Knowing what you want to do on the weekend at 18 is hard enough (Peggy’s or Outback?) – let alone knowing what you want to do with the rest of your life. For many teenagers, however, they find themselves having to decide just that: pressured with that endless UCAS form, personal statements and course prospectus that promise that a degree in the humanities can get you a job. It’s a difficult decision at the best of times, made infinitely more challenging with a global pandemic, a recession and turbulent politics. 

While it can feel like university is less of a choice and more of an expectation for our young people, the idea that you have to go to uni is a total fallacy. Gef caught up with three manxies; Emma Cox, Natasha Parry and Ben Thornton who did just that.

Emma Cox, 29Emma Cox, 29

Emma Cox, 29

As a child, Emma Cox, 29, had wanted to be an artist or a journalist. In 2007, “she went down the art route”: deciding that instead of going to sixth form like the rest of her friends, she would enrol in a BTEC Art and Design course to focus solely on art. While she found her peers to be “clued up” on further education and knowing exactly what they wanted for their futures, she felt terrified, having no idea what route she actually wanted to go down. She wondered whether she would last the three years at university, could deal with being skint and whether it was the right choice for her.

Natasha Parry, 29, had a similar experience of not knowing what to do. ‘After doing my A-levels, I had planned on going to Uni in the September but deferred my offer for a year. In that year, I decided to give the Art Foundation Degree at the UCM a go. I dropped out of that after a few months, and decided to focus my efforts on applying to Uni again, but on a different course this time. I worked for the remainder of the year on the Island in a bank until September, at which point I went off to Leeds and lasted about 6 weeks before dropping out (can you see the trend here?!). I made the decision that further education wasn’t for me whilst I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and came back to the bank job I’d left a few weeks later.’ she said.

Ben Thornton, 31Ben Thornton, 31

Ben Thornton, 31

Ben Thornton, 31, never saw the value of university: for the price, all he could really see was that university would have taught him how to talk and network. He reckoned that he could figure out these social skills by himself. He didn’t think that the formal skills he needed as a designer would be improved any more at university than on the job- where he would be paid for the work he would do. 

All three decided not to go to university and instead went straight into the workplace. Ben found the Isle of Man to be a place with limited jobs in design, but he found a job in marketing which used the same skills. He was able to teach himself, and went on to start his own design business. ‘I found that when my peers did graduate university, I was in a higher position than them as they entered the workplace.’ he said.

The job Emma fell into at the Isle of Man Newspapers combined two dreams of hers, art and journalism, without her even realising. ‘The experience I gained over the 10 years at Isle of Man Newspapers was invaluable. I had the opportunities to work around the company and develop my career. My knowledge of the media industry is something I could have only ever learnt by being on the job and surrounding myself with passionate and like-minded people.’ She said.

Meanwhile Natasha found her feet at a large e-gaming company. ‘For someone like me, who had no real idea of where I was headed or what I wanted to do with with myself, it was hugely beneficial to be given exposure to all the varying departments, teams and functions within the organisation, and be encouraged to find and build her interests.’ she said. While she doesn’t think that not going to university necessarily benefited her over going to university, it’d be “pretty much guaranteed that she wouldn’t in the role she [does] now”- which is one that she loves.

What the experts say….

Debbie Scrimshaw, Paragon Director:

“University can be a fantastic experience, and essential of course for some career paths, but it’s not for everyone; we see opportunities through both routes and engaged, motivated individuals who rapidly move through the ranks in their chosen profession with, or without, a degree.       


The Isle of Man provides a unique environment, and has seen a wealth of growth in innovative, dynamic businesses, industries and sectors within the last decade.  There is a real appetite to support new business creation and development through mentoring and start-up finance, alongside the more traditional and established employment routes, with employers highly experienced in the onboarding, induction and development of talent directly from education at every level. 


This mixture can provide an excellent foundation for kick-starting your career in a fast-growth environment, the ability to work for and with everything from specialised owner run businesses to leading global organisations, and the benefits of easy access to affordable training, both on-the-job and through professional, structured routes for onward career growth and earning potential.  We know of several key businesses who have historically recruited only graduates adjusting their recruitment process to consider high performing A’ level students, and many top employers engage with the Island’s schools through the annual Employment & Skills event, amongst other initiatives, to promote opportunities and career paths open to those from age 16 upwards. 


In our experience, students taking immediate work and apprenticeship routes have the opportunity to replace an additional academic pathway with a head start in developing technical and employability skills, increasing earnings potential without creating study debt, and maximising their future career in a visible and connected business community.  There is strong competition however – it’s crucial to put the time and effort into each application, CV and interview prep to really stand out, for the right reasons!”

Moral of the story:

It’s okay to feel lost and not have a plan. The important thing is to do what feels right for you, even if that’s the road less travelled. Life isn’t straightforward, and even the best of plans go astray. Just relax and enjoy the ride, knowing it’ll all fall into place eventually. 

The Uni Series is in conjunction with UCM.