Should We Invest in Life Experiences Over Education?

In a time where England boasts some of the most expensive university tuition fees in the world, I pose a question to you. Should young adults start investing their money into life experiences more so than education? And flip that on its head, could they in fact learn just as much from doing so?

Of course, education is important, and we are extremely lucky to live in a country where we have a good education system in place, but with fees up to £9,250 per year and the majority of courses lasting three years, students are leaving university with at least £27,750 worth of debt just from fees alone, and on average, £40,000 worth of debt overall – all before even entering the workplace! And although Teresa May has proposed a cap on this, is it still a price that students should simply not be willing to pay?

In an ideal world, of course you would get as much education as possible, but what if you decided to spend £40,000 on experiences instead, such as travelling or moving out and working your way up in a career?

Where could you go, what could you see and more importantly, what could you learn from other experiences that would teach you valuable life lessons, to go on and thrive in the working world in the future? Could you in fact gain different, but just as valuable skills along the way?

Of course, further education is a must in certain fields but in others, personal skills would almost certainly suffice. It can’t be overlooked just how important emotional intelligence is in the workplace and it’s certainly something we should look to build on as individuals, if we want to take our business skills to the next level. If you look at many great leaders and entrepreneurs, they don’t necessarily have grades, but what they do have is emotional intelligence and perseverance.

How many times in working life have you had to try and win over clients or colleagues in order to gain their support and drive business forward? I bet the amount of times is countless.

People disregard how important emotional intelligence actually is and in my opinion, it’s something that can only be learned through interacting with many different characters and experiencing how many different people there are in the world.

This applies to so many different industries. In PR, build a great rapport with your clients and journalists and you’re more likely to get products featured. In recruitment, get skilled in talking to businesses and building solid relationships and you’ll flourish. In Account Management, manage a great relationship and you’re more than half way there. The list goes on.

In my personal experience, travelling taught me a lot of skills which are now transferrable in the working world. After spending three years at university studying a journalism degree, I decided to backpack to Australia on my own. At 21 years old, I can tell you now, getting on that plane alone and going across the other side of the world, I learned more about myself and how to be independent, than any course could have ever taught me. Don’t get me wrong, my degree and lecturers were fantastic, and I made some phenomenal friends who I am still very close to. I truly wouldn’t change it for the world (university itself is an experience after all) however, I did have much lower tuition fees.

What I did learn from travelling, was how to live in hostels with an array (and trust me there was an array) of personalities. I learned how to find a job and fend for myself, how to plan trips, trust my gut instinct, make solid friendships, let my guard down and trust strangers, but most importantly, I learned to rely on myself.
Another invaluable experience I gained from travelling was when I worked on a farm to get my second year visa for Australia. For this, I worked on a cotton gin (the process of cleaning cotton) as it was the highest paying (but also the hardest to find) around.

Here I lived in a metal container on a farm and worked twelve hour shifts, 7pm – 7am, ten days on, two days off with the closest town and supermarket over two hours away. I shared a kitchen and living space (also in a container), with an Australian ex convict, a German couple, an Australian woman from the outback, an Irish couple, two Australian boys, a Japanese couple, a Pilipino lady amongest several other people. There was no internet or phone signal, and the second you stepped out of the container, flies tried to get into your eyes, mouth and ears so you were pretty much confined to your container when you weren’t at work in the cotton gin.

Now how does this sound like a good experience I bet you’re thinking? Hell, I bet you think £40,000 worth of debt actually sounds quite appealing in comparison. Well, it wasn’t a good experience, but it was an experience that I learned a lot from. Although I sewed bags of cotton until my fingers became red raw and bled for three months straight, almost in tears after every shift, I stuck it out and I’m so grateful for the life lesson! It allowed me to meet people from all walks of life and it taught me how to persevere. Most importantly though, it taught me how to be a pro at cards!

I get travelling isn’t for everyone, so how about learning on the job? You know yourself that you learn more about a job through experience than anything else.

Would it be just as beneficial to leave school earlier, earn whilst you learn and keep that £40,000 in your back pocket? Furthermore, take the £40,000, invest in yourself and take up some evening courses. Imagine how much you could learn, combining your work and studying at the same time.

I know so many people who have ‘fallen’ into jobs because they didn’t really know what they wanted to do, but needed money and felt that they had invested in a certain career path so much in early life that they are now unwilling, or unable due to financial obligations, to change. If you hadn’t invested so much time into a career path, or were able to ‘try before you buy’, then surely, many of us would end up with much more job satisfaction and find it easier to discover just what it is we really want to do.

Although I decided to go to university when fees were lower, a few of my friends decided not to go into further education. These friends have learned as they go along, and are now industry experts, through filling in any gaps in their knowledge as they go along. Furthermore, they have in fact saved, rather than rack up debt.

So overall, should we invest in life experiences over education? In an ideal world, we would have both. But with fees at such a ludicrous high, it’s something that needs to be addressed. It isn’t fair that young adults are starting the working world with so much debt and we should look to encourage adults to have an education, not punish them.

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