George Pearson – UCAS Undergraduate

George Pearson's runner up essay from the 2013 UCAS/Times writing competition, about studying Classics at Durham University.

19, from Tredington, Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire

Studying Classics at Durham University

I’m a year older than Alexander the Great was when he began his career as just plain old Alexander, went on to be undefeated in any battle, and ultimately became one of history’s finest ever military commanders. I’m a year older than Ovid when he began to recite his poetry in public, before posthumously becoming the single-most influential author on European art and literature, and a primary influence on the world’s greatest playwright, Shakespeare. I’m also the same age as the Roman Emperor Augustus when he was granted the title of consul, the highest political honour in the Roman Empire.

I’m 19, and a first-year Classics student, as you might have guessed. My lifetime achievements so far pall by comparison.

So how did the great figures of the classical world convince me to rack up £27,000 of debt over three years on university fees – before buying food and beer, or even wining a single battle? Is it really worth it?

Would Alexander the Great be in the history books if he’d done the same?

Many see University as a stepping-stone to the next level; a tick in the box; a necessity; an indispensable line on the CV. And this is true. But it isn’t the point.

At its core, higher education has a principle of play, not work. In the dialogues of his Republic Plato wrote that ‘the most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.’ Interestingly, Plato’s philosophy is one of the longest-enduring schools of Western thought, and his teaching was based on the premise that education would not lead to a better life materially, but spiritually.

It is going too far to describe University as a form of enlightenment, in the way that Plato considered his enquiries. However, the most valuable part of University is that it not only equips you to deal with the world, but also changes the way you view it. Knowledge is not just power, but perception, and University is a form of priming for life as a whole. Whatever we deeply immerse ourselves in will have a lasting effect, consciously or unconsciously, on the way we live and view the world around us.

Perhaps the most famous person to come out of Plato’s Academy (a renowned ancient Athenian educational forum) is Alexander the Great himself, a perfect ancient equivalent of a university student who benefited from ‘higher education’ and made it big. He said that while his father gave him life, the education from his tutor, Aristotle, gave him the gift of putting that life to good use. ‘Gift’ is the right word.

The cost of that ‘gift’ today may be £27,000 over three years, but I’m convinced, after just one year of being at university, that in the long term, fiscally, practically, and spiritually, I made the right decision. University is turning out to be a great primer, before I go on to conquer the world.

UCAS/Times writing competition