If my first-hand experience has taught me anything, it's that
traditional university isn't for everyone.
I started studying at university straight from college. I'd
always wanted to get a degree and I did well in A-Levels too, so
When the time came to start my new life as a student, I was
excited. The thought of being independent and self-sufficient was
amazing, but the reality was different.
I soon realised that my student loan didn't cover my rent, let
alone other living costs, so I'd need to get a (well-paid)
part-time job to work around my studies. It was near impossible to
find paid work in any position that related to my studies. I wanted
to go out and have the uni experience, but I simply couldn't afford
After much deliberation, I decided that it just wasn't working
for me. I dropped out of university, moved back home and ended up
working full-time at a local hotel. I enjoyed some of the aspects
of my job, the hospitality and events management side of the
business had always interested me, but I wasn't sure how to
progress from my role as a receptionist into different
After some research, an opportunity with QHotels caught my eye.
It was a development programme, working and studying at its
conference and events dedicated hotels to gain paid experience and
a bespoke Foundation Degree in Professional Hospitality Operations
Management within two years. It looked like the perfect way to
overcome the previous problems I had faced when it came to getting
my degree. It was also the first qualification of its kind to be
offered by a UK hotel group so I'd be one of the first people to
get such a degree, even better!
I left my job and moved to my new position at The Midland in
Manchester, excited by the prospect of working in such an iconic
venue. It took me a while to get used to the fast-paced lifestyle,
moving from one department to another and working with new people
on a regular basis. I can honestly say that the only time I had
second thoughts was when I ran to replace a delegates missing fork
and sent a whole service station (full to the brim with hot coffee
and sugar cubes) noisily crashing down over myself with 400
conference attendees staring. - It's OK, we laughed it off.
Moving from team to team had major benefits. I gained a greater
understanding of how the hotel worked as a whole, how each team
impacted one another, learning the practicalities of each role. It
also allowed me to experience everything and to choose the specific
field I liked the most. This led to a permanent position in events
and reservations, and a focus on that area in my degree work
The two most obvious benefits were apparent right away:
I think I'm one of the few people I know that actually uses
their degree at work! When it comes to planning events you need the
experience of working with different clients, delegates, conference
sizes and all the other crucial elements of events, to really put
any written theory to use. This combination of knowledge and
experience is what made me so confident in my role.
I also had the support of the educational development team at
QHotels, including my mentor that worked in the same hotel and was
always available to answer my questions regarding work or study.
QHotels set up workshops every 1-2 months that allowed us to get
our head around our assessments and meet with the other students.
The assignments I worked on were immediately applicable to my
everyday life at work, and I think everyone will agree that's
Fast-forward two years in my role and I've been promoted from
management trainee to reservations and events supervisor after
graduating this month. I love my role at QHotels, meaning I already
have my job secured, which is more than can be said for most
graduates. More importantly, I'm already two years into my
The range of ages and educational backgrounds of each student on
the QHotels course differed, but the advantage for all of us was
that we'd already started earning and working. Our degree, or lack
of, never held us back. Work never clashed with our studies because
it was all part of the same venture.
So what advice would I give to anyone considering a vocational
degree like mine or the other 15 colleagues who graduated at
QHotels? If you want a practical qualification and don't want to
lose out on experience or income then it's for you. The main
challenges will include getting used to working and studying at the
same time, so never underestimate the importance of time
management. It's something that will help you keep your work life
balance in check, and let's face it, it's a skill you need in
events and hospitality!
There is no doubt in my mind that this was the right path for
me, and while I understand that some occupations need years of
academic and theoretical work, vocational degrees like mine are
perfect for careers in hospitality and events. While it was
challenging, more than anything it was rewarding. I felt like I was
There is, and there's always going to be hundreds of students
with events management, hospitality and business management
degrees. If they're up against people with real experience and a
qualification to back it up, which do you think is more
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