What I’m Really Thinking About When I’m Scanning Your Food

Filling out and submitting a UCAS form to apply for university was – and still is, when I think about it – a very strange part of my life. I knew that I wanted to go to university, because the thought of giving up on education was really not appealing, but at the same time I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go. Picture a 17-year-old me, surrounded by friends who had at least a vague idea of the career path they’d like to take. I had no idea whatsoever: I liked to read, write and never wanted to do an equation or draw a graph ever again.

(Just so you know, it’s been two years since I started university, and I’m still in the same boat, but more on that in a bit.)

At the time of writing my personal statement, I was convinced I wanted to study English Lit. My AS Levels were pretty poor (if I’m remembering correctly, I got BBCDD which was way below my predictions) and so A2 results day didn’t look too promising. Because of that, I hadn’t applied to any Russell Group universities, writing them off as a totally unrealistic achievement. Think about it from my shoes, before you say I’m being ridiculous – all the cleverest people in my sixth form were applying there, people who wanted to study medicine and law, and had achieved As at AS Level. How could I match that, as someone who got a D in English Lit and intended to take it to degree level? Exactly. Thankfully, after a few open days, I found a uni I fell instantly in love with, and it was shortly after that I decided to swap English Lit for Philosophy. Philosophy & Ethics had been the only A Level I was excited to get stuck into, and from the outset it seemed a hell of a lot more interesting to study than English Lit. (Sorry, English students, just my personal opinion!) 

Regardless of all this, I was still having second thoughts about going to uni in 2012 altogether. A lot of my friends were taking gap years, going travelling, working up some dollar. Part of me ached to do this too, but there was a niggling little voice reminding me that my brother had taken a year out, to retake his A Levels, and he urged me more than once to go straight to uni. There’s only a year between me and Jack, and he’s always done everything first and been a bit of a guiding force. So even though I was talking to my friend Emma about being an au pair in Germany – I know how ridiculous this sounds, trust me. Can you imagine?! I can barely ask you how you’re doing in German, let alone live there and maintain conversation for a year! – and remember saying the words ‘I’m not sure I even want a Philosophy degree!’ to a friend from work, I still sort of knew in the back of my mind I’d be off to a uni of some sort in September. 

Anyway, come August 16th, 2012, I find out I’ve achieved A*AB in my A Levels and will be off to Reading in a number of weeks. UCAS texts me and gives me the option to transfer to a Russell Group uni, but since I haven’t looked round any or know anything about their courses I decline the offer. I’m not excited, I’m not ready to leave home, and I certainly haven’t given Fresher’s a second thought. It’s a really weird day, but I’m happy. Proud of myself. The Facebook status I make gets about 65 likes.

That night  we proceed to get bladdered and end up in McDonald’s at 3am, looking a little bit worse for wear.


Before anyone calls me out on it, I know this post is a bit too much of a narrative. I might as well have said ‘First I did this and then I did that and it was good and then I did something else,’ but I can’t really put into words how important this post was for me to write at the moment. Let me explain.

I’ve been spending a lot of time at work in the past few weeks stewing a lot of things over in my head. Sitting behind a till doing pretty monotonous work does that to you. I’ve been thinking about what career path I can actually take with a Philosophy degree, if it hasn’t just been a waste of time racking up a lot of debt. I feel even worse when I think of friends who are doing degrees with a certain end, like medicine or law. They know exactly what they’ve got to do to get to where they want to go. I don’t resent anyone for having their head screwed on straight, but it’s frustrating sometimes when I think about my own future and draw a complete blank. 

I ask myself a lot of questions. Should I have applied to better universities? Studied something with more direction? Why did I think Philosophy was better than English Lit? Why didn’t I just take a year out to think about it a bit more?

If I’m being perfectly honest, these are all things I probably would’ve done if I’d had a bit more of a mature head on my shoulders. But, and it’s a big but, if I hadn’t taken the path I’ve gone down so far, I wouldn’t have the experiences I’ve had up til now. I’ve met some great people, made some lifelong friends and crazy memories. I’ve learnt what it means to be self-sufficient, which is a massive leap considering before I left home I’d never operated a washing machine. Sheltered childhood, I know. I’ve broadened my horizons by meeting a wide scope of people and being faced by a number of challenges. If you told 2012 Emma that in the next 2 years she’d be the head tenant of her house, work at Royal Ascot, achieve a 2:1 in her second year and generally just feel at home in a town that wasn’t Malvern, she probably wouldn’t believe you. 

In that sense, I don’t regret the decisions I’ve made up til this point. There are always the ‘what if’s, but if I’d taken those instead, I might’ve ended up thinking ‘well, what if I’d gone to the uni I first applied to? What if I took Philosophy, a subject I really love learning about, as opposed to xyz that is the means to the ends of a job?’ An eventuality that seems perfect from the outset, like spending a year travelling and working abroad, may not have been as perfect as it sounds because knowing me, I’d have become homesick within 6 weeks. I wasn’t ready to travel by myself fresh out of sixth form. I applaud anyone who is. 

Basically, if you’ve reached the end of this I’m happy you’re still here and also a bit confused, this was bloody long. It’s my own catharsis. (Also, it’s entirely unedited, so any grammatical hiccups are my own. Soz.) As you were.

Until next time, 

Emma x


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