University isn't the only way

It is around this time that a number of you will be told to begin your UCAS applications, even if it isn't what you want to do. Don't feel that university is the be all or end all though - there are other options!

University isn't the only way

Imagine, if you will, a packed Sixth Form common room. It's the third Thursday of August, the year is 2013, and I am clueless about what to do with my life.

Fast forward four years and I am successfully self-employed – managing projects all over the country, and keeping a steady hand on the tiller of my burgeoning career as an actor. This can all be traced back to one simple fact: my A level results weren't very good. I often compare my results to whales – they didn't come above "C" level.

So, there I was, gazing into the chasm of life with no idea what to. I spent several weeks "soul searching", trying everything to find employment - from endlessly pouring through the various jobsites and signing up to employment agencies, to going door-to-door to the different businesses in the towns surrounding.

It was hopeless. I was uninspired, unqualified, and unwilling to work a job I didn't care about. Pretty standard stuff for your average teenager that had the rug pulled out from underneath them, isn't it? But then I realised that I needed to embrace the cliché of "doing what you love", so I applied to arts organisations exclusively. Theatres, galleries, cinemas, studios, production companies. Every single one of them turned me down. I was underqualified. Who was I kidding? And then I saw it, the advertisement that changed my life.

Why hadn't I thought of it before? An apprenticeship, of course! How else to solve my issues of being unqualified for a job in the arts, having no job experience, and being unemployed? I can tell you exactly why I'd never thought of it - an apprenticeship was never an option that I was allowed to consider throughout my entire academic career. High school, sixth form, university – that was the natural order, and any designs outside of that were quashed. Any claims that uni might not be for you were met by a chorus of "What about a different course... What about a different uni, with a lower entrance criteria..." and the like. An apprenticeship was a new idea, an exciting idea.

And as it turns out, it was an excellent idea.

From that first day as a new apprentice I accomplished many things, that I would never have dreamed that I would have been able to do like starting a local arts festival (DissFest – which continues to have massive success year on year), being on the board of an innovative Arts Organisation (Unit Twenty Three CIC), having the exquisite pleasure of being a writer, administrator, and reviewer on this fabulous website (I swear Editor Tom didn't make me say that); and being the proud recipient of the 2014 CCSkills Apprentice of the Year.

Apprenticeships are fantastic opportunities, and in my experience they aren't talked about with passion even nearly enough – whether this is because few people choose to take on apprentices, or because apprenticeships have been badly managed in the past (giving them a bad name) I have no idea, but what I can tell you is that there is no greater decision I made in my life than submitting my application to work as an events administrator, and to work towards a Level 3 Diploma in Community Arts Management (supported by a Gold Arts Award).

Without that early step into the world of work I wouldn't be where I am now, and I certainly wouldn't have been where I've been.

Image: Rekha Garton Photography


Joshua Gould

Joshua Gould Contributor

Voice Web Administrator/Social Media Man/Struggling Actor/Human.
I try to get as involved in the arts as I can be, more often than not by getting up on stage, but also by reviewing shows! I'm JoshGould95 on all social media, so if you've got a show you want me to too look at, hit me up!

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  • Emrys Green

    On 14 September 2017, 17:30 Emrys Green Voice Team commented:

    Totally agree! And you've achieved so much since starting Joshua - someone to look up to :)

  • Caroline Croughan

    On 14 September 2017, 23:11 Caroline Croughan commented:

    Here, here! Many schools are far too narrow in their approach to preparing teenagers for life after school and parents aren't encouraged to help their kids look at other options either. If only I'd have been aware of what else was out there I feel I could have been much more supportive as a parent.

  • Mary Strickson

    On 14 September 2017, 23:53 Mary Strickson Contributor commented:

    This is great! As much as I loved my university degrees and would do them all over again if given the chance, I really feel that we are not made aware of all our options at A-Level and you're right, there seems to be an uncomfortable trend to automatically shepherd people into going to university without really informing them about alternatives and university isn't the right path for everyone. I feel people need to be more equipped to make their own decisions. I also feel there's too much of a pressure and rush after A Levels, whereas as has benefitted you, people need more time to consider what they really want to do in life and to have time to think about the best path to get there.

  • Luke Taylor

    On 15 September 2017, 09:59 Luke Taylor Contributor commented:

    I totally agree with this - we need to stop putting University on a pedestal and allow people to be more open about what they want to do in life and how to get there.

  • Elspeth Barron

    On 15 September 2017, 11:13 Elspeth Barron commented:

    I am so with you on this! My college didn't understand people who didn't want to go to Uni and kind of gave up on me leaving me to discover what I should do next by myself.
    I even nearly ended up going to Uni through a clearing space because I was so scared of not following the norm. I will never know if not going to Uni would have changed where I am at now but I am glad I made the decision I did.
    I now work in one of my favourite theatre's doing a job I have always wanted and without having to do a degree.
    Don't get me wrong for so many of my friends Uni or Drama School has been totally right for them as a next step but it is not for everyone and society needs to be more open to that!

  • Joanna Bailey

    On 18 September 2017, 08:44 Joanna Bailey Local Reporter commented:

    I totally agree with this. I'm in my last year of sixth form and it's true that university is "encouraged" more than apprenticeships/or other alternatives. Still, I want to keep my options as open as possible. I know lots of people who have achieved everything they wanted in both fields of higher education.

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