Five graduates on why they regret going to university

We’ve heard it all before: University is the best years of our lives. But is that true, or are students sold a dream? 

Going to university is a big decision – you’re there for years, might have to leave home for the first time and now fees could rise to an eye-watering £24,000. 

Given this, a growing number of students are speaking out about their disappointment that it wasn’t worth the price tag.

When you’re told university will land you that dream job, expectations are high, and then you graduate into a brutal job market with a boat load of debt. 

It’s understandable that 65% of graduates who responded to one survey admit to having regrets about going to university. 

Regrets ranged from not feeling they ‘got ahead’ of their peers by doing a degree, choosing a subject unrelated to the career they are now in and (a biggie) because of how much it cost.

To hear these gripes first-hand, we caught up with university graduates who regret their decision. 

‘I feel like it was such a Mickey Mouse degree’

Aaron Liam Singh, 28, studied Music Business at the Academy of Contemporary Music.  

He got in through clearing in 2017, as he didn’t have the qualifications needed. 

‘I wanted to get out of my hometown and uni seemed like the best option available to me,’ Aaron says. 

The problems began straight away, Aaron explains: ‘They had problems with keeping lecturers for over three months, there was no communication between departments, we had quarterly sessions with senior lectures so we could voice our concerns and it was just one student after another saying they were dissatisfied with the quality of teaching at the university.’ 

He adds: ‘The quality of teaching at my college was so much better, and that was free. I feel like it was such a Mickey Mouse degree, that we were sold a lie almost.’ 

On top of that, there was no student accommodation available, and university leaders told students that they should try and get accommodation at the YMCA. 

Aaron ended up living between sublets until he found somewhere permanently, which he says impacted his studying. 

Looking back, Aaron wishes he would have saved money and waited until he knew for definite that he wanted to go to university. 

‘There’s no point being 60k in debt to go to university in London for something that you think might be good. 

‘I think making someone decide at such a young age what essentially do for the rest of their life is really flawed in its own right.

‘The only good thing I gained from the whole experience was the money so I could make my own connections and create opportunities for myself.’ 

We approached the Academy of Contemporary Music for comment and they have not yet responded. If they get back to us we’ll update this article with their response.

‘I realised I’d made a huge mistake’

Arietta Knežević, now 28, never planned on going to uni. Then aged 18, she moved to the Dominican Republic to stay with someone she met online and escape her home life. 

During the ‘difficult’ relationship, Arietta fell pregnant with her daughter. 

She made it back to the UK, gave birth and struggled to find work. She decided ‘to go back into education to open doors and give me and her a better chance’. 

‘Neither of my parents had ever worked and I was so determined to break that cycle,’ she added.

Back in her home town of Dundee, she started studying Politics and International Relations in 2017. 

‘By my second year I realised I’d made a huge mistake,’ Arietta reveals. 

‘I’d focused on the need to do something at uni, without thinking about the end goal.

‘I didn’t want to work in politics and didn’t know what to do with a politics degree, but it was too late to change.’

Arietta now works has a ‘great’ job as a Content and PR Executive, after the founder of the company decided to give her a chance, and has since published her first book. 

Things are going well for Arietta, but she says this is despite the degree, not because of it. 

She says: ‘By my fourth year I was terribly depressed and found it difficult to force myself through it, but I did it.’

Things didn’t get easier after graduation. ‘I received several rejections for shop and bar jobs because I now had a degree, and in their words, they were looking for long-term employees,’ she tells us.

‘Out of well over 200 job applications in the nine months following graduation, the only responses I got were rejections, the majority of which specifically mentioned my degree when I contacted them for feedback.’

Many university graduates find themselves between this rock and a hard place, unable to get on the career ladder but ‘too qualified’ for part-time hospitality work. 

Arietta believes university closed more doors than it opened, not just with jobs but also in delaying her from marrying her partner who lives in Croatia. 

‘If I earn above a certain threshold, I’ll have to pay some of it towards the biggest mistake of my life, as if it hasn’t taken enough from me,’ she adds. 

‘I sincerely wish I’d given it more thought at the time and pursued the career I wanted… instead of falling into the idea that uni is your only chance at a good career and future.’

‘It was a waste of money’

After completing both an undergraduate degree in English and a masters’ in magazine journalism, Charlotte Colombo thinks university is ‘oversubscribed, overpriced and doesn’t help you in the real world’.

Now 24, Charlotte works as a journalist, but says she ‘learnt more from freelancing and working with editors directly than I ever did with my masters’, adding that the masters’ degree was a ‘waste of money, because everything I learnt was outdated and rigid’.

Another part of the problem, she thinks, is having to decide where to go and what to study at the age of 17.  

‘I didn’t know what I wanted, so I was pushed into doing a degree that didn’t really serve me,’ she says, explaining her year studying law before she moved to English.

She doesn’t regret studying English Lit as she loves learning – but it didn’t help her get a job. 

‘I think education should be a universal right and you shouldn’t have to pay to learn,’ she adds. 

Still, Charlotte maintains that university is a valuable experience but more for the access it gives to experiences outside of the degree itself.

‘Employers were only interested in the extracurricular stuff I did, the societies I joined and when I got involved with my union and the paper. 

‘University was a good way to unlock those experiences…By bringing up the price so high you are denying [students from low-income families] the experience of social capital of societies, internships, etc.’

A spokesperson at City, University of London said:

‘We want all our students to enjoy their time at City and are sorry to hear about the experience of this student. 

‘Our MA Magazine Journalism is a highly practical course, taught by leading industry professionals which covers everything from writing news stories, longform features and reviews to producing profile pieces and multimedia content.

‘Our students also graduate with valuable skills in magazine design, subbing, law, and digital publishing and are supported to take several weeks of work experience.

‘Many of those opportunities come through our strong alumni network.

‘All of this ensures that students have the up-to-date knowledge and skills that they need to get the right job for them.

‘We are proud of the outcomes from the course for our students – for example, some of our most recent graduates have secured jobs at The Times, Daily Telegraph, VICE, Time Out, Stylist and The Independent.

‘We have an open-door policy for all our students when they are on the course to discuss any issues. We also encourage the cohort to make suggestions and give feedback through their student representatives throughout the year.’

‘It’s just an expensive life-building exercise’

Graphic designer Smitesh Mistry, 27, says he taught himself more than his degree in Product Design BSc from Brunel University London ever did.

‘Going to uni was more about providing us with the tools, but not really teaching us how to use them,’ he argues.

‘A lot of the skills useful to me landing my first job, was learnt via online learning platforms like Skillshare.’

Smitesh didn’t have the stereotypical uni life of partying all the time and making loads of friends, but it did help him gain a little confidence and pushed him to get where he is today.

However, he still feels he could have taught himself using the internet and been in a better position much sooner – because that’s exactly what he did after graduating and had no luck with jobs. 

He felt lost, realising he’d learnt more about getting good grades than how to do well in life.

Eventually, he found a job at Cineworld. Two years later, during his closing shift, he thought: ‘What am I doing? I have a degree and I’m cleaning the floors at midnight.’

The next day, he started ringing local agencies to ask if he could work for free. 

Eventually, he found something he could do during the day, while shifting at the cinema at night for income. It was then that he came across Skillshare and used it to learn graphic design. 

‘I started watching classes every day after work in order to upskill but also use the projects from there to build a portfolio. 

‘It’s the skills that I learnt after uni that have secured me the jobs I’ve had since.’

He adds: ‘During the degree, the regret didn’t really hit me as I thought “this is what I want to do”. It was more towards the end when I realised that I had just been teaching myself the whole time and paying for privilege.’

In Smitesh’s experience of the creative industry, your portfolio is more important than grades. 

He concludes: ‘Uni is good if you need to be told what to learn, but if you are curious and disciplined enough to self-learn and teach yourself, then I don’t think uni is needed for education – it’s just an expensive life-building exercise.’

We reached out to Brunel University for comment. A spokesperson replied: ‘Our design degrees are delivered by experienced academics and industry practitioners, and are focused on developing our students’ commercial awareness, technical skills and ability to innovate.

‘The practical knowledge they gain by the time they graduate – through workshop training, industrial briefs, placements with businesses and supported self-learning – provides them with a head start for careers, including those in product design, sustainability, and materials and manufacturing. 

‘As a result, the Complete University Guide 2023 ranks us as the top university in the country for Art & Design graduate prospects.’

‘The idea you will earn more after university than a non-graduate still feels like a myth’

University did teach Alejandro Bello Perez one thing: perseverance. 

The 29-year-old co-founder of recruitment firm Recrewit started university at Portsmouth in 2013 studying Bsc Economics, Finance & Banking. 

He then transferred to LSBU and studied pure Bsc Economics. 

Alejandro says: ‘Portsmouth was a great experience both personally in terms of becoming more independent and socially. It was also a great way to realise that Finance wasn’t for me.’

Meanwhile, LSBU was a completely different story.

‘A lot more mature students, we were the guinea pigs as in we were the first year of BSc Economics at the uni,’ Alejandro tells us.

‘Some of the lecturers actually tried to help others really didn’t care. We barely had any face-to-face time with our tutors, instead of learning students memorised the subjects as it was quite clear what was going to be in the exams.’

Six facts from the LSBU Economics Course

We shared Alejandro’s claims with LSBU, who responded to note these facts:

  • Face to face teaching time: In 2015 LSBU Economics courses had 12 hours of face-to-face teaching for students.
  • Economics university league table ranking: LSBU Economics courses were ranked 1st in London for course satisfaction, teaching satisfaction and feedback satisfaction by Guardian University League Tables in 2021.
  • LSBU Economics graduate employer examples: LSBU Economics students who graduated in 2017 work for leading business organisations including Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan & BNP Paribas.
  • LSBU graduate earnings: Median LSBU graduate earnings is £26,600 after three years.
  • LSBU student & staff success: LSBU Business School students & staff won six national awards in the past year including Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) and Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM) Awards.
  • LSBU employability support: Every LSBU student is offered access to LSBU’s Employability Service during their studies and for two years after graduation. Our Student Enterprise team help LSBU students start their own businesses and develop entrepreneurial skills.

Alejandro wished he’d started working instead, but he wasn’t 100% sure what he wanted to do. 

‘However, if I did know I think I would have been ahead or where I am now and definitely in not as much debt,’ he muses, adding that uni is not worth the money as it doesn’t live up to expectations. 

‘Right now I am around £45k in debt (last time I checked, probably more now). I came out of uni into a £20k basic recruitment job, the “you will earn more after uni than a non-grad” still feels like a myth.

‘And to put it in a nutshell, I can barely remember anything that I studied. I do remember how much money I owe for the pleasure though.’

We reached out to LSBU for comment and they responded with a quote from Louis Christopher Franklin-Pugh, a LSBU BSc Economics student between 2015 and 2017.

Speaking about the LSBU Economics course he said: ‘The education side was amazing, with all of the lectures well planned and informative.

‘I also always felt prepared to complete coursework or my exams. I liked the range of teaching that the degree gave, so that, as well as economics, I learnt business skills, communication skills, quantitative skills and about marketing and corporate communication.

‘I had the best experience at LSBU and have learnt so much here.

‘Dr Peter Luke and Christina Anderl make a great economics team and were always there to support all of us through our work.’

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