It wasn’t until I got into my twenties when I realised that actually, maybe University wasn’t such a terrible idea for me after all. I was working as a Visual Merchandiser for Topshop at this time, and although I enjoyed
After months of weighing up all of the pros and cons and changing my mind about 7983385 times, at the age of 23, I finally decided to begin my University ‘journey’. I was scared, happy, excited, apprehensive; all of the emotions, all at the same time! But, deep down, I knew that this was the right time for me to start. For me personally, gaining those few extra years worth of both life experience and work experience first was absolutely essential. It was during this period of time that I was able to mature as an individual, to increase my strong work ethic and also to figure out exactly ‘what I wanted to be when I grow up!’.
Making my choices
It turns out, that making the final decision to actually go to University was just the beginning of this extremely long process. Once I had made that choice, I then had a bunch of other things to think about and choices to make too. What course did I want to study? Which one was I most experienced for? What was the best choice to gain knowledge for my ideal job? What University did I want to go to? Which one has the best facilities for my needs? What University have I got the most chance of getting accepted at? Honestly, the list was endless. My head was in an absolute shambles for months on end and all of my notebooks were full to the brim of spider-diagrams and brain-storms. Getting the thoughts out of my head and onto pieces of paper really helped in making my options clearer..and it kept me sane too!
Starting with what I wanted to study. I always knew that I wanted to do something within the fashion industry, but at first I was unsure of exactly what. Being a thriving industry which is growing rapidly by the day, there are an abundance of different roles and routes to explore in fashion; designing, creating, researching, marketing, styling..It is a forever ongoing list! To help with this decision, I reflected back on my time in school when I was studying design and textiles and also to the time when I was working at Topshop doing styling and merchandising. Both of which are aspects to do with fashion, but both are very different avenues. When thinking back to school, I remember absolutely loving my fashion studies. During the two years I had to research upcoming styles, design garments, make those garments and then come up with selling techniques for them as well; I really did learn a lot of valuable skills for all of the areas of fashion. When I left school and went on to work at Topshop, my job role was mainly based around styling outfits, visual merchandising displays and finalising sales. Behind the scenes, it also involved a lot of paper work, marketing strategies, and research on the different trends being forecasted; It was very much a business focused position to work within. Thinking about both of these experiences in depth, I realised that as much I enjoyed designing garments when I was younger, it was not necessarily something which I wanted to do now. As I have gotten older, I have definitely gained a stronger interest into the more business sides of the fashion industry. Funnily enough, my lecturer at University always tells me how I have got such a business minded way of thinking..So, I guess I made the right decision when I chose to study a marketing course! The course which I am currently studying is ‘Fashion Marketing and Communications’ and after just a year I can already tell it is the perfect course for me. I am constantly intrigued to learn new marketing techniques and I am eager to increase my knowledge in order to progress.
When choosing which University I wanted to go to, it was decision which actually came fairly easy to me. Although there are a ton of incredible Universities out there..Some of which are better adapted to particular courses than others, I always knew that I wanted to be close to home. I did not overthink about the status of the University, or where they ranked on the hierarchy list; I mean, of course that is important, but for me, I knew I wanted to be close to my family and friends and that was the upmost important thing. Even though I applied for five different Universities, there really was only one which I was praying to get in to, as it is the only one which is in driving distance from where I currently live. I applied at London College of Fashion, Coventry University London, University of Chester, Nottingham Trent University and De Montford University. Much to my amazement, I was lucky enough to get accepted at all of them with Unconditional offers, but there was no questioning where I would be attending..The University of Chester was always the one I wanted, so I immediately accepted and submitted it as my firm choice!
My application process
Applying for University is typically a drawn out process which takes a lot of time and patience. First there is the whole UCAS application form, then there is the personal statement, then there is the interviews, then there is the student finance applications..There is a lot to do and it honestly seems like it is just never ending questions and forms. For me, applying was actually quite a nerve wracking time. When looking at what courses and Universities I wanted to apply to, it quickly became apparent that every single one of them desired entry requirements which I did not have. They were all asking for either a certain amount of UCAS points from a college education, a BTEC in Art, or an Access to Higher Education course specifically in Art and design..But, all I had was my eleven GCSE’s, an Access to HE course in Health and a lot of valuable work experience in the fashion industry.
Struggling to know what my options were without having the full entry requirements, I decided to ring up the University of Chester and ask for any advice they could give me. In short, they basically told me that without gaining the essential requirements, I would not get accepted. At this point, I was pretty devastated to say the least. I thought that my only choice was to go back to college for another year, to study an art based course. I took a few days to reflect and think, and then I decided that rather than give up, I was just going to apply anyway. I mean, what did I have to loose? The worst that could happen is that I’d get turned down and not go to University until the following year, which is what would of happened if I’d not applied anyway. I thought that it was at least worth a shot. I filled out the UCAS application giving all of my previous education history and then I mainly focused on writing an amazing personal statement which highlighted all of my strengths. I went into depth about my love towards fashion, the intensive work experience that I had already had in the industry, the valuable traits which I have as an individual, and I expressed why I believed I should be given the opportunity. It took me a couple of weeks to get perfect, but once I was 100 percent happy with it, I pressed submit and played the waiting game.
After my previous phone call with the University of Chester, I had pretty much convinced myself that I wasn’t going to be offered anything..It was one of those, expect the worst but hope for the best kind of scenarios. Well luckily for me, all of that hoping paid off in the end! After waiting for what seemed like a lifetime, I finally heard back from the University of Chester. I thought I was seeing things at first, but what I was reading was definitely right..I had been asked to come to an interview at the University! I cannot even describe how over the moon I was, but I also think I was in a bit of disbelief too. HOW WAS THIS HAPPENING?!
I had just a couple of weeks to fully prepare for my interview, which I spent pulling together a portfolio of recent work along with all of my old textiles work too. As the interview got closer, I was a complete bag of nerves, but I also knew that I was as ready for it as I could be. My interview lasted about 20 minutes in total and it went incredibly well..It turns out, there was nothing to be nervous about! She just looked through my work, asked a few questions and that was it, over in the blink of an eye. After my interview, I didn’t even have to wait 24 hours before hearing back off of them. My UCAS Track updated and I had been given an unconditional offer. The feeling of seeing that was indescribable; I was scared because the realisation hit that it was mow actually happening, I was proud because of what I had achieved, I was ecstatic about the fact that I got the course I wanted at the University of my choice. All of the emotions just come flooding to the surface, and even though I had been dreaming about this moment for a while, it was still a lot to take in.
It might have been a long application process, however, it was undoubtably worth the wait. And, if I learnt anything from this, it was to always be persistent and not give up; If you want something bad enough, you can make it happen. YES, I AM LIKE A WALKING CLICHE!
Living at home
Amongst all of the harder decisions that I had been making on the run up to starting University, it was actually refreshingly easy to make this one. The main reason behind why I wanted to go to a University which was close to home, was so that I was easily able to live at home and travel every day, rather than live in halls on campus. Most people thought I was crazy for making this choice, and all I kept hearing from everyone was, “but to get the full experience of University you have to live in halls”. Yes, to some extent I do agree with that statement, however I knew it was not the right option for me deep down. Maybe if I was still 18, my decision would of been different, but at 23, I did not want to be living in halls. I love my own house and enjoy my own personal space far too much, so packing up to live in a little flat with lots of other people just did not appeal to me at all..Also, not being able to have my dog with me was pretty much a deal breaker! Not only that, but for many lifestyle reasons, living at home really did seem to be the most sensible choice for me. I have a job here which I cannot afford to leave, it works out cheaper for me to travel daily instead of paying for student accommodation, I have friends and family here that I don’t want to leave, I have a boyfriend who I want to be close to..And many other factors played in to the final choice too!
In honesty, I did get slightly worried that I was going to get sick off all of the driving within just the first couple of weeks. But, it has been a year now and it really is not as bad as I initially anticipated. It takes me just over an hour to get to the University campus from my house, and most days it is a pretty straight forward drive with very little traffic on the roads.
As much as I sometimes get envious of all of the girls being together, making memories and having the best time in their accommodation, I still know that I have made the right decision for me to commute, and I definitely would not change the decision.
Building lifelong friendships
In all honesty, this was one of the aspects that I was most nervous about when it come to starting University. I am naturally quite a guarded and shy individual, and for someone like that, it is not always the easiest to mingle and make new friends. Especially as older that I get, making new friendships just seems a little more daunting! Unlike most of the other people in University, I hadn’t been to freshers, I hadn’t moved in to accommodation and in general, I hadn’t had any communication with other people at my campus or on my course. So, come the morning of my first day, I was prepared to feel like a fish out of water. All I was thinking was; Are they going to be welcoming? What if I don’t make any friends? What if the girls find me strange? What if I make an absolute ass out of myself? ..WHAT IF? WHAT IF? WHAT IF? It was a vicious cycle of rhetorical questions going through my mind, working me into a state of unnecessary panic! Anyway, I pulled up my big girl pants, put a brave face on, and walked into the fashion studio. All of the girls were already in there, (As in typical Alicia style, I was running slightly late..Not a good start I know!) and much to my amazement, there were only 11 of us in total. I was greeted with smiles from all of them, and was instantly made to feel comfortable. After a year of working closely with them all, I can honestly say that I couldn’t of wished to be with a nicer group of girls. Each and every one of them is so lovely and so down to earth, and with us being such a small group we all get on so well together.
Three of the girls in particular that I have met, I can already tell are going to be lifelong friends. We laugh together, drink together, confide in each other, get stressed together, and I already cannot wait for another two years of making the best memories with them. Even if it is just for meeting them, University is one hundred percent worth it!
Dealing with the workload
After being out of education for so many years, the thought of taking on the workload of University initially terrified me. I was so uncertain about how I was going to manage getting back into the routine of having to do research, write essays and meet deadlines on a weekly basis; especially when it had to be done along side working a part time job too. I knew it was going to be a big change for me, so to help make the transition slightly easier, I made sure I planned my weekly schedule well in advance. With my course lectures being on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday every week, I arranged with my work that I could do shifts for them every Thursday and every Sunday. This then gave me Fridays and Saturdays spare to get my University work done and to have some ‘me’ time too.
I am not going to lie, at first, it was really bloody difficult; I didn’t know whether I was coming or going. I was trying to hold down a job, focus on my studies, continue to write my blog, maintain a social life, make time for my relationship, spend time with my family, as well as doing all of life’s necessities like staying hydrated, keeping well fed and getting a decent amount of sleep each night. It seemed impossible to keep up with it all, and I knew that something had to give before I completely burned myself out. I am all for working hard, but more often than not, burning the candle at both ends doesn’t lead to the best results.
As much I wanted to prove that I could do everything, I soon realised that in reality, it wasn’t going to happen. To have the best chance, I soon had to learn the art of prioritising and accept that some things were just more important than others. Unfortunately, the first thing to take a back seat was my blog. I absolutely hated this as my blog was something that I was becoming increasingly proud of an excited about, however, I knew that my studies had to take priority in my spare time. I still created posts occasionally, but nothing compared to as many as I wish I was publishing. It was just one of those things though, and I had to learn to not beat myself up about it. As well as my blog, my social life definitely took a slight hit as well. I had to turn down plans with friends and family in order to meet deadlines, and sometimes my one day a week with Josh would even be spent finishing off University projects. Although it was a hard adjustment to begin with, I was determined to study hard and do well. And it was all made worthwhile when it evidently paid off in the end and I finished year one at University with a First!
Now I have finished first year and gained results like that, I like to think that I have successfully managed to find my happy-medium and come up with a good balance that works well for me. However, going in to second year where the workload is going to increase and there is more pressure on achieving good grades, I am cautious that this could all change..Lets not worry about that just yet though!
My final University thoughts
Choosing to leave full time work and go to University at the age of 23 is quite possibly the scariest adventure that I have ever embarked on, but I have no doubt in my mind that it was right choice for me. Looking back now, I am actually so glad that I decided to wait that little bit longer, as it gave me chance to gain experience and knowledge whilst I was figuring out exactly what it was that I wanted to do with my career. I mean, from as early as primary school and throughout the whole of high school, we are all asked ‘What do you want to be when you are older?’..But really, who the hell knows when you are so young?! Even at 17, I still did not have a clue how to answer that question, which is why I went out in to the world of work for a few years..So I could find out what it is I have an interest in doing! Far too many people that I knew went straight to University ‘just because’, and that was something that I had zero intention of doing. Of course, I am not judging anyone for doing that at all, it was just something that I personally did not want to do.
I am so grateful for my experience at Topshop as a visual merchandiser and for my time I have spent getting into blogging, as it is these two things which made me realise that fashion is something that I am not only interested in, but something that I am also pretty good at too! Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle now to define an answer for what job role I hope to have, but as my studies go on, it is definitely becoming more clear to me.
My first year at the University of Chester has been an incredible experience for me so far. I have had the highest highs which have made me feel so motivated, and I have also had the lowest lows which have made me want to drop out, but all in all, I wouldn’t change any of it. Now, I am just super excited to see what the following two years bring for me.
To stay updated with my University experience, more posts are here which you may enjoy.