Is 18 years old too young to go to university?

Going to university in the UK is almost seen as a rite of passage, especially in this century where student loans are available to fund the (usually) three years of partying, new experiences, learning about life, making friendships, and of course studying. Not everyone goes to university but a record number of young people went to university in 2018. Of course, not everyone also goes to university once they leave school, with some people learning whilst being a mature student, whether that be in their 20s, or at any point during their lifetime. However, many people do achieve their A-level results and go to university straight away, at the age of eighteen. But is eighteen years old too young to take on a potentially life-changing few years, which is full of experiences that can’t be predicted? In this article I will examine both definitive answers this question has – yes, eighteen is too young, or no, it is not.

Yes – 18 years old is too young to go to university

Just because people are capable of going to university after they finish their A-levels at (usually) eighteen, doesn’t mean that they have to, or at least go straight away. Some people know exactly what they want to do next, while others may be unsure. To put pressure on those who are unsure to choose what course to do when they may not know what it is they want to do with their lives is not ideal; why don’t they spend time working out what it is they want to spend a few years learning about? I think there generally are two types of university student; the student who has a career goal in mind, and the student who is going to university to get a qualification – they are not the same thing. Career-goal students, with careers such as teaching, those in the medical profession, and skills based qualifications such as accountancy usually bring with them a clear job path. Even though finding a job has the potential to be difficult, the student usually has an idea of what they want to do and how they will use the skills they learn whilst at university. They also usually have a job role in mind, one which can be obtained directly from achieving their university award. On the other hand, the qualification-obtaining student is highly likely to have next to no idea what they want to use it for. There are so many ambiguous course subjects which fuel such thoughts, but I suppose there are also a lot of jobs that can use certain skills that university experiences ‘train’ students for. Writing essays, for example, usually involves a student having a lot of discipline; the discipline to plan, research and write a piece of work that is coherent and written to the guidelines given. These skills can allow students to go to future employers and explain how what they learnt at university can help their organisation, and making them the ideal candidate for the position they have applied for. With there being so many ambiguous courses available to students straight out of school, it could be seen as being the next step in their lives with them not actually knowing what the future steps will look like. And why not spend three years working out what they want to do? Well they may then realise they are doing the wrong course and they don’t want to be studying what they are studying at that point. Whatever age people are, not everyone knows what they want to do with their lives, but to expect every person to know that at eighteen is definitely too much to ask for. It is not always a bad thing to go through changing courses or universities because of things realised when people have actually gone to university, but this is subjective, and some students may hate having to change their lives all over again. I think that at eighteen years old, people do not always know what they want in their life and therefore it could be seen as being too young to decide where they spend the next three or four years of their life, and receiving a loan of thousands and thousands of pounds for.

No – 18 years old is not too young to go to university

In the UK, by the age of 18 people can gamble, drink alcohol, get a tattoo, vote and enlist in the army, among many other things. Choosing to go to university, compared to those, could be seen as not being as big a deal as, for example, getting a tattoo. Why? Because it can be undone if needed – people can defer, transfer and quit if they want to without too much upheaval. University also gives people independence. For eighteen years, they may never have been responsible for washing their own clothes, cleaning their own room, shopping for their food, and having to budget the money they have. While most students will probably struggle to adjust at first and ask their loved ones for advice on how to do things, they will eventually learn and it becomes second nature to stand on their own two feet. These types of things are all part of a learning curve and one that most people will need, and want, to go through at some stage in their life. Why can’t it be at university?

For most people, at eighteen years old they can’t wait to actually be a grown up and experience new things in their life. University allows for a complete lifestyle change, especially if they move away from home, into university halls or student rented accommodation. Even those who live at home can experience a new way of learning and working, meeting new people, and begin to and carrying on focusing on their future beyond university. I’m sure that for every person who doesn’t know what they want to do with their life, there is one person who does, or at least has an idea, which then leads them to choosing a subject area to study at university. While not knowing what they want to do may seem like a waste of time if they study something they don’t end up using in their life, it may actually help them work out what they do want, and this may not happen if they didn’t go to university to at least try it out. Therefore, eighteen years old isn’t too young to try new things, and if they don’t work out, is it really the end of the world?

So is eighteen years old too young to go to university? Well, yes and no. To answer this question definitively would depend on the type of person and the circumstances surrounding their university experience. There are many factors that make up such an experience; accommodation, interactions with people, money, and the course itself, among many other ones that will always be subjective to the student. Some eighteen year olds may be able to cope with the potentially complete upheaval of their lives when they move away and experience a brand new life, while others may struggle with the changes and not understand why everyone thinks university is such a good thing to do. Eighteen years old is potentially too young to go to university; people who would say ‘no’ may have had the best years of their life, while those who would say ‘yes’ could be those who struggle with such life changes – the answer to this question is always going to be subjective, but shows that not everyone will have the same experience, which should always be remembered. If I have to give a definitive answer, I would say ‘no it isn’t too young’, but it should also be remembered that not everyone knows what they want to do with their lives as soon as they finish school – some don’t even by the time they retire! In the conveyor belt world of school then university, there will always be people who don’t have the best time, but it’s not necessarily their age that is the factor behind this. And if someone finds university difficult then it’s perfectly fine, as not everyone does. But one thing is certain – it is definitely a stepping stone into the real world.

Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)

Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach