Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
version 9, draft 9

Should I Go to University?

Oxford University students
Kamira / Shutterstock

Deciding what to do with your life after secondary school is tough: do you go to university? Should you take on apprenticeship training? Or perhaps a gap year is the right study pathway for you. There are so many different options available in this day and age for prospective students – each as unknown as the next to a recent graduate.

Without an all-knowing figure to guide you, it’s important you take each decision step by step. University is a popular choice around the world, but not the only option available. If you prefer to work hands-on and are interested in a trade, then academic study might not be best suited.

But what if you genuinely have no idea of what to do? Well, you’re not alone. There are over 412,000 people aged between 16-24 who are unemployed and no longer in full-time education. Follow these steps to ensure you know if university is the right decision for your career aspirations.

Why Should I Choose University?

When you apply to a university, you are making a choice to pursue your field of interest through an academic degree. As a general rule, the years of study at university surpass that of a trade, so your financial and time investment is significantly larger.

As part of this, your opportunities are also broader, especially if you choose to study at an institute in another country. Moving out of home to live independently is a major draw card for university students, particularly with the support of student accommodation and loans available.

University is more than a rite of passage for young people; it is also the best way to fast-track your career in certain industries. The fields of science, medicine and engineering, for example, often view an academic degree more favourably than an apprenticeship. In order to truly excel, postgraduate study is the leading option and readily available to those who have achieved an undergraduate qualification.

Most universities in the UK also offer a study abroad program. This affords you the opportunity to study overseas for an extended period of time and experience a new culture. If this sounds like something you would like to undertake, then you might want to consider enrolling in a university that offers the country and course that is most appealing to you – this will differ between institutes.

Why Should I Choose an Apprenticeship?

Well, maybe all of that academic rigour doesn’t sound right for you. The good news is that there are still other viable study paths available. For many recent graduates, the notion of hands-on work is a far more appealing option. The stigma that surrounds apprenticeships has been around for too long and is no longer accurate.

There are plenty of job opportunities in trade industries if this is your calling. When about 4 in every 10 graduates wish they’d taken a vocational pathway, instead of just choosing what they thought was safe, you’re better off to give it a go. Whether you’re interested in hairdressing, carpentry, garden landscaping or building, a calling is something you should pursue for your own personal satisfaction.

Ensure that apprenticeship programs are the sought-after mode of study in your preferred industry; often a requirement for practical skills and on-the-job experience hallmark this. In choosing to become an apprentice, you may also enjoy the added bonus of significantly lower tuition fees than many university students – an appealing prospect. More than half of all universities in England and Wales charge the maximum amount, so it is important to compare the cost of industry-relevant courses in both types of education institutes before you decide which provides the most long-term gain for your career.

Should I Get a Job Straight Out of School?

If neither of those pathways suits your situation, then a full-time job might be the right decision for you. All those years cooped up in a classroom make it only natural for graduates to be drawn to the freedom of a job and the salary that comes with it. There’s no point in following the crowd onward to a study pathway if that isn’t right for you.

Getting a job as a school-leaver can have its own challenges but also unique advantages. Firstly, work out what kind of employment you’re after. Is it an entry-level position in your industry or casual work to start saving money? Snatching a position within your field can be difficult but not impossible. Start by looking for volunteer work or a good internship relevant to your sector. This is a smart way to get your foot in the door early, while you have the time to commit.

The graduate market is saturated with job applications, so having experience under your belt before you even start your study is incredibly useful. This will also give you an edge once you start interviewing for different institutes.

I Still Have No Idea What Career to Choose

You’re set on going to university – but what should you study? Remember your course and career are related but they’re not intrinsic. That is to say studying a history degree will not limit you to the one-time job as a history teacher.

If you’ve read through every course guide you can get your hands on, and the revolving door to your career counsellor isn’t helping, try this instead. Take note of what you enjoy, not the career that you are trying to envision. Are you creative? Do you like to work with numbers, collaborate with other people or draw things? Narrow down your hobbies and characteristics – I promise you’ll start to see a number of correlated industries emerging.

If all else fails, a tried-and-true option is to study a short course. This is an excellent opportunity to get a taste for a specific course, without making the long-term commitment. Short courses are offered in every major city and are a great way to connect with likeminded individuals as well.

What Are My Deal Breakers?

Now you know what you like and have some experience. What next? Work out what you don’t like and the things you couldn’t possibly give up. These are your deal breakers. Moving away from home, being able to commit to a part-time job and leaving the warmer climate are common objections that make up a list.

Once you’ve established these, check with the university around their policy for student accommodation, support and the on-campus lifestyle. Some universities are more renowned than others for a ‘party spirit’ which is always best to take into consideration.

Above All, What Do I Want from My Education?

A graduate degree can give you many things: a professional world-class education, access to particular industries such as marketing or information technology, on-campus experience and some unmatched networking opportunities. But is this what you want from your degree?

There is an argument that university doesn’t prepare you for the real world, certainly not in the same way that apprenticeship courses can. But maybe that’s not why you’re choosing to study there. Perhaps it’s a natural progression, where your friends are going or what your parents want. Maybe the allure of freshers’ week is simply too tempting.

While there’s really no wrong reason to say, ‘I should go to university’, it is best practice to do all of your research before you make a decision. And always remember that no decision is set in stone! If you enrol in your first year and don’t like it, you can always transfer or start a new pathway instead.

To any university students reading this, please leave your insight below. Personal experience is the best resource for prospective students.

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