Why I took a year off from university (and you can too)

Hello blog readers !


Another Wednesday and another post. I’m really enjoying getting back into regular writing. I don’t write nearly enough these days, and I miss the mental effort. So the blog is the perfect outlet ! It’s hardly ever hard to think of stuff to write about - my brain is always packed. For everyone who voted for an article about my favorite books on my Instagram poll : I haven’t forgotten you ! It’s simply quite lengthy and I want to make it perfect as it’s a special subject. So, for this week’s post, as I was looking for an article subject, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fact that my studies are over awfully soon. A mere half-year at most. It’s practically February, classes end in April, with graduation in the not-so-distant future in June. 


What a ride it has been. I will be able to reflect some more when school is actually out (scream and shout) forever but I can’t help feeling very nostalgic these days. I can’t believe when I first went to university I was only 17 ! (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)

As you may know from real life or previous blog posts, the journey first started with a Linguistics BA at University College London. So, quite a stretch from my current career choice as a Type Designer. Well… Not really. I’ve come full circle : from analyzing word structures to drawing the letters in them. And the full circle is what I’m getting at with this post : without the one-year break I took in 2016, it would have been more of a tired, jagged line. 

Do the words “Phonological derivation” spark any joy when I see them ? No. Does knowing that I drew those letters myself spark any joy? YES. The typeface is called Aligre and I have yet to publish it on the website !

Do the words “Phonological derivation” spark any joy when I see them ? No. Does knowing that I drew those letters myself spark any joy? YES.
The typeface is called Aligre and I have yet to publish it on the website !

See, further educating sounds very exciting when you’re just out of school. And it is, in many regards. But it’s a long road and it’s tough to know what you’re doing even though you might have clear preferences for subjects or fields. It’s tough to figure it all out, and I think the education system makes it very hard to accept mistakes, or detours as I prefer to call them in this case. Mind you, this varies hugely from country to country and I think France is worst than most on that matter. The system is just not built for pauses. Even though courses are harmonized with other EU countries, people certainly expect you to breeze through 3,4 5 (or more) years of study without question. Now, things are slowly changing, but it’s still tough.

Which brings me to the exact subject of this post. Apologies if you’ve heard or read all of this before. I won’t go into too much detail, but I feel like the fact that I’m almost done with studying makes for an interesting take on the matter. So, as most of you know, I dropped out of UCL after my first year, which I passed with a high 2:1 might I add. I’m not bragging, but just stating I didn’t just ragequit the course. I gave it my best shot and I wasn’t happy.

Now, almost six years later, I am absolutely sure I would have crashed mid-course had I continued straight through. Just the thought of applying for MAs sucked any joy out of me. See, this is what this post is getting at. That was when I knew I had to pull the plug. I work HARD. I always have. To things I love and believe in I give everything. And I don’t just mean I’m a perfectionist (that would be too easy), I need to be thorough and passionate in everything I do. And when I was in that black hole of no motivation, I momentarily lost myself. Don’t get me wrong - I may be hard-working but I am also a normal person. Sometimes I don’t feel like working. But as I reflected on my four years of study I saw that I hadn’t suddenly stopped working. I’d let myself enter a gradual decline, to the point where I just wasn’t happy with who I was anymore. 


Three years from that point, I am finally reunited with my truest self. I worked seriously hard in the past months, and it seriously paid off. Last semester I presented a typography thesis as part of my MA. Now, if you know me in real life you cannot have escaped my complaints about this beast. If you don’t, you may have caught glimpses of the actual book on Instagram. I don’t want to give away too much because I haven’t made a proper post about it (or even a project page yet, GASP), but I have further plans for it. Watch this space.

The thesis got full marks for all the criteria : concept, design, content, presentation. The mark doesn’t even matter per se. But I’m writing it here because it was the first time in a very, very long time where I smashed my own goals. I always set them impossibly high in the first place, but that time was different. I worked hard, I felt good, surrounded myself with good energy and the right people and I knew I could do it. And I did. Sometimes it all works out. During the same time, I did a LOT of work on my mindset. Positive wording, the law of attraction, visualizing : you name it, I did it all. And all that strength and that attitude change came with the fact that I knew why I was doing this MA, because I knew what I was gaining from it, and what I’d left behind to pursue it.

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I have definitely blogged about this before, and I don’t want to just mindlessly write the same stuff over and over again. I’m writing this post today because I’m coming out from the other side. I can see everything I’ve gained : confidence, a stronger style, more experience, countless encounters with great people.

I’m writing this post for everyone out there contemplating taking a year out. Or a little time out. Feeling sick at the thought of pursuing studies. Don’t choose the exhausted, jagged line route. Go full circle. DO IT. By all means, do it.
Here are my ten tips for before, during and after your break :

BEFORE

  • Assess your motivation. Sometimes it can be hard to be honest to ourselves about what we can or cannot do. If the thought of studying makes you cry, then it might be wise to at least postpone it.

  • Talk to people who have done it before. Sadly I didn’t know anyone who was in the same case as me, but I’m completely sure everything would have seemed less daunting. Information can be hard to find, especially if it’s not common where you are, but even career advisors at university can help. Talk to your family and your support network.

  • Remember that studying is not the be all end all of life. There are many, many things learned outside of university. However, if it’s important to you then education deserves to be great. Not just about livable. I felt like I had worked too hard to end on a bittersweet note and deserved better than feeling ‘meh’ about the whole thing.

DURING THE BREAK

  • Make a list of all the pathways you’re contemplating. Carrying on with your studies, changing courses: write it all down, with the name of the universities and courses you’re considering. Come back to it regularly during your break. Does everything still look as appealing? I know it certainly wasn’t the case for me, and I gradually eliminated all the courses bar Type Design. Of course, you can’t always choose where you are accepted. I was rejected from my first choice, but after the initial shock wore off I realised my determination was still there and I simply applied to another school.

  • Do some serious introspective work. A few months in, are you missing anything ? Think about how going back to education makes you feel.

  • Reflect on the work you have produced so far. Looking back, do you feel like you’ve done everything you wanted to do or do you fill like you could still learn a lot ? I know for me, everything felt unfinished and I know I needed to deepen my design knowledge to do things I would be really proud of. Honestly, I looked at most of my projects feeling unfulfilled and like I could do so much better. And I did !

AFTER

  • Don’t underestimate how hard it can be coming back to university. You may have gone travelling, started full-time employment… Either way, you don’t really get to just slide back like nothing has happened.

  • Keep track of your progress. Even though I was really happy about my choice, it felt like I was going backwards. I mean, if I’d carried on working I would be in a more senior position, making good progress in the industry. But I would have missed out on so much. My market value is now much higher (and I’m not just talking about salary here, even though it’s part of it). I aimed for particularly desirable skills because I noticed that a lot of ads for my goal jobs required “impeccable typography skills” or something similar. And even though I was pretty happy with what I had, I didn’t feel like it was impeccable yet. So I didn’t go backwards, I just gained momentum to take a bigger leap.

  • Spread the word and don’t be shy. Be proud of what you did, and don’t hesitate to put it forward during interviews. I know for sure this helped me immensely to get my dream internship. Well, I had one interview with people who where absolutely unphased by it but it turned out we weren’t right for each other, so there goes.


Have you ever taken a study break ? How did it go ? Or did I convince you ? Let me know in the comments !