The middle classes’ best kept secret

My Dad was asking the other day why our son was staying on for A Levels. He wondered if a 17 year old should be getting a job given the high rates of graduate unemployment. Good question. So I told him about the shocking truth I discovered when I went to university, and why I want my sons to go too.

No-one in our family had ever been before me, and I kind of got there by accident with no A Levels – having dropped out of my cr*ppy comprehensive school in Brixton, South London, as soon as I could. Years later I got myself onto a BA Literature & Philosophy course. My parents were shaken. I had a good job on a magazine. What was I thinking, leaving it just to get a certificate?

When I started at university the lecturers apologised that I’d have to attend eight hours of lectures a week and turn out several essays at the end of each term. I might even need to read books. Having come from a magazine job where a ten hour day was the norm and I’d write between 1 and 3,000 words a day, I was shocked. Then I noticed the younger students around me, drinking, dating, jumping from one bed to another, and I realised that this was paradise laid on for them for three years.

Something those of us  from working families – where most our our parents had left school at 14 or 15 – might never experience. Everyone goes to uni now, or lots more people, and it’s ordinary. Back then, I realised that the middle classes had created a wonderful playground for three years, where young people could laugh, learn, love, protest and run free before the cuffs of a business suit and the 9 to 5 came a calling to crush their spirits.

Thank goodness for university and its spread towards more and more people. And sadness for all those who go from school to work with no playtime thrown in. As for a job for my graduate sons… best to let them have those wonder-years.





  1. Avatar
    Jen Wils November 19, 2014

    Dont agree – I went to University (St Andrews !!) to get a job. And it didn’t really work out that way as I ended up with a 2.ii. Had to put up with a University which was tied to English A Levels even though it was a Scottish University. I had an old duffer of a project supervisor even though I was ambitious myself. And these so called “Yahs” that we had to put up with at St Andrews used to talk in the library loudly so we couldn’t study.
    So overall I went there so that I could get a job in the end then there weren’t jobs. Yes I did enjoy the company of people there and St Andrews is a lovely place. But we are not all wanting to behave in the way you describe. the way some people I knew behaved they should have been arrested !

    • Avatar
      Victoria Silverman November 24, 2014

      Thanks Jen. I agree. Some people were so spoiled and had no idea how to behave. When I did my masters, one bloke used to go and take out all the books so no one else could have them! And I met a girl who kept going on about how she resented having to be at college, while I couldn’t believe how easy it all was after 6 years of full time work.


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