The dos and don'ts on deciding whether to do a degree
Should you go to university? The notion that students ‘should’, or ‘have to’ go to university has been increasingly challenged recently, and rightly so. But claiming to answer that with one article, would be misleading. However, what we can do is bring to the surface the truths you need to face when making your decision.
Do I really have to go to university and get a degree?
It depends on your chosen career. Degrees are there to help your early career prospects. But the connection isn’t always straight forward. Quite frankly, degrees vary in how applicable they are, which depends on what industry you’re interested in. We’ll be exercising this idea by describing degrees as either essential, nice-to-have or substitutable, as we discuss the associated benefits for your early career.
How applicable is my university degree?
Degrees that fall under the essentials category can be classified by the fact that in some industries, degrees are fairly, or even entirely non-negotiable. Typical careers where degrees are must-haves relate to courses like Medicine, Dentistry, and Teaching. Degrees are a barrier to entry in these fields, so university becomes practically compulsory. So, without rushing to a conclusion too hastily, if you’re considering a career in an area like this, the scales should already be tipping towards attending university.
Now, nice-to-haves sounds like an unremarkable category to pursue a degree in, but that isn’t necessarily a compelling reason not to. They may not serve as a direct entry requirement, but they still stand to benefit your early career. For example, fields like Business, Economics, Finance, and Psychology require a depth of knowledge and cover a broad spectrum of areas to specialise in. So a degree here really helps build knowledge and identify areas of interest to help you make an instant impact when the time comes to seek employment. Not to mention that a lot of big employers recruit directly from this group. That, coupled with the wider benefits of university which we will cover shortly, help make an excellent case for going to university.
Admittedly the final group in question, substitutable, hasn’t been made to sound all that attractive. To be clear, this name is earned from how little they actually assist you in your early career, relative to the other options available. That doesn’t mean they’re a bad idea entirely though, it just means that apprenticeships and early employment could be a wiser investment of time and money. Experience is universally valuable to employers, so getting your foot in the door and learning specific skills will probably serve you just as well, if not better, than these degree courses.
These categorisations should help develop your understanding of the relationship between course and career, but there’s a lot more to consider than just that.
Why else would I go to university?
The lifestyle benefits of university are a massive reason to go. But ‘lifestyle’ isn’t all about having fun, it’s about the sobering reality of independence.
Life skills and Independence
Starting your journey at university can be exciting, stressful and confusing. You’ll be left there in what’s probably a new city, on your own. The thought of that can be rather paralysing, but it’s actually a brilliant chance for you to get used to operating outside your comfort zone. Even if you decide to live at home, the same lessons are there to be learnt. Building relationships with new people, taking initiative to find out what’s required of you, and managing your own time and finances will all propel your personal development. University is just as much about these lessons, as it is about those in lecture theatres. So, when you embark on your early career, you’ll be a lot more comfortable with the transition.
If you consider this alongside how necessary your course is, you can start to see that you don’t simply have to study an essential degree for university to be the right option for you. Once you start to piece together the academic side with the lifestyle benefits, it’s clear to see that a university degree is more than just a course title.
Alternatives to university
It’d be counterintuitive to try and answer the question of whether to go to university without grasping what the alternatives are. Certain careers have great pathways for school leavers via both apprenticeships and entry-level positions to work your way up from. Not to mention that both of these options provide a salary and head start on your career, which is very productive compared to the financial cost of university.
Apprenticeships aren’t just substitutes for university degrees, they can actually be a better option for a lot of students. By successfully completing one, not only do you come away with recognised qualifications, you also come away with experience, a great CV and your foot in the door at a company.
Going Straight into Employment
The only real weakness of going straight into work is forfeiting a certified qualification. But ask yourself, how necessary is a qualification for the industry you are seeking to enter? Experience is the only thing that is universally essential, so you can expect to have a fruitful career even if you bypass university and go straight into a role.
Delay the degree and take a gap year
Last, and definitely not least, a gap year is a perfectly legitimate option. By now it’s clear that the weight of your decision regarding university is rather significant, so why rush it? Gap years allow you to reflect on what’s right for you. What’s more is they can also improve your employability, should you spend a good portion of that time working. It will help you get a realistic view of what it’s like to go straight into employment, with the reassurance that it’s not too late to choose to go to university later on. Furthermore, travelling is also a popular way to spend a gap year, and with good reason. Besides how fun and interesting that can be, it’s also a great way to get some life experience and consider your options. When considering university, you don't necessarily have to have your whole career mapped out, which means that sometimes it’s better to press pause on academic life, and reflect on your options for just a bit longer.
So in summary...
You should never reduce your decision on going to university just down to how useful the course you want to study is. We can’t all study an essential degree. They’re typically associated with the upper percentile of academic achievers, and there’s a good chance you may not even be interested in those fields anyway. But if that’s the case, don’t abandon the idea of university. Weigh up all of the factors discussed and be realistic about how much university will benefit your early career. Add the costs and alternatives to the equation. Ask yourself whether the advantage to be gained of the university experience is greater than earning money whilst gaining a qualification and/or valuable experience instead. Even with that said, you don't necessarily have to have your whole career mapped out, so if you just want to continue learning a subject you love then that's a great reason to go. At the end of the day the answer will be different for everyone, so just remember that a decision based on honesty and deliberation can’t be a wrong one.