There’s no shame in taking your time – by Elle Armstrong

At 18, I had no idea what I wanted. I’d been spinning plates for years (figuratively of course!) but I was yet to find my niche. The time to apply for university came around fast and I was completely directionless. At the time, I felt like everyone around me was focused on their goals and that I was entirely alone in my drifting. I felt a huge sense of embarrassment – everyone else was speeding into their futures and I was being left behind.


Getting a job and bypassing university wasn’t a specific choice, it was more of a placeholder while I did some soul searching. However, the anticipated months in employment turned into years, and at 24, I still hadn’t made up my mind. In 2016, I decided that teaching might be a good plan for me and, without much conviction, applied to a number of universities around the country as a sort of ‘dipping my toe in the water’ exercise. I didn’t know if anything would materialise, but I thought there was no harm in checking things out.


I visited a few institutions and honestly, I felt awkward. I was older than the other prospective students and a lot of the uni’s ‘pitches’ were specifically targeted to those still in school. I couldn’t relate to their ‘smooth transition’ initiatives or their attractive fresher’s packages (my days of all-nighters were long gone!) and I felt like there was nothing for me in any of these places.


My last stop was the University of Reading, which was located a little less than 300 miles from home. I’d selected UoR because of the astonishing reviews it had for teacher training, however, was unsure about whether I wanted to move so far from home. I turned up for an interview with the Primary Education team and it was completely different to anywhere else I’d been: there was no ‘one size fits all’ pitch; they asked me questions about myself; they told me about the wide-ranging demographic of students already studying at the IoE, and every utterance made me feel like I would be included and comfortable. My mind was made up.


Honestly, mature study is very different from the usual university experience, but I decided to turn what felt like a disadvantage into a reason to thrive. I endeavoured to seize every opportunity, and in my three years at UoR, I have been a student ambassador, taken a summer job at Henley Business School, supported two research projects as part of the UROP scheme and even ended up winning the Chancellor’s Award! If I’d done this whole university thing as an aimless 18-year-old with no sense of ambition, I’m 100% certain that these things would not have happened.


Now, my message is certainly not that you should defer immediately and get a job. Some people have it all worked out from the start and that’s great! But, if like me you’re unsure about your next step (be that the UCAS process or applying to graduate positions), there really is no shame in taking your time. Sometimes that extra bit of breathing room can be just what you need to get you exactly where you need to be.


Elle Armstrong

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