Was University Worth It: Film Student to Freelancer

Recently I watched a Youtube video in which one of my favourite influencers graduated from college, and it got me thinking about my own personal experiences of University and further education. I know the American college system is very different from the British programme but as she experienced her final week of study, I couldn’t help but empathise with that feeling of bittersweet relief and sadness as she finally completed her education. 

I attended the University of Nottingham from 2015 – 2018, and I studied Culture, Film and Media as my main programme. My focal course however was Film and Television Studies, so in essence I was a film student for three years, on a predominantly theoretical course. I knew I had no interest in the technological or production side of media, but I loved the analytical and philosophical approach to film so the course did suit me quite well…I just didn’t suit it. 

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Throughout my years in school, I had always been good at writing. It was my ‘thing’, my ‘identifier’ in classes and I never had any problems achieving good grades in English. The problem was that by the end of secondary school, I felt like I’d had enough of it. It felt too easy to write an essay, too easy to analyse a text, and I was getting bored through the lack of challenge. So, somewhat naively, I decided to apply for a film course instead. I ended up getting accepted into three different universities, and had initially planned to attend NTU, but by some chance I ended up attending a visit day for UoN, and I instantly fell in love. The campus was incredibly beautiful – all white stone buildings, cherry trees and a big blue lake lined by trees and ducks and rabbits. There were coffee shops in every building, Starbucks on tap and quirky old fashioned offices in grey stone towers that felt like a set piece from Hogwarts.

On this visit day, I got the opportunity to meet with one of my would-be professors, and he was this amazing teacher – he both spoke and looked like Bill Nye, and his office was filled from floor to ceiling with books. There were film posters all over the walls, a vintage bicycle in one corner and empty coffee cups balanced on stacks of paper. It was like walking into a college-movie cliche, and we had some great conversations about Baz Luhrman and Bram Stoker with cups of tea perched on our laps. The whole experience fully exceeded my most romantic, literary expectation and it was this meeting that made me decide to swap my first choice university. 

I chose self-catered accommodation, in halls right next to the campus. They would be in walking distance of the library, and the building where most of my lectures would take place, and whilst they weren’t really anything special – they did the job. I started my course in September and made some good friends, and finally got to know the layout of the campus without getting hopelessly lost. I settled into my room, decorated as best as I could and found my routine. But eventually the realisation struck – I just didn’t care about the course.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked learning and I liked getting to watch feature length films of a Friday afternoon. I liked being able to grab a coffee, sit in the library with my friends and talk about movies. But in my experience, the entire course felt more like a hobby than an education. The course load itself was fairly light – by third year, our contact hours were little more than four per week, with a few optional lectures if we were interested. We were never overloaded with work, we rarely had exams and due to some underfunded course changes, we didn’t end up studying all of the modules we’d actual chosen. In our second year, we actually ended up sharing several modules from completely different courses on topics that had very little relevance to film and television, meaning I now have far too much useless knowledge on historical international politics and the importance of street signs to ever come in handy.

But as the terms went on, I began to realise that I had no future in film. The industry was talked about so often, and in so much detail and all I could do was sit there and think ‘I never ever want to be a part of that’. I liked analysis, I loved being able to take a piece of cinema and take it apart and apply cinematic theories to it historical contexts and feminist arguments to it. I enjoyed looking beyond the screen into the deeper meanings of cinematography and costume design and set dressing. But I didn’t ever want to have a career in it.

So I muddled on through – half heartedly handing in essays and begrudgingly ploughing through my disseration. I grew more and more disinterested in the course, and more interested in what life had to offer beyond the university walls. I got an internship at a digital marketing agency – somehow, they took on this strange inexperienced girl who knew little beyond cinematic analysis and diegetic sound tropes and taught her how to be a marketer. I expanded my friendships and social circle beyond university too, taking on a part time job and bonding with graduates, adults and people who had lived full, different lives to my own.

Eventually, in my third year I even accepted a job offer for a full time freelance role before I’d even finished my degree. It was stressful, at the time, but something I felt I had to do just to keep my options open. I was running my blog as well at this point, and had begun to carve out a rough career path for myself, far away from the student title that seemed to hang over my head. I had been offered a graduate role in another workplace, but for some reason I didn’t want to be seen as a graduate, or a student at all. I was done with university at the end of my second year, and everything else just seemed like killing time before real life started.

As a student, I learned enough to pass my degree with a solid 2:1. Academically, I took in enough information to keep me just ahead of the curve when it comes to film critiques. Now I can sit in the cinema with my boyfriend and point out the significance of certain scenes or characters, or even explain why certain storylines are taking place in the order they are. But I didn’t get a career out of university. I got a hobby out of it.

However, as a human, as a growing, changing person – university was one of the best things I could have done. I came from a very small town, with little professional opportunities. The nearest college would have required a fourty minute train ride daily, and I would’ve been living at home until I was in my 20’s. I didn’t have a lot of independence or world experience, I didn’t know how to do many of the things I probably should have done. University was an escape, a comfortable stepping stone between adulthood and childhood and one I so desperately needed.

Through living away from home, I discovered endless new things about society, myself, politics, culture, relationships…I found out that I didn’t like clubbing or drinking that much. I found out that I was allowed to have valid opinions on feminism without being shut down. I found out that I really liked interior design. I discovered the importance of home, security and safety. I discovered just how important it is to rely on yourself, rather than an institution. I learned how to seek my own success, without just expecting it to fall into my lap, and how to self-motivate myself into doing more than is expected of me.

I discovered bad things too, of course. I learned that I can be lazy, and forgetful and stubborn. I discovered that everyone is kind of a mess. I found out that sometimes people let you down and break your heart and aren’t as perfect as they seem on the outside. I discovered that money and wealth is a cruel judgement of value in society. I discovered that people will use every kind of vice they can find to get through the day, even if it means disappointing others. I learned that I made the wrong choice, but I had to live with it anyway. I learned that my vision of a movie-style university experience would never actually come true. I discovered the boredom of reality, and of loneliness and of unrealistic expectations.

University is designed to be an education in a chosen field. For me, it was an education in living. It was a pointer of what to do and what not to do. What rules to obey and what rules to break. It taught me how to figure out what really matters, and how to live with regrets. I do regret things about my university experience. I regret not taking a literature course and studying books rather than screens. I regret not having more wild adventures to look back on when I’m older. I regret not living alone in my second year as I’d always planned to. I regret not writing more, not documenting my feelings and experiences for future nostalgia. I regret not standing up for myself more, and for worrying about what other people would think.

But I’m here. I’m in this flat, living this life and working this job because of university. Most of the time when we talk about our past, and ask ourselves ‘was it worth it?’ we usually just end up saying yes, because we’re scared of what would’ve happened if we’d said no. So I guess I’ll fall into that easy answer. Because of university and the experiences I had, I became who I am now. If everything in life happens like a falling line of dominoes, then I would rather be here then anywhere else. If I had taken literature, I might not have met my now boyfriend. If I’d lived alone, I might not have gotten that job in digital marketing. If I’d had more adventures, I might not be as grateful for the opportunities I get to do today.

So for me – I can sum it up as this: I wouldn’t do it again, but I wouldn’t change it either.

If you’re considering taking film and television studies, or are curious about university is the right decision for you – here’s my advice. It won’t be what you imagine, it might be worse or it might be better. Get rid of your expectations before you get there and you’ll be so much happier for it. You will learn things, and you will grow and you will change. You can change your mind about your course if you don’t like it. You can move out if you hate your halls. You can go home, you can get a job, you can do anything you want to do so don’t ever feel trapped by university – but let it show you just who you can be if you give it a chance.

Thank you so much for reading this week’s blog post. If you have any thoughts or experiences from your own time in education, I’d love to hear about them so leave them in the comments below,

Stay safe,