Why not going to uni was the best decision I ever made

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With A-level results just around the corner, thousands of school leavers will be competing for places in university courses.

According to UCAS, as of January 15 2015, 35% of 18-year-olds have applied to university this year. Many others however, have chosen different pathways and are finding success by undertaking apprenticeships, on the job learning and harnessing entrepreneurial ambitions to bypass university debt and get onto the career ladder faster. Here are some of our favourite success stories.

Accountancy business owner and magazine publisher

David Hassall, 23, started his accountancy business DH Business Support when he was 17. He has since launched a magazine for users of accountancy software Xero, XU magazine.

I never enjoyed school and began working at River Island while I figured out what I wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to work for myself and I noticed a gap in the market for accountancy services and bookkeepers in particular. I enrolled in an AAT qualification and began picking up my first bookkeeping clients while I was studying. I wasn’t too scared about taking the leap to own a business. I suppose I was quite young as well and thought: if I mess this up, I could always grovel for my old job back.

My father was working as a financial director at the time and as more clients started coming on board and the work increased, he joined my business. We now have offices in Sheffield and Liverpool. Networking is essential in establishing a reputation when you’re so young in an industry that typically relies on experience. Building contacts and creating relationships is essential if you hope to grow as a business as well as overcome these common misconceptions.

Recently, I identified the need for a publication that delivered independent advice by and for people who use Xero on a daily basis. I used crowdfunding to launch the magazine. I knew if my campaign was successful and investors were willing to contribute towards it then people were going to buy it. The magazine would either sink or swim, and thankfully it’s worked out.

PR Account Executive

Isabel Ann Suddek, 20, is an account executive at JournoLink, an online PR platform for small businesses and entrepreneurs.

Even though I did well academically and enjoyed my studies up until college, I found subjects such as A-level Psychology to be very formulaic. I was much more interested in business management and marketing, and I was always a much more hands-on person. I was looking at my career options the same year university fees went up. It was important for me to know what I really wanted to do before I invested money in it. I can’t stand being in debt. I’m someone that needs to have a substantial amount of savings in the bank to feel secure.

Once I’d finished my A-levels I began full-time work and I turned my weekend job into a full-time position at LK Bennett and then later moved on to a local pet shop. My time in retail taught me a great deal about sales targets, customer service and business in the real world. After a year I yearned for a career that inspired and motivated me. So I took myself out of the city and travelled to India. Keeping in touch with family and friends back home was when I discovered I enjoyed to write. Upon my return I saw an ad for an internship at a local newspaper, Kensington and Chelsea Today, where I worked for three months unpaid just to get my writing in print. Just a few months in, my colleague, whom I was shadowing, left and I was promoted to her role as Online Editor. I was 18 at the time.

Although working unpaid doesn’t sound very motivating, it is a great way to get your foot in the door and learn a host of new skills – I do recommend school leavers to try it. Don’t be afraid to drop yourself in different industries either. If you don’t know what you want to do just yet, this is a great way to expand your mind-set and welcome opportunities.

After 12 months at KCT and a stint at Daily Mail Online, I had established employers and practical experience on my resume and was well ahead of my peers. I now work at JournoLink, an online platform helping small businesses create and manage their own PR, where I handle the company partnerships and cross-promotions. I’ve finally found a role that I can see myself in for the long-term. I get to meet new businesses every day and work on a variety of accounts.

So never feel limited by an entry-level job role, there’s always opportunity to create and complete projects in your own time that will demonstrate your value. Just ensure you are always prepared to put yourself in the deep end when opportunity arises. I don’t ever regret not going to university. My flatmates are 24 and we’re at the same level in our careers – so I’m four years ahead.


Hannah Martin, 43, is an award-winning copywriter and mum of two who works from home running Talented Ladies Club, a site supporting working mothers, helping women realise their ambitions while raising their families.

I chose a fine art degree but by my second year, I realised I didn’t want to be an artist and I made the brave decision to drop out, rather than follow the conventional path and finish my degree. I realised that if I was going to get anywhere in life, it would be down to my ambition and hard work, not a slip of paper saying I had a degree. I worked for a year doing temp office work and saved up enough for a one-way ticket to Hong Kong. I’d never been there before, and had no home, job or friends there, but craved for an adventure and thought that if I had to settle for a job I hated, at least it would be somewhere exotic.

Luckily, I got a job as PA to the Asia publisher of an international finance magazine and quickly realised I wanted to be a writer. A friend worked for an advertising agency and when I visited their offices one weekend I fell in love – that was the career I wanted. I managed to get a meeting with the Executive Creative Director and convinced him to set me a test. He did, I passed it, and was offered a job at Ogilvy & Mather as a copywriter.

I had zero experience but bags of passion and ambition and I worked hard to learn my new trade and quickly excelled in my role.

Since becoming a mother, I no longer work in-house for agencies and I now freelance as a copywriter from home. I do a mixture of Talented Ladies Club and freelance work  around school drop offs and having a bike ride or walk along the beach for my lunchbreak.

I felt that not going to university wasn’t an option when I was a teenager but in hindsight I had no idea what I wanted to do in life, or even what kind of jobs were out there. You need ambition, passion and the willingness to work hard and get on with people. These are the qualities that will drive you and ensure others notice. Not a university degree.

Dale Rolfe is AAT's Content Manager.

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