Although the majority of my friends chose to go to university this year, I decided instead of following my friends & doing what my sixth form kind of expected me to do, to not go to university. When I say not go to university, I don’t mean take a gap year, I mean not to go at all, and although I’m only a month into my time at college, I am so happy with the decision to not go to uni.
Firstly, before I get into this, I’m not saying uni is crap and you shouldn’t go to uni if you want to, all I wanted to achieve from writing this is to share my experience with any younger readers. It is okay to not want to go to uni, do not be pressured into it and that there are other brilliant options out there that will (despite criticism) will give you as much of a career as someone with a degree will have. (Especially if you want to go into a fashion career.)
As soon as I got into the second year of sixth form, it was pretty much expected that we were all going to Uni, it wasn’t a question of ‘are you going to university?’, it was more of ‘what university are you applying for?’ and ‘what do you want to study?’ So I went along with it I guess, even though, in the back of my mind, I had my doubts due to the struggles I had during my time at sixth form. So myself and my parents headed off to university open days to look at Fashion Media & Promotion courses in a 2 hour radius of where I lived, after many hours of going through UCAS and comparing unis. Looking back, my reluctance to not be further than 2 hours from home and close to London (so it was easy to get home) was the first sign that uni wasn’t for me and it would have been a struggle, but at the time I thought I was just being a snob! We looked at Brighton, which was awful, University of the Creative Arts in Rochester, Kent, that I actually got a place at in the end and Norwich University of the Arts, right in the centre of Norwich, that I got an interview for. Although I wanted to study fashion I chose to not look at The London College of Fashion, as I knew I was not ready to live in London, it would be super expensive and after a lot of online research I found out their student satisfaction was super low, which was a factor that was super important to me. I then decided to apply for UCA & NUA because they were (at this point) great universities in my mind, and if you going to study arts out of London, I would go check these out of you do want to go to uni. I got an interview for both, then started to build my bloody huge portfolio, brought an outfit and started to practise questions in preparation (that later turned out to be a waste of time because the tutor at UCA told me to ‘prove myself’ instead of asking me questions.)
During all this going on I decided to look at The Fashion Retail Academy as an alternative to uni. If you aren’t aware of them they are a ‘leading vocational college for specialist fashion retail courses…courses are exclusive and have been developed to provide a combination of an in-depth knowledge with hands on practical experiences… we offer the fastest route to a fashion retail career; our students secure jobs at the same level as degree graduates but on average two years quicker and without incurring the large debts associated with university study.’ (I was trying to describe it myself, but decided the FRA are probably able to explain themselves better.) When myself and my parents first read that on the website we were of course sceptical, because for them too, uni was what I had to do and alternatives weren’t explained to them let alone me, but we booked an open day anyway. As soon as the talk started I knew I wanted to go there, I thought to myself, this is so much better than University, I get the opportunities equal or better than a graduate from the courses I was looking at, I could study in the best place possible to study fashion, I would work with closely industry and have the tutors who really worked in fashion and I could do it in one year meaning, I have a year to grow into being an adult instead of being chucked into living away from home. So as soon as I got home I applied for the Level 4 Fashion Retail (Marketing & Business) course at FRA, and it just felt right, like I was actually comfortable and happy with the thought of going there unlike how I felt about university.
Although I was pretty much set on going to college instead of uni, sixth form still encouraged building our portfolio and going to the interviews. Before I went to look at FRA I really like UCA in Rochester, but as soon as I got out the car at the uni I 100% decided in that moment (in the drizzling rain) that I was not going to go there, I would do the interview for practise but I was not going to go and my parents agreed too. It turns out they really liked me and gave me a low offer on the spot, which I’ve now deferred to next year even though I know now I won’t be going! I then decided to not attend the interview at Norwich because I was so certain and happy that the FRA was for me.
(If you would like a post on the university process or building a portfolio, please let me know and I’d be happy to do it, as I have done it all!)
The application process to get onto the FRA course wasn’t too bad despite the fact it involved a maths test! I also had to do a SWOT analysis of a fashion brand and I decided to do mine on M&S, as I knew a lot about them as during this time I was doing a project about the brand at sixth form and had a lot of stats and quotes to back up my points. Then a few months later I was offered a place on the course and I was so ready to start, although it meant missing my summer holiday to enrol :(.
At the moment I’m about a month into my time at The Fashion Retail Academy and I’m loving it. I would recommend to anyone looking for a career in fashion as an alternative to uni, or just looking for a change of direction with their career (they offer short & fast track courses too), checking out their website, but above that, attending one of their open days/ evenings to really get a feel for the place. The building is amazing enough! I commute into London 2 days a week for my course, which does mean 5am wake ups and rush hour tubes to Tottenham Court Road but I know that when I graduate in under a years time, it’ll be worth it.
My course covers a range of topics: retail, digital, marketing, business and visual merchandising, and although I think at this point I want to go into digital marketing, it’s giving me a really well rounded understanding of the fashion industry and how each department works hand in hand with the other. I thought I knew quite a bit about fashion before I started, turns out I really don’t and as just a customer there’s so much we aren’t aware happens. You may be wondering how they fit so much into just 1 year, but compared to just having a few hours worth of lectures a day at uni, each class/ lecture is about 4 hours, which sounds a lot but I promise they are interesting! The class size is also fairly small compared to most universities which means that the tutors really make the effort to get to know us, and really make it clear that they are there for us whenever we need help and always publish the lectures after class to make sure we have everything down.
The biggest skepticism I have from people is that because I don’t have a degree I will loose out on ‘graduate jobs’ and I will never earn as much as people with degrees have. Recently we had an industry week where the college invite loads of different brands in to talk about different careers, I attended ones with Victoria’s Secret, Arcadia, ASOS, MAC and the stylist for the X Factor. Anyway, back to the point, a girl during the Arcadia talk asked do we need a degree for their jobs, but the talent finder for the brand told us that us having a qualification from the FRA is equal to having a degree in their eyes, but of course I will be entering the workplace at a degree level 2 years earlier than others my age which of course is a huge advantage! As the the FRA work with around 130 other brands, many other brands also view us at graduate level without the degree. On top of that the college are really focused on the industry, making sure we have all the up to date knowledge and skills and sending us out on a 3 week work experience placement in order to really engage us with the workplace.
And that is all why I chose to not go to university. I’ve already made amazing friends and really settling into the London fashion life already and the opportunities that have come alongside it. I’ve attended a showcase at London Fashion Week (I was invited to 2), attended the Burberry Exhibition as one of my classes and got an interview to be an assistant stylist on X Factor (but due to work commitments I unfortunately had to decline), and of course I’ve already learnt so much. I cannot wait what the rest of the year at FRA has for me, I’m so unbelievably happy with the choice I made.
If you want any more information/ advice about university or choosing an alternative like FRA, please give me a comment or get in contact and I promise I will get back to you embarrassingly fast!
My finishing point will be if you want to go to university, then go, but if you have any doubt in your mind and are feeling forced to go, a degree is not everything and there is alternative ways to achieve your goals.
Until next time,
(With a much shorter post!)