Academically able, they opt out of missed lectures, messy student digs and mounting debt. Offered places at top universities, they dive headlong into the world of work, earning as much in a month as their peers cost their parents per term. They are rare, headstrong and hands-on. They are the academic over-achievers who turned down higher education.
Popular wisdom suggests that no Jewish child would ever do that to their mothers but for today’s A-level students the road to riches must pass a toll booth charging £9,000 in annual tuition fees.
Even before that increase, 21-year-olds were already emerging with an average debt of £30,000. So it is hardly surprising that some have spurned the cap and gown.
Matthew Unerman, 18, from Borehamwood, was always at the top of his class.
However, after earning three As at A-level, the thought of university did not excite compared to applying for jobs in web design. “I received offers from UCL, LSE and Durham, but not going to university has helped me to understand the working world around me more,” he says.
He continues: “Even though I was considering reapplying to university, having a gap year has shown me that university isn’t always the best option, as I have a stable job with room for promotion and plenty of money with no stress from school work.”
Unerman is still figuring out exactly the path he wants to take due to his decision to not go to university. He has a very positive outlook on life and believes hard work in the “real world” will ultimately help him to succeed.
Molly Hart Reid, 19, from Bushey, is in a similar situation.
The holder of a triple-distinction BTEC diploma in journalism, she doesn’t feel drawn to university, despite better grades than many who are.
“I had really good grades in my college course and my tutor practically insisted that I continue in education at university, but I refused,” she said. “I don’t feel I work well in a classroom.
I am a very hands-on person and think that working out there in the real world would help me excel as a person, and get me closer to where I want to be. So no, I haven’t chosen to go to university, and I don’t regret it.”
Reid, who is applying for jobs in PR, admits she misses her friends and feels “lonely”, but does not miss the idea of lectures and coursework, and feels confident in her decision, knowing university graduates are not necessarily what employers want.
She shares similar views to Abbie Bull, 18, from Finchley, who achieved A, B, C at A-level, and could have gone to a top university, but decided to go travelling before getting a job. “I can’t just sit in the classroom,” she says.
“The world is my classroom. If someone has all the qualifications in the world but no worldly experience, what’s the point? Common sense comes above academic achievements in my opinion.”
These four represent those who, with distinctions, merits and A-grades, know their own minds well enough to know university is not for them. They are challenging the assumption that sixth-formers with good grades automatically go to university.
They are clear that to thrive, land a good job and succeed in this world does not necessarily mean continuing in education beyond one’s teenage years – a stance seemingly at odds with established orthodoxy.