Are you currently debating whether or not you should go to university?
Well, you’re not alone. Many before you have asked themselves that very same question.
The important thing you need to remember when leaving school is that deciding whether or not to go to university is not a decision that should be taken lightly. It’s a decision that you’ll have to live with for the rest of your life, whatever you decide to do.
Of course, that’s no consolation at all – and it’s probably made you even more nervous – but the good news is that we’ve put together some of the most important advantages and disadvantages of going to uni to help you make a more informed and carefully weighed decision.
So, should going to uni be the next step in starting your career?
Why go to university? What are the benefits of a tertiary education?
1. You can access more specialist jobs
While a degree isn’t always necessary to get a job (many employers nowadays tend to give more value to work experience than qualifications), it can act as a passport to more specialist jobs that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to pursue. For example, it would be impossible to become a doctor without the appropriate education, which includes completing a GMC-recognised degree in medicine.
That being said, there are different ways you can qualify for certain careers. For example, if you want to become a lawyer, you don’t necessarily have to do a law degree. You can take the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx) training programme and study to the same level as solicitors. But, it’s important to note that taking an alternative route to your chosen career might only allow you to progress to a certain level. So, make sure that you check out any limitations they may include!
2. You’ll increase your earning potential
According to the Department of Education’s latest report on graduate labour market statistics, the working age graduate (16 to 64-year-olds) earned almost £10,000 more than their non-graduate counterparts, raking in some £32,000 per year. The highest earners, though, were those with postgraduate qualifications who earned about £38,000.
You’re also more likely to become a billionaire with a degree than without one. GoCompare recently looked at the people featured in Forbes magazine’s top 100 billionaire lists over the past 20 years and found that 76% of those billionaires were educated at a tertiary level. That breaks down to 47% having a bachelor’s degree, 23% a master’s degree and 6% a doctorate.
3. It helps you develop transferable skills
Going to university isn’t just about getting a degree – it’s also about building and developing key skills that will help you succeed further down the line in whatever career path you choose to follow. Conducting research, writing essays and assignments, working under pressure, meeting deadlines, giving presentations, working within a team and managing your time effectively are all skills that can be carried over to the workplace – and which are highly valued by employers.
4. It makes you more employable
I mentioned earlier that employers generally give more importance to experience over qualifications, but that’s not to say a degree is completely useless. The truth is that being educated to degree level makes you much more employable – in fact, the unemployment rate for non-graduates aged between 16 and 64 was 3% higher than for graduates in 2016 and 3.8% higher than for postgraduates, according to the Department of Education.
Meanwhile, the top UK universities which produce the most employable graduates, according to the World University Rankings, include:
- University of Manchester
- King’s College London
- Imperial College London
- University of Oxford
- University of Cambridge
Is there a flipside to going to university? Are there any particular reasons why you shouldn’t go?
1. It’s expensive
Like, super expensive. Tuition fees in England are amongst the highest in the world – with students paying almost 27 times more than their French peers! The average bachelor’s student pays up to £9,250 a year – that’s £27,750 for a typical three-year course. In France, annual fees are just £346. Yes, seriously!
Then there are living costs to think about, which can vary greatly depending on your lifestyle and spending habits, as well as where you live and study. For example, in Edinburgh the cost of living can range between £655 and £1,340 per month, while in London you can expect to need between £1,000 and £1,200 per month.
2. A degree doesn’t guarantee you a job
Doing a degree never has – and never will – guarantee you a job in your chosen field. Although, yes, it gives you a competitive edge over non-degree holders, that doesn’t mean you’ll be able to secure employment once you graduate from university. It’s important to remember that you’ll be competing with other recent grads (and everyone else in between) for the exact same jobs. A 2015 study found that 6 in 10 graduates were working in low-skilled jobs, including call centres, bars and coffee shops, due to a shortage of high-skilled vacancies.
3. You might change your mind
Simply put: career paths change – sometimes quickly.
A recent study found that one in five students would have picked a different course if given a second chance. And although you may be able to transfer onto a different course, it will largely depend on whether there’s enough space for you on the new programme. You may also be able to transfer to a different university altogether if you’re unhappy with your current institution, and your previous credits can be taken into account if you’re moving in your second year, but this isn’t always the case.
There’s also the possibility that you might decide that uni isn’t right for you, after all. But dropping out of university comes at a price: you’ll have to pay a percentage or the entirety of your tuition fees (depending when you withdraw from your studies). All the more reason to make sure you’re 100% positive you’re making the right decision – but the truth is, even then, you may still change your mind further down the line. Circumstances, life goals and dreams are always subject to change, no matter your age.
4. You’ll finish your degree in debt
This is perhaps the biggest reason why many people choose not to go to uni.
Although taking a student loan out will help you pay your tuition fees and you normally won’t have to start making repayments until you’re earning over a certain amount (paying back tuition fees is based on your earnings, so you’ll never have to pay more than you can afford), you’ll end up spending the next 30 years trying to settle your debt. And that’s while potentially starting a family, buying a car and putting a deposit down for a house, among other things.
Recent research carried out by the Institute of Fiscal Studies found that the average debt on graduation is just over £50,000 – more than double the average debt students were faced with in 2011. Poorer students have it worse, who will emerge with an average debt of £57,000. Richer students will run up an average £43,000 of debt.
Five questions to ask yourself
Still not sure whether you should go to university? Ask yourself these five questions when making this all-too important decision!
- Do you need a degree? Some career paths don’t require a tertiary education for entry, so make sure you research your chosen path thoroughly to avoid wasting valuable time and money.
- Are you just following your friends? Sure, all your friends are going to uni, but a FOMO isn’t a good enough reason to follow them there.
- Have you thought about your alternatives? Going to uni isn’t your only option. Check out these 10 alternatives to university for a little inspiration!
- Do you even want to continue learning? You should go to university because you want to go, not because your parents are pressuring you into going. Remember: if you want to succeed at uni, your heart needs to be in it.
- Are you ready to choose a career now? If you’re still unsure what you want to do, you could take a gap year or get a job. This will help you to figure out things in your own time and avoid making any rash career decisions you might later regret. Remember, it’s never too late to go to university – you don’t have to be fresh out of school to go.
If you’re asking yourself ‘Should I go to university?’, remember that it’s your decision to make, no one else’s, and your decision should reflect your career and life goals, as well as your personal circumstances.
Can you think of any other reasons you should or shouldn’t go to university? Perhaps you’ve found yourself in this dilemma in the past and have some tips and tricks you’d like to share with today’s school leavers? Join the conversation down below and share your thoughts and experiences with us.
If you do decide that going to university is the right thing to do in your particular case, check out our in-depth guide on how to write a great personal statement!
This article was originally published in October 2016.