£45,000 in debt and no job at the end – is a UK college degree more worth having?
Albert Tait, 20, was six weeks into his first term at the University of Glasgow when he began to think seriously that university was not for him. “I arrived full of optimism and it didn’t even occur to me that I wouldn’t finish the four-year course,” he says. “I had survived the lockdown, got the baccalaureate I needed to study history, and spent a disastrous year trying, and failing, to travel. College was the next step in a straight line of education and everyone I knew was going there.
The first few weeks were good. “I bought a houseplant, joined the hockey club, got a bad tattoo, and wrote for the student newspaper. I was very fond of my roommates, we played a lot of cards, drank in many pubs and stood in line at many clubs. I even had a badly paid job.
The problem was that Tait was starting to not believe why he was there anymore. His course consisted of three hours of lessons per week taken in person, and everything else was delivered online. “Counting the college strikes and Cop26, I attended just 15 in-person conferences in the three months I was there,” he says. “I found myself half-heartedly writing essays and watching my online tutorials at three times the normal speed.” At the same time, the funds in his bank account were dwindling. “I waited for it to fall into place, but it never did, and I woke up one morning and just thought, ‘I don’t want to be here. “”
It took him three days to make the final decision. “I listed the pros and cons, tossed coins, called my mom, told my roommates I was leaving, then staying, then leaving, called my mom back, and finally emailed to my study advisor to tell her that I wanted to drop out.
Tait received a brief email back – and that was it. “It was disappointing – but so was my time at college.”
He had expected coming home to be depressing, but he quickly found himself enjoying it. He started working as a Waitrose delivery driver to earn some extra cash, and after three months got a job as a reporter at his local newspaper.
“I’m part of a program run by Facebook to get young people into journalism,” he explains. “It pays off for local newspapers to hire someone without a degree, who will then be trained to pass their journalism exams. I now know that I want to be a journalist and I believe I can do it without a degree.
He still has pangs about the friends he left behind, but he hasn’t regretted his decision to leave college. “At the time, I felt like I was lost. Looking back, I never realized there was another option.
“I know there will be jobs I can’t get without a degree. I will never become a teacher or an academic, but I don’t want to do either of those things. It seems like college is great for keeping your options open, but that matters less when you know what you want to do.
“It is already clear to me that so much about journalism can only be learned through experience. Confidence, resilience, the little black magic. I learned more in two months than I could have in four years of college.