Is University Worth It?


… if you don’t want to start your working life in debt

In April 2016, it was calculated that UK students now face the highest levels of student debt in the English-speaking world. Even in America, where it’s well known that you have to pay through the nose, students on average owe between $29,000 and $32,600, compared to our £44,000. Plug those numbers into a currency converter and weep.

It’s become normalised in our society to head into the world of work with thousands of pounds of student debt dragging you down. Sure, as loans go it’s relatively pleasant; you don’t have to start paying money back until you earn above a certain wage – currently £21,000 for higher fee payers – and because it’s automatically deducted from your pay cheque, you don’t have to think about it much.

Even so, watching money disappear from your account can make you feel a bit bitter. Plus there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever earn enough to pay of your debt in full – in fact, the government calculated when they put the fees up that 45% of graduates never would. This means that nearly half of all graduates will spend 30 years in debt, at which point their remaining debt will be written off.

Being in debt is never a nice place to be, and there’s nothing wrong with deciding it’s not what you want.


… if you’re only going because other people think you should

Everyone has that family member or friend who seems to have more ambitions for you than you do. And that’s fine – if it’s what you want, too. But just because Nancy is going to Exeter for Economics and thinks you should so come with, doesn’t mean you should up sticks and follow. We all have to follow our own path. Sometimes uni isn’t part of that, and that’s okay. Uncle Harry will forgive you if you don’t go to his old college at Durham; your self-belief and career might not.


…If you don’t think what you’re getting is worth £27K

A university degree should make you more employable and give you access to resources you can’t replicate at home. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Not all universities are created equal; a recent IFS study found that female graduates from the UK’s bottom-ranked institutes were earning, on average, less than non-grads. Subject also plays a role. Those who study agriculture, mass communication and veterinary science degrees earn vastly less than economics grads. So if tending God’s creatures is your passion, maybe university isn’t the best route for you.

And what about the humanities degrees? Even at a well-respected university, with minimum contact hours and none of the high-tech resources STEM students benefit from, it’s easy to feel like you’re paying £9,000 a year for a library card. Sure, independent research fosters transferable skills. But you don’t need a professor sending you angry emails to go down the library and open a book – and if you do, what are you doing studying arts anyway?

“University prepares you for the world of work,” they say. The recent CBI/Pearson Education and Skills Survey would disagree. 44% of Scottish businesses reported shortcomings in graduates’ levels of “business and customer awareness”, and 36% complained of a lack of relevant work experience. The grads feel the same. A similar study from Aviva shows that over a third of university graduates regret taking their courses, and almost half believe they didn’t need a degree to get where they are in life today. So why should you pay £27,000 for three years of study, when you could spend that time developing actual, relevant expertise?

Finally, we’ve all been taught that university grads earn more than their less educated counterparts. But if that’s true, half of recent grads wouldn’t be moving back in with their parents. In fact, hourly wages for graduates fell 20% between 2008 and 2013. Graduates in their late thirties may still earn 1.6x more than those who left school at sixteen, but they are part of a previous generation when a university education was rarer and more well-respected. Today, this wage gap is closing fast.


… if you haven’t considered your alternatives

Real talk: we’re a graduate recruitment company. We’ve helped thousands of graduates get jobs that they wouldn’t have been able to apply for without their degrees, so we see the benefits of university every day. But we also know full well that degrees aren’t the only path to success, and it’s important that school leavers know what their options are.

Everyone should have the right to go to university, but it’s not always the right choice. Apprenticeships – paid trainee positions directly within your chosen industry – are experiencing a huge comeback. The ‘earn while you learn’ approach appeals to a lot of young people who already know what they want to do. The government agrees, pledging to produce three million apprenticeships by 2020.

Similarly, school leaver schemes at companies such as Deloitte, Mercedes and Sky pick up students just after A-Levels, promising graduate-level qualifications with none of the debt. These positions are easier to secure at eighteen than at grad level, and promise real experience in your chosen industry.

And if none of that appeals to you? Take a break before uni. Have yourself a gap year. Students who take time off after sixth form often show increased motivation when re-entering education. If it’s good enough for Malia Obama, chances are it’s good enough for you!

So don’t assume uni’s the be-all and end-all. It’s just one route to success, out of many. Leaving school is a time to consider all your options. Make sure you choose the right one for you.


Susanna Quirke writes for Inspiring Interns, a graduate recruitment firm which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and giving out graduate careers advice. To hire graduates or browse graduate jobs London, visit our website.

Ksenija Kotova

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