Hailie Pentleton describes her experience of restarting university after she decided to change her degree.
As I write this, Facebook has dragged a 2018 status update out of the void with the caption “not back-tracking, just changing course” attached to a UCAS update confirming my place here at Glasgow. It was the second time I would scroll through encouraging comments for my first year at university. After a dreadful winter studying on the east coast, I was forced to adjust my goals, learn to prioritise, and start afresh. At the time, it felt as though my entire world was falling apart and I along with it. Now, I have never been more grateful for my 17-year-old self and her decision to swallow her pride and listen to her needs. Changing course and starting over has allowed me to flourish in ways that weren’t even visible to me the first time around.
By age one-and-a-half I could read, when I turned six I penned my first “novel”, and by the time I reached 13 I had grown into that really obnoxious classmate who subsisted on books and corrected your grammar. My 10-year plan (I was that kid) always involved studying English at the University of Glasgow whilst living out my dream of becoming “a writer”. So when I packed my life into a few cardboard boxes and moved to Scotland’s sunniest city to study Psychology, it came as a bit of a surprise to a few people, not least my teachers. Before I left, an English teacher warned me that I would return to my first love eventually, but I brushed her off and insisted that I wouldn’t. I knew what I was doing.
Eager to prove to everyone, not least myself, that I was making the right decision, I spent my entire summer preparing myself to be the hardest working person on my course. I laboured over every single required, recommended, and extra reading I could get my hands on, writing meticulous notes that, in retrospect, deserved a dedicated studygram. The start of the semester came around and I was sure that I was ready for whatever life threw at me. I attended all my classes and rewrote my notes immediately afterwards. I earnestly tried to maintain the level of interest that I had kindled over summer, but quickly enthusiasm started to dwindle. Warning signs that my health was deteriorating flashed vivid shades of red. I ignored them. I assured myself that isolation, oversleeping, and under-eating was a rite of passage to the student life and not a worsening in my long-term mental health issues. Life chipped and chipped away at me until I found myself burrowed in a hole of my own creation with only one option; get out.
The thought of telling anyone I was leaving my course and starting over made me queasy. Dropping out was associated with failure and weakness. At 17, I was naive to the amount of strength it had taken to move 115 miles from home, manage a disability, achieve good grades, and admit that I simply was not happy. The immense pressure I felt to succeed and the negative stereotypes surrounding dropping-out blinded me to the fact that I was actually making the most responsible and important choice of my life so far; choosing myself. Amidst the shame and defeat, I recognised something vital; good-grades and external success just aren’t worth jeopardising your health and happiness for.
I have just completed my second year studying English Literature and Philosophy, and I’m content with where I am academically. It hasn’t been smooth sailing, but at the very least I’m on the right boat this time. Sometimes I wonder if I should have allowed myself to apply for English the first time around, or if I should have stuck it out with Psychology (I would almost be finished my degree by now ugh). Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I’m here now, I’m doing okay, and that’s all that really matters.
It feels taboo to say it, especially when university is often considered a liberal joyride, but it is okay to drop-out and start again. You are allowed to leave your vocational course for a degree in Art History. It is healthy to prioritise your own needs over perceived success. Sometimes you end up on the wrong course, or in the wrong place, or start at the wrong time. If you’re like me, maybe it’s a combination of all three. Regardless, if you feel as though you’re not where you want to be right now, don’t be afraid to explore your options. Life gets messy, sometimes we take the wrong path, and when we do, it’s okay to change course.