and complete that lifelong mission.

In my mind, working full time and having a family would be a breeze alongside law school.

I didn’t really understand the gravity of what I’d signed up for. Let’s face it, a university prospectus doesn’t even scratch the surface. Let’s talk about the true price of being able to wear this (rather ludicrous) outfit & take this very dramatic picture.

Behind every graduation picture, there is a story of the decisions someone took to get there, the path they went on and what they achieved.

I can’t speak for everyone, I can only speak for myself, here is my journey to a law degree...

WHAT THE UNI PROSPECTUS SAYS YOU GET & ‘THE PRICE’:

1 law degree

A few letters after your name

Costs from £30,000 up to £90,000.

1 Fancy ceremony (think of a cross between a church, a wedding and a funeral, all at the same time).

A fake scroll

A very real piece of paper.

The opportunity to take dramatic pictures.

The truth? You absolutely get all of the above, and…

THE ACTUAL AMOUNT OF WORK…

12 written exams

Over 400,000 written words.

8 verbal assessments.

Around 500 lectures

Around 8,400 working hours.

The ability to recite up to 1,200 legal cases over 4 years.

Then there is the unspoken ‘PRICE YOU PAY’.

Yep. It cost me over £70,000. Not over it and I never will be. The cost of education today is disgusting. Where on earth is the sense in saddling 18-year-olds up for a lifetime of (more than likely unpayable) debt all because they want to better themselves?!

Education costs you your sanity. Especially every February to June when exam season descends.

Missing life events with family and friends. My children barely saw me. My mother will tell anyone she meets that she deserves a degree for the amount of support my parents gave, and she is absolutely right. I couldn’t have done any of this without them.

Stress. Unprecedented amounts. I came out with first class results in year one and two, but I failed my third year. I spun too many plates and didn’t recognise when it was time to stop.

Ultimately that meant my mental health was entirely broken. I ended up taking two years out to recover, which is one of the reasons it took me so long to qualify. (I did re-sit and passed 3rd year with a 2:1! Miracle)

During the first round of my third year, I thought it was entirely pointless even trying to stay in the process. If I’m honest, I never expected to go back after my break either.

The encouragement of family, friends, tutors, the law school and one very supportive boss meant I was able to return! Thank God I did.

I certainly developed a borderline questionable relationship with alcohol. Whilst I’m not proud to admit that, I think it’s more important to break the stigma around it.

I saw so many of my fellow students turn to various substances to withstand the pressure, and ultimately I promise, there are better ways to cope.

I made connections and friends for life.

One of my former lecturers is now on the books to work for my company, and that circle has been incredible to complete. I met a lot of wonderful tutors who are genuinely passionate about helping their students thrive. Many go above and beyond their call of duty and I can only encourage anyone who struggles to reach out, not only are tutors there for that reason - the majority do it because it is their vocation in life.

Tears. You’ll lose count. It’s time to make peace with that before you even start, let the emotions flow. Accept what you can change, and let go of what you can’t.

Endless sleepless nights. I already promise you, stressing about that piece of coursework due in two months time or the immense amount of information required to pass degree exams, is simply not worth your sanity. Protect your peace as best you can.

If you’re like me, you’ll also end up with three counsellors, one psychiatrist and hours spent trying to fix your mental health. And that is ok, too.

I was offered time out when I started going through my divorce in second year, but that felt like total failure. Ultimately, with the failure of my third year, I was left with no other option. I was forced to stop, get the help I needed and I came back ready to finish what I started. Help is always available, you just have to not give up… and I don’t mean giving up on your studies, just don’t give up on yourself.

Caffeine addiction. I got a first class result in that.

Some bits will never make sense. You’ll study modules you hate, you’ll study modules you just don’t understand. I even studied EU law the year we left the EU. That felt like an entire waste of time, but everything makes sense in the end.

The modules ultimately come together to create one superior, complete and detailed picture. Life means we have to do things we don’t like and don’t make sense, university is preparing you for that!

I gained a priceless ability to know I can meet any deadline! You can throw whatever amount of work at me you like. I now know It will get done, and it will all work out in the end.

You will build resilience to a level you didn’t know existed.

One of the biggest lessons the tutors won’t teach you... ‘If I can overcome this, I can overcome anything’. Remember that when the journey gets too hard.

When times get tough, you’ll learn there are amazing people ready and waiting to help you get through this. Times will get tough, you’ll question why you ever started, you may give up and you’ll certainly question if you can finish this epic journey - but all you have to do is reach out. Struggling is ok, it is all part of the process. People are there, willing, ready and able to help you. Never be too afraid to ask.

If you achieve nothing else through getting a degree, I promise you will come away with the knowledge that if you achieve nothing else in life...this is something to be proud of.

So, to conclude for today...

A graduation picture is not just ‘a graduation picture’. The next time you see a graduation on socials. Know that it isn’t just a dramatic picture, there’s a whole story behind what it took to get that person there.

Every single person who completes university and gains a degree has worked incredibly hard, and achieved one of life’s biggest achievements.

To the people starting out in university life this month, you may be straight out of college, you may have left your job to pursue a lifelong dream.

You may even be juggling a job, family and you have no idea how you’ll make it work, but you will make it work.

The journey may not be perfect, there will be setbacks along the way, embrace the process. In the end, I promise it will all be worth it.

To my fellow graduates, the classes of 2020, and the classes of 2021 - whatever your university, and whatever your course. I wholeheartedly salute you. Congratulations.

P.S - I’m legally blonde now...