This story is over 5 years old.


Life Lessons From a Guy Who’s Taken 11 Years to Not Finish Uni

Charles Peak is the ultimate long-term undergrad student.
All photos by the author

Uni. That time when your parents leave you alone because they assume you’re an adult, and you give uni the same half-assed approach that you gave high school. You take off a semester here, you fail a subject there, and then five years slide past and you’re still at uni with a $50K HECS debt.

We were curious to meet the person who’s pushed this stereotype harder than anyone else. We wanted to find the “forever student,” which is a made-up term describing someone who’s spent so long doing an undergraduate degree that no one thinks they’ll finish. Eventually, we found Charles Peak, who is a 29-year-old chemistry student from Melbourne who has been an undergrad for 11 years. Here, Charles tells us what that’s like.


Charles standing in line for an incredibly delicious student union sausage

VICE: So you've been at uni for over 11 years now. What was your first degree?
Charles Peak: I started a commerce/science double degree back in 2007. I quickly found that science was great, but commerce was a bit shit. I really wasn’t ever committed to uni. I just did it because… well, what else was I going to do? It was also around the time when everyone was getting rich from the internet. I was into IT so I thought that while I was at uni I’d just build a great big website, get rich, and then drop out. But I quickly realised that wasn’t going to happen.

What made you decide you were going to drop out from your first degree?
It’s not even that I “decided’ to drop out. I just kept taking semesters off, and then the ones I stuck around for I did badly. I was there for three years and I think in the end, the uni just took me off the books. I took a bit of time off, and then started my chemistry degree, which I’m still doing now.

And how’s that going?
Well I think that I’ve been here long enough they can’t be bothered with me anymore. I’ve been to an Unsatisfactory Progress meeting, where I was kind of put on trial for doing a shit job. That was an embarrassing affair, but other than that, they haven’t really bothered me.

So many books, and an equally large amount of time

Do you ever feel embarrassed about how long you’ve been at uni?
I guess so. When I look around at the people I was at uni with when I first started, and how they’ve all started their careers it makes me wonder: “what does it say about me that I'm still doing this?”


Maybe it just says that you're relaxed.
Yeah well, I don't regret it. I'm very prone to being distracted but I think the main problem lies with not knowing what career I wanted in the first place. I feel embarrassed occasionally, but I'm enjoying what I'm doing. Sometimes I get jabs from my family about how long it’s taken, but that’s no reason to regret what I’ve done.

Has being there affected how you see yourself?
I do think about it, but it doesn't have too much of an impact. I know the reason I have failed subjects is because I haven't applied myself, and not because I can't do it. Sometimes I wonder how I can be so irresponsible, but that passes. I know Mum was quite worried when I quit the first time, so I think she’s just so glad I went back instead instead of not doing anything.

Related: Watch VICE host Thomas Morton review self-help books about uni:

Has it affected your dating life?
If anything it’s improved dating, because meeting people is easier when you’re at uni. I think the main issue is that now I’m getting older, it’s harder to find someone who is a similar age to me.

Are you scared to graduate and leave the uni bubble?
Yeah, being at university has always made me feel like I know what I’m doing, and I'm not entirely sure what'll happen when I finish.

You’re finishing at the end of this year right? What do you think you’ll do next?
I quite like working for myself and I’ve been doing freelance computer programming on the side. It’s nice to have a bit of freedom. I’m building a maths website at the moment for school kids to use, so hopefully that goes well.

How do you think people would react if you decided to stay? Like, what if you failed?
I think they’d just roll their eyes and ask "one more year then?" I don’t think anyone would be particularly surprised. I guess that’s just one of the side effects of taking so long.

Follow Maggie on Twitter