The idea that everyone’s life is dictated and planned for them before they are born is a terrifying thought in and of itself. In this society, everyone has to start and finish school at a specified age, and then are expected to choose at the age of 18 of what they want to do for the rest of their life. Their career path is decided based on what course they decide to undertake at university. Once the university course has been completed and the student has graduated, they are expected to secure a job.
This timeline is expected and set up, and anyone who goes against it is destined for failure. However, with times and society changing young people are steering towards undertaking alternative educational paths to open up more career paths.
Recent studies have shown how academic pressure is negatively contributing to students’ mental wellbeing. However, with times changing, should we be more accepting of people stepping away from this timeline, and adopting a path that is most comfortable for them?
After the completion of initial education at the age of 18, students are expected to pick a course at a prestigious university, preferably away from home in order to experience the once-in-a-lifetime experience that university has to offer. The smiling models on brochures are enough to sway any 18-year-old that this part of their life is essential and will bring them happiness. A student will not be asked if they want to pursue university life– instead, their life will be steered on to this path no matter what.
*Claire, a recent university graduate, is still living with her parents and is also currently jobless. Graduating did not miraculously secure her a job as promised by her teachers and seniors before going to university and instead has left Claire confused and lost. Whilst attending university she didn’t have the time to take on a part-time job and is, therefore, lacking work experience on her CV. Claire also realized, after completing her graduation, this is not the career path she wants to follow anymore. As a result of pressure from older students, family, and teachers alike she picked and spent money on a course she was never sure about.
Talking to Claire, I asked her how she feels spending time and money on something she may never use. She replied, “I didn’t want to drop out of university because I was made to believe that I would be a failure if I did. Now I wished I did or instead took a gap year and went to university when I was sure of it. This experience has given me nothing and instead has put me behind everyone. I wish I would have waited.”
Claire also told us that she has been formally diagnosed with depression and anxiety, which keeps her from doing small things on a day-to-day basis, therefore planning a career is not a priority right now.
Claire is one of many young adults who have been pressured into attending university by teachers and family at the age of 18 despite not being sure of it. This has negatively impacted her mental well-being in ways that make it hard for her to face daily challenges now. A 2015 survey conducted by the National Union of Students (NUS) showed that 8/10 students (78%) have experienced mental health issues while attending university. The lack of awareness of mental health problems in academic institutions is also massively contributing to these statistics.
Academic pressure over the years has seen a surge, which has been encouraged by parents, teachers, and academic institutions. Depression and anxiety have been pinpointed as the two main mental health issues in a high percentage of young people studying at a higher level. According to the Mentally Healthy Schools report, stress that students begin to endure in their initial education years usually transforms into anxiety if they are not dealt with.
And, according to a recent Washington Post report, the constant pressure put on students to outperform their peers and reach expectations set on them by their parents and teachers alike causes mental health issues. The study also reports that anxiety is a growing health concern for students and individuals who are suffering from this condition are unable to handle it are often seen slipping into depression. Depression is caused by the failure to achieve high grades and failing to perform up to the expectations of people around them.
According to a 2018 study, these two mental health issues have caused students to drop out of schools/colleges, turn to substance use in order to relieve stress, and in some unfortunate cases has led to suicide.
This should be a wakeup for all academic institutions and teachers to realize that every student is different. By pressuring students to go to university in order to achieve a good review rate for your school may damage the individual involved in the long run. Academic pressure should only be used to an extent where it benefits the young person involved, but using it to boost your self-confidence as a parent or teacher is wrong and it will instead trigger mental health issues within the young person.
Check out the video below in which university student Mikai talks about how the university has impacted her mental health.
The bottom line is that university is not a bad thing, in fact, it is necessary for many career paths. However, if you have just turned 18, and are not sure which career path is best for you, take a breath and take a break. Going to university can be a fun experience but if you perceive it as a daunting task maybe taking a gap year shouldn’t be frowned upon. Always remember you and your mental health should be your first priority.
*The name has been changed to protect privacy.
Photo: bantersnaps via Unsplash