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Studying at University: Was it worth it?

Jessop Building - home to the Department of Music at the University of Sheffield.

On Saturday 10th June, thousands of students across campus waved goodbye to their UCards, student homes, libraries and departmental buildings. After spending three years studying Music in Jessop Building and the Soundhouse, it was a pretty emotional experience for me.

It was hard to believe that student life was coming to an end. So many great memories and experiences have been made during my time here. But the ultimate question needs to be asked: was it really worth it?

The Soundhouse - a place to rehearse, record, and make yourself at home.

The answer is... well, it's complicated!

Ultimately, it comes down to:

  • How much work you put into it

  • How many rewards you got out of it

  • Whether or not you got what you came for

University isn't just a chance to learn more about your subject. It's a chance to learn how to live your life in the future.

It's also a balance of work and play. There's lots of things that you only get chance to do as a student, so it's important to give them a go.

My three-year experience has been overwhelmingly positive. But of course, there are drawbacks to consider too.

So hear is a quick breakdown of all the benefits and pitfalls I've discovered over the last three years:


1. Networking/Making Friends

Porcelain Horse in 2015 - It's hard not to start a band when you're all studying music.

The great thing about studying a less popular subject like music is that you get to know everybody on your course. With roughly 50 in each year group, it doesn't take long before you feel like part of a little family.

What's even better is that each one of them are extremely talented and approachable, sharing similar passions with music. It can be a brilliant place to start building connections to people who will be in the music industry in the future.

And the likelihood is that you'll bump into all these people randomly on your travels. Others around you will start to believe that you know everyone on campus!

2. Independence

All by myself - One of the many solo trips I took to the Peak District.

This one is more obvious. But university teaches you how to stand on your own two feet and work for yourself...

The hard way!

The "leave it till the last minute" approach from school/college will be beaten out of your system if you're not careful. Tears will be shed, deadlines will be missed, and things will feel shit now and then.

On the bright side, it's better to go through this at university than anywhere else. You can receive support to help you become self-sufficient with the workload if you need to. Some degrees (music included) use the first year as a training ground to break you in slowly.

Although, it's real easy to procrastinate at university. But it's perhaps the best place to be to develop your work ethic.

3. Work Experience

Debut at The Lyceum - View from the band pit for the opening night of "Priscilla: Queen Of The Desert."

One thing that took me by surprise was the amount of concerts and musicals that I would get to perform in. Although most of them were for students and societies, there were some memorable paid opportunities too.

That's not to say that the unpaid opportunities were any less enjoyable. Some of my favourite gigs have been in living rooms crammed with 50+ people, in back gardens, crowded venues and (of course) the pubs at Tramlines.

There's a world of opportunity out there that opens up when you start looking. And it's nice to receive money that doesn't come from student finance!

4. Freedom to Create

Peak District again? - Experimented with making a music video for the Special Project module.

The Music Department did their best to facilitate and encourage creativity in all the modules they delivered. This led to some exciting activities that worked side-by-side with our modules and contributed to our grades.

Some activities include organising events, recording albums, shooting music videos, creating musicals, learning new instruments, watching concerts... The list goes on!

If you ever wanted some professional support for that project you've been thinking of, both the staff and students can deliver it.

5. Start a New Life

Open mic night - One of many small gigs that I performed in order to build a social life.

If you happen to be a socially-phobic adolescent suffering from bouts of anxiety and depression, take it from me that university is a great chance to turn it all around.

Wave goodbye to your former life and say hello to crazy student life. Make new friends, try new activities, learn new instruments, take up sports, get laid, grow dreadlocks... Redefine yourself!

You can't help but walk into university as one person and come out of it a completely changed one. There's no escaping the fact that it will be a life-changing experience.


(It never occurred to me to take any photos of the bad things at university for some reason, so stock images will have to do!)

1. Stuck in a Bubble

University is a very protective environment. With student finance covering practically all costs, you could coast through your degree without ever having to worry about money. Unless you spend it recklessly on nights out!

As a result, you never have to worry about fending for yourself. Sure, you have lots of debt resting on your shoulders but it's perhaps the most lenient debt you could ask for. It will only get paid back once you're earning a living.

You could feel lost and afraid when the bubble pops and you have to leave university. Even thought it's a place of learning, it doesn't prepare you for the future as well as it could.

2. Backward Mentality

Some people believe that if you get high marks, then you'll get a better job. Or even if you study a STEM subject, you're more intelligent and you'll get more money.

This sets up a hierarchy of being better than others, which causes bad traits like arrogance, ignorance and hatred in others. Sadly, this kind of mentality hasn't escaped some people at university.

Although society might want you to believe that doing a music degree at university would be worse than doing something like mathematics, don't be swayed by others opinions.

If you can learn to act on your own accord without relying on other people, it should be fairly easy to dust this negative off your shoulder.

3. Marking Art Forms

Music (like other Arts & Humanities subjects) is highly interpretive. There is no correct way to perform it, compose it, or interact with it.

But when a university makes a degree in music, it has to provide an interpretive mark scheme to judge its students by. Vague words like "imaginative" and "stylistic" are used to rate how good students are.

What do they even mean though? Person A might have a very different definition for "imaginative" than Person B. So is the entire degree based on the personal opinions of the markers?

The truth is that you can't compare a jazz flautist with a classical violinist, or a rock drummer with a folk singer. The approaches and styles are completely different and each lend themselves to a different way of making music.

When you accept that nobody is fundamentally better than one another, it brings a lot more peace of mind to the situation. The marks you get won't feel as important as they are at first.

4. Long Distances

Whilst moving away from home can be a great way to develop independence, it gets more difficult to travel back home the further away you go.

But even if you go to university near to home, many of the friends and contacts you make will be from distant locations. This makes it harder to meet up after university finishes.

Also, any contacts that you make through work might be left behind when you move back home. So unless you plan on staying in the city after graduation, you'll have to start over again somewhere else.

5. It Won't Last Forever

Enough said.


So putting everything into consideration, was it worth it?

For me, yes it was.

If I had the option to erase my time at university and do something else, I wouldn't want to do it. It's cliche but they have been the best years of my life so far in terms of personal growth and overall happiness.

But every student has their own unique experience of it. For some, it may be the opposite story. But either way, you will come away from university much wiser.

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©2016-2021 by Liam Johnson.