Choosing not to go to university can feel like choosing to stop showering for a month. It goes against what’s normal and expected, often leaves people wrinkling their noses in confusion or disapproval and can lead to uncomfortable conversations for everyone involved. As someone who decided not to go down the uni route, that’s certainly how it felt at times! 

But opting out of higher education can also be a great way to step out of your comfort zone and learn a whole load. So here are three lessons I learnt by not going to university.

1. Retail work can be great 

For a long time I felt like I had to find the perfect job straight away after leaving school. It left me feeling stressed, demoralised and overwhelmed, especially as I wasn’t even sure what my perfect job was!

When I finished studying, my first job was working at Tesco (other supermarkets are available) picking peoples’ online grocery orders. It definitely wasn’t my dream career but in lots of ways it was brilliant. I have such good memories from my time working there, including highly competitive races to see who could pick groceries fastest and dressing up as reindeer during the Christmas period. Meeting fun new people challenged my thoughts and ideas. I also had the opportunity and privilege to share my faith with them. Working in retail has taught me that even if it doesn’t match the world’s idea of a successful career, God can use us to do incredible and valuable things in any job. 

2.  God defines success 

Something I often struggled with was other people’s reactions to me not going on to higher education. I received lots of well intentioned comments from friends and family saying that I should be doing something more with my life. However this just left me feeling like I wasn’t enough and had failed. 

Fortunately we have a God whose opinion of us is not based on what career path we pick (praise the Lord!). It’s always good to listen to others and weigh up their opinions, but ultimately it’s God’s opinion that really matters. Not going to uni forced me to face my own insecurities and ask myself where I place my value. I’ve learnt not to believe the lie that getting that ‘dream job’ will make me happy, but instead to listen to the truth that following and trusting God’s plan is what defines my fulfilment and success. 

3. Life’s an adventure 

After all my friends left for uni there was part of me that felt a bit left out of the adventure. But I came to realise that, just because I wasn’t joining them didn’t mean that I couldn’t have my own. So I decided to step out of my comfort zone and sign up to go on an overseas placement with Tearfund.

Spending three months living in Bangladesh was an amazing experience, and reminded me that life is full of opportunities to learn more about ourselves, the world around us and God’s plans for us. 

However my time overseas also opened my eyes to the fact that for many people around the world, life often doesn’t feel like an adventure. Instead the grind of poverty and exploitation can drain people of hope. From learning more about the impacts of fast fashion on Bangladeshi workers, to seeing the problem of plastic waste in the community I stayed with, I realised that in God’s power I can make a difference. I’m now trying hard to cut down my own plastic use, as well as choosing to buy my clothes second hand or from ethical brands that look after and pay their workers fairly. I’ve learnt to ask myself ‘how do my actions affect my global neighbours?’

The final takeaway 

So if you’re not going to university or even if you are, there is one thing I’d love you to take away from reading this – my biggest lesson of all – God is faithful. Four years on from deciding against going to university, I now work for Tearfund in a job I love, which is something that would not have been possible without God! He knows us so well and has awesome plans for our lives even when we can’t always see them. And no certificate, degree or exam result can change that.