After finishing her A-levels, Ali Reed decided university was not the right next step for her.
But not long after starting out on a career in retail, her thoughts returned to the creative disciplines she had enjoyed at school.
Having decided that higher education would enable her to change direction, she enrolled onto the HND in Graphic Design at Banbury and Bicester College - a two year course that was equivalent to the first two years of a university degree.
She said: "As I came to the end of my A-levels it felt like there was a lot of pressure to go to university, which at that stage just wasn't the right thing for me. I did however want to work in the creative industries, so the HND was a great option. Initially I didn't know that graphic design was the career I wanted, but it felt like a good introduction and a course that would give me the flexibility to develop my technical and creative skills."
During her time on the HND, Ali worked on live briefs for external clients, winning a competition to design a printing company's corporate advent calendar and creating a brand identity for a new charity. Despite a steep learning curve when it came to using design software, she enjoyed the process of developing a response to a brief and seeing it through to completion.
After completing the HND, Ali remained at college to top up her HND to a full BA Hons, by spending a year on the related Creative Arts and Design Practice course. This helped her to further develop her creative and commercial skills. She said: "At the end of the course we held an exhibition and sold items we had made in a pop-up shop. It was interesting to understand some of the commercial realities of art and design - to see which items people wanted to pay money for and the fact that they valued something handmade and original."
Ali is now working as a graphic designer for an Oxfordshire-based printing firm, which is expanding its design services. She said: "It is great. I don't miss retail at all. I am now using the skills I developed on the course every day, designing for corporate clients. While I didn’t know initially what I would go on to do, it is exactly the type of working environment I imagined."