Is University The Best Choice?
Is university the best choice in today's world for a successful career ?
With over 32% of 18 year olds being accepted into UK universities last year, getting a degree remains one of the most heavily promoted paths for school leavers. But is university the best choice for all?
In fact university is often presented as the only option when it comes to having a successful career. But with more first class degrees being awarded than ever before, it is becoming even harder for people to stand out in the job market. Almost 60% of UK graduates now work in jobs that don't require a degree. Do we need to reassess whether university is worth it and the best choice for everyone?
The UK is not alone in asking whether university is the best choice. In the US going to university is still a popular path. American colleges have seen an increase of about 5.1 million attendees since 2000. However this might not be the case for some EU countries, which have seen a drop in applications over recent years. Italy and France, are experiencing high drop out rates as students feel they will have little competitive edge to show for their efforts.
Why get a degree?
A degree is currently, and likely always will be, perceived as a valuable asset. It provides transferable skills for the professional world as well as equipping young people with social and life skills. As a university graduate myself, I can vouch for the usefulness of things I learned at university. Essay writing for example, allowed me to develop skills in research. Living in shared houses prepared me for managing money and household responsibilities. Moreover, having a degree actually does unlock the door to a much wider range of professional jobs. A bachelor's degree, in whatever discipline, is now often a basic requirement on many job descriptions. It shows people can apply themselves and work to a high level. Graduates also earn more than non-graduates.
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But students who don't know what they want to do may feel pushed into studying to keep up with peers, even though it may not be directly beneficial for their professional lives. Women may also feel more pressured than men into this path. Record numbers of females are attending university, outnumbering their male counterparts since 2008, the gender pay gap remains essentially unchanged. Could it be that women feel more acutely the need for a university degree, in order to prove themselves and feel as valued as men in the workplace?
Or what if you want to go into a career that doesn't really need formal academic training? Or prefer a more hands on learning style? University has always been designed for those of a more academic leaning, so in its nature does not suit everyone, and may be delaying people who want to get their foot on the professional ladder. Moreover, with a very hefty price tag, an average course costing £9,250 per year, up to $50,000 in the US, it may make economic sense to explore other options.
Is there another option?
What then, are the alternative options to University? Apprenticeships allow you to get straight onto the career ladder, learn on the job, and offer progression in a wide number of trades, offered in diverse sectors ranging from marketing to accountancy, law or engineering. In Germany about 30% go to university, but the country's apprenticeship system remains a model for other nations.
The new age of technology and the Internet has also brought with it free resources, that with creativity and self-discipline, provides an alternative to getting a degree, whether that means self-teaching a skill, becoming a YouTuber or creating an online start-up. A friend of mine, now a designer and illustrator, used the Internet to teach herself graphic design rather than pursuing a career generated by her Politics degree. Through networking and social media she now has established a platform for herself, working freelance as well as running her own watercolours workshops.
The question of whether university is the best choice is still open. There are also a variety of alternatives to suit different people, although we are still waiting for society to catch up with this notion. We need companies and other organisations to assign equal value to apprenticeships, practical skills and non-academic experience. In this way we can establish an equal platform for men and women in the work place, and pave the way for more diverse routes to success.
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