When I was at school, I had two choices: go to uni or get a job. Things have changed since my time, and students are now faced with a myriad of options from going to university, taking a gap year, doing an apprenticeship or applying to a school leaver programme.

With tuition fees at £9,000 per year and the doom and gloom of the current employment market, many students will – quite rightly – be questioning whether university is the right option for them. Not everyone dreams of going to university and nor should they. Each year, many top athletes, musicians and high-flying business people consciously choose not to go to university, but still go on to achieve great things.

In some areas of life however, a university degree is still essential. The benefits of higher education are endless – what you will learn both inside and outside of the lecture room will stay with you well beyond your time at university. Having gone through the process myself and spent five years advising students on how to apply to university, here are five of my key reasons for going to university…

Immerse yourself in a subject

Ever since I began my education, I had very little choice in the subjects I studied and the topics I covered. University offered me the chance to explore a subject I was really passionate about (Geography) at a place which I grew to fall in love with (London).  It felt great to be able to drill down into a subject I enjoyed rather than just skimming over things (like at GCSE or A Levels). Whether you choose a subject that you enjoy, a subject that you’re good at, or both, university offers you the chance to study a subject of your choice for three years or more in a place with excellent resources and with the guidance and tuition from experts in their fields.

Enhance your career prospects

Getting a degree from a top university will enhance your career prospects in a number of ways. Firstly, employers like the commitment shown through studying one subject for three years. Secondly, it shows that you are able to work independently and are able to flourish in a new, challenging environment (much like when you start a new job). Thirdly, your degree and the skills you learn along the way make you highly attractive to future employers. These are all great benefits, but here comes the real bonus: graduates earn 50% more than someone without a degree, which over the course of your working career this comes in at a whopping £200,000 more! Wowza!

Social life

You’ll hear plenty of people tell you to study hard whilst an undergraduate (they usually tend to be your parents), but university isn’t all about essays, textbooks and exams. University life offers a whole host of new experiences (reflected in the hectic nightlife of most university towns). They are a great place to meet like-minded people from all walks of life and provide a chance for you to genuinely broaden your horizons. The experiences will offer you the opportunity to engross yourself in a new culture and environment, and to make friends with people who you’ll stay in touch with long after graduation.

Extracurricular activities

It is unlikely that you will ever have the opportunity to take part in such a wide range of well-organised activities as you will whilst at university. You can join all sorts of clubs, societies and teams from the usual suspects like football, theatre and debating, to the fun and random things like the tea appreciation society. And the best thing is that if there isn’t a society or club for something which you love, you can just start one yourself! Whatever your interests, you can pursue them in a social capacity and the increased confidence and awareness you develop by spending time with different people will often contribute to your education just as much as your degree (I guess that you can tell that I am speaking from a whole lot of experience here). These skills and experiences you develop at university look incredible on your CV and you can reference these on job applications and during interviews, so it’s definitely worth getting involved.

Independence

Whatever subject you study, going to university will equip you with skills that can be applied not only to your academic work, but your career and personal life too. I found that independence was one of the main things I developed whilst a student. Living and studying on your own is totally different experience from my sixth form days. I learnt to cook, clean and do the weekly shop all on my own; I felt so chuffed! You’ll learn a lot in a very short space of time (some of it the hard way), and you’ll have a great time laughing about it with your new friends.

The university experience is to be grasped with both hands – there is far more to going to university than one would initially think. I went in as a naïve, 18-year old and walked out a well-rounded, highly employable 21-year old. If you’re still not convinced, talk to your teachers, speak to your family and friends or ask students in the years above about their experiences. The most important thing to remember is that this is a decision based on your aspirations, your ambitions and your career dreams – put you and your feelings first and everything else should fall into place.

I meet thousands of students at Pure Potential events each year where we help them to choose their universities and courses, learn about the UCAS application process and teach them to write an outstanding personal statement. We are strong believers in giving students the knowledge and tools to make informed choices about their future pathways. If you’d like further advice, come along to our PP: Sixth events this summer – they are free!

Tune in next week where we’ll be looking at school leaver programmes and why they are a respectable alternative to university.