Ms ZiYou 20 years ago uni

F*ck – 20 years ago I was starting uni

Can you remember where you were in life 20 years ago? What you were doing, and what life was like? Moreover, could you have imagined your life today? Has your life been predictable?

As these ideas permeate through your mind – how do you feel? Do you wish for your youth? Or are you grateful for your maturity now? How do you feel remembering your own past? That youthful version of your own self.

20 years ago I was starting university. And that kind of scares me. It seems so long ago that I was undertaking this momentous leap and today’s students seem to get younger and younger in comparison. I am old.

University Awaits

Then I was young, enthusiastic and eager to escape home and the confines of school. I wanted to learn and be stretched academically and thought university would be the key to my academic success.

More than that, I was desperate to get out of the small town world and meet new people. To hear different ideas and approaches to life. I didn’t want to follow the life plan that was presented of study – get married – work – have babies – retire all in the same location. And I was prepared to do anything to avoid this life plan.

First / Second in Family to Do Uni

Ms ZiYou Mastery

I was first on my Dad’s side of the family to go to uni (and second on my Mum’s after her). This was celebrated and I felt excited but scared to have this crown.

Moreover, I needed to make the most of this opportunity and make my family proud. Personally, I really did not know what to expect. But I knew it was the right thing for me to do. I was steadfastly confident in this belief.

At the time this was articulated as a desire to escape, although what I probably meant was to expand my horizons and develop as a person. All I knew was, even at that age, I did not want to follow that life plan and remain in the same area with the same people doing the same thing as my parents. I needed to meet people with alternate life plans and see different approaches.

Truth be told, my uni was not very diverse. It matched the social economic mix of the comprehensive school I attended – a mix of working and middle-class students from around the country. But what I did find, however, were more people like me. That didn’t want to follow their parent’s lives and wanted more. Even if we still failed to really understand or articulate what this more was. Yet we wanted this more.

Tuition Fees

Taking you back to 1998, this was the first year tuition fees were introduced in the UK. I was not happy that I was in the first year that had tuition fees, but I accepted it as a given and did not give it too much though. After all, I was pursuing my plan to escape and the idea of having to pay for it was not a complete roadblock. Even at this young age, I knew some things were worth paying for. Education fell into this category.

Debt and Student Loans

Ms ZiYou Cash House

The only loans you can take at 16 and 17 in the UK are student loans. And I was no exception to the norm, I dutifully signed up for those loans without really thinking what I was signing. I took me about 12 years after graduation to pay them off, but I don’t regret these in the slightest.

Being more financially minded than most 17 years olds, I did read the T&C and roughly understood these loans. I knew I’d only have to pay them when I was earning, and that they would have no interest in real terms. And you know what? That was not a bad deal, students today have it much worse! I am grateful for my luck here.

Academics and Fun

Please don’t hate me, but I found academics easy at school. I have a lovely collection of A’s. But truth be told, there was not really any other option but to study in my early life. We lived in a boring place and I didn’t have money to visit friends that often. But when I got to university and was allowed a job my world widened.

University was so much fun and freedom. I had money and was able to go out. I made a wide range of friends and really enjoyed sampling the best of student life. Which was the nightlife and going out. The social opportunities and meeting more people like me, who were not just interested in coupling up was life-saving. And affirming that my life plans were not strange.

Testing the boundaries

Although university education differed slightly from school and was a little less formal, there still was a lot of fluff and unnecessary copying. Honestly, my biggest memory of lectures was copying from the board.  We quickly learned what classes we could skip and which ones we could not. And learned who to sweet talk in the office to get free photocopies of said notes.

My whole year was good at testing the boundaries. It didn’t take us long to work out which lecturers just wrote on the board all lecture and which were actually worth going to. Some had the audacity to take registers, and then even complained when we all signed our friends in.

My chemistry lab partner and I quickly came up with a way of working: we’d only do one experiment between us even if it wasn’t a joint experiment. We framed our labour savings as saving equipment and preserving resources – and quickly learned two minds and perspectives are better than one. The teaching assistant wasn’t too amused, but couldn’t come up with a valid reason to stop us.

Influence of lived experience

So why on this financial independence blog am I going on about the past? Because I firmly believe our lived experiences shape our future. Past me has no doubt influenced future me.

At university, I started learning about the wider world and starting testing boundaries. And with today’s hindsight, I can see how I have thus evolved and developed as a person. I knew I rejected the traditional life path 20 years ago but did not really know what I wanted to do. I didn’t envision pursuing financial independence 20 years ago, but I did reject the traditional path.

Your Life Path is not set

Even if you want to change your life, you cannot change your past. This has happened and cannot be altered. However, from now onwards you have every opportunity to craft the life you want. There are many little steps you can take to alter your life path. And you have the agency to select the life you want.

I believe that pursuing financial independence can give you many options, and personally, I have chosen to go down this path. I never imagined this possibility 20 years ago, but I am so glad I have found the path today so I will be able to retire by 40.

Over to you

  • What are your thoughts?
  • Where were you 20 years ago?
  • Did you go to university?
  • If so, what was your reasoning?

Thank you for reading – please leave a comment below and join in the conversation. You can also connect on Twitter or contact me privately.


17 comments on “F*ck – 20 years ago I was starting uni

  1. 20 years ago i was 17 still doing a levels and trying to work out what I wanted to do! My parents had separated and it wasn’t the best time tbh

    I didn’t go to uni and don’t actually regret it. I think higher education has been too diluted now and the cost benefit is not as clear as it was for most trades at least. There’s alot of people out there now with unrealistic expectations about what a magic bullet a degree is Certainly I’ve found attitude’, willingness to work and to take opportunity and risk when it appears is more important

    1. Hi FBA – sorry to hear it wasn’t great for you 20 years ago – such a hard time when your parents split – mine did it a bit earlier when I was 14 ish?

      Yeah Nowadays I think uni is not essential – I loved it as an escape option mainly. But a switched on kid today could easily work their way up. The must have a degree CV screen is the big one that people need to be amazing to get past at the moment without that degree – but hopefully, that changes.

  2. Whatever I was doing 20 years ago – I don’t think I was listening to what was number 1 voluntarily!

    I do remember 20 years ago though because I was on summer camp in Ireland and the Omagh bomb had just happened. That shocked me.
    But besides that, summer camp was great but it’s funny how that seems like an age ago now and what was important then is not so much – and things that caused me no worry at all (finance, money, interest rates, stock markets) would have seem equally irrelevant.

    I think that I was mostly interested in enjoying life and probably not looking forward to going back to school – although it was inevitable!

    1. GFF I am shocked. You are not a Boyzone fan? Even if you were not a fan, that was a cool song. Of it’s time.

      Being in Ireland when the bombing happened is scary – I would have been well shocked too!

      And yes, the things I care about today didn’t even warrant a mention 20 years ago – and vice versa.

  3. 20 years ago I was doing very well as a young engineer. I didn’t reject the traditional career path until much later.
    I loved my college years too. I made so many friends and still keep in touch with some. Engineering was a tough major for most of us. We had to study like crazy and it was stressful. Life was still great, though. Ahh.. the good old days. It’s always nicer to look back.

    I think a degree is much more needed today. Most people find it easier to follow the traditional path in life. If you go that way, it’s best to have a degree. We certainly want our son to go to a university.

    1. Hi Joe – interesting to know you conformed initially!

      And that you still want your son to go to university and think it is much more needed. I was thinking alternative options are starting to open up?

  4. 20 years ago I was in elementary school (I’m a bit younger than you are 😉). I absolutely loved my college experience and while I think not everyone needs to go / sign up for crazy student loans, I think there is way more value to the college experience than a lot of the naysayers seem to think lately.

    1. Hi Angela – younger is good :).

      Yeah, there is so much more value to college/uni than people give it credit for – it’s not really the academics, it’s the exposure to a wider world, freedom and new people in my experience. And they are much more easily obtained at uni than somewhere else.

  5. Do you really want to know what I was doing 20 years ago Ms Zi You? Haha. Mrs YFG was shocked when I read your post to her. She did not think you’d have been at uni that long ago!

  6. Twenty years ago, I was in love with the person who I thought I would spend the rest of my life with, I was enjoying my work at the company where I would end up staying for another 18 years, I was super fit as I had not long passed my black belt in karate, my social life was busy, I had lots of friends and life was great. However, twenty years ago, I was also accumulating credit card debt to support my lifestyle.

    Do I yearn for those days? Yes and no – I wish I had the energy and enthusiasm of my youth, the lack of grey hair, the lack of the odd aches and pains in my joints (unfortunately, some are old martial arts injuries). Yet, I much prefer the contentment, wisdom and financial security I have at the moment.

    I went to uni only because I was following in the footsteps of my sister who had gone before me and this was what my parents expected me to do. In my sixth form, I was only one of six students who went on to uni – it just wasn’t very common back then, even with tuition being free and grants provided. For me, the benefits haven’t really been academic or career-defining – the people I met at uni turned a shy, socially awkward, bookish-but-sporty teenager into a more confident person who became happier just being herself. Crucially, my friends laughed at me but also laughed with me, which meant that I could laugh at myself! I came to like being ‘different’.

    Anyway, thanks for this great read, which had me thinking of my own happy uni days. As mentioned before, the sort of life I would love to have when I retire early is something like the life I had when I was a student, except I’d be living in nicer digs and would be financially secure!

    1. That is so cool that you are a black belt Weenie – so, so awesome. (But 🙁 that your injuries are coming back to get you now).

      I too would love the energy and enthusiasm of my youth back. And yes, those are some of the benefits of uni that we don’t celebrate enough – making us feel normal and meeting other people on that same wavelength.

      Yeah – the student life does sound awesome again the more I think about it. Is it rose-tinted glasses? (I never lived in awful digs).

      1. “I never lived in awful digs”

        One of the houses I lived in had such bad mould which never got sorted and I was always ill. The landlord was known by different names to different students – well dodgy!

        Another house, we shared with a family of mice…

        1. Mould sounds grim…..and really dangerous. And such a shady landlord it all sounds dodgy.

          Mice? I have mice quite often, I am learning to live with them. I usually notice they are back when then cat gets really excited when I open cupboard doors.

  7. Just shy of 20 years ago I made a last minute career direction from medicine to IT. At the time, it was because the debt of the former scared me to death. I was timid, shy and afraid of my own shadow.

    I’m definitely a different person now. Decisions from choosing IT, moving to the city, getting into dancing has expanded my world so much. I very much started out on the traditional life path but was led astray the more I explored and life has been awesome so far!

  8. A lovely trip down memory lane there… Although scary it’s 20 years ago – only because we are exactly the same age by the sounds of it so same for me… haha. Actually not quite true, I was doing a year out and saving up money to pay for some of the bills. I did really well and saved up about £6K in 9 months, then had the summer off to lounge about before “knuckling down to work” at Uni.

    It’s interesting that you had Uni down as taking the alternative path. That was very much the traditional path for most of my friends and what was expected of us, even though neither of my parents had done it.

    We were unlucky in a way to be struck with the first year (or second year for me) of tuition fees, but seeing what has happened since has been shocking. I don’t think I’d go to Uni now if I was 17/18 right now, it’s just not worth it unless you do want to become a doctor or something like that.

    What’s also interesting is that the experiences for me weren’t *that* world view expanding, I’ve always lived in a fairly large town with a good cross section of socio-economic mix of people and also quite racially diverse. Uni was just more of the same and extending my party time youth for another 3 years really. Yes it definitely shaped me as a person but I don’t think I really *needed* to go to Uni to get that sort of thing. I have many friends that didn’t go to Uni that are doing much better than I am (on paper earnings at least) as well.

    On balance, I wouldn’t change how I played it, as the £10Kish debt I had was a fair price tag for the Uni Experience(TM) at the time, but at today’s £50K+ no freaking chance…!!!

    Oh yea we also lived in a dive in year 2, dodgy landlords, 3 months the place was a building site. We went back into student halls in the 3rd year which was much nicer!

    Either way there is no way I could live like that again now. Even in halls the room was tiny, too many people playing loud music at night etc. It was fine back then as it was normally me 🙂 but now I much prefer the quite urban cul-de-sac digs I have!

    Although having all of that free time… obviously that is something that we are all after around here isn’t it? I wish I’d used it a little more constructively that is the only regret I think of that time in my life.

What do you think?