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Your guide to: The pros and cons of university

University can be an amazing experience, but it’s not for everyone. It’s also one of the biggest decisions you’ll make in your life – so it’s important to think carefully before taking the plunge.

In this guide, we explore the pros and cons of university to help you make up your mind.

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1. You can become an expert in a subject you love

Girl at desk

If you like to know everything there is to know about your favourite subject, uni could be for you

If you’re the person who has to know everything there is to know about a subject, then uni could be for you. Over the three or four years of your undergraduate course, you’ll become an expert in your chosen subject. The chances are you’ll get to choose a number of specialist areas of study as your interests develop.

2. University can prepare you for a specific career path

Some jobs require a university degree. For example, if you want to be a doctor or a vet, you’ll need to go to university. Other career paths typically start out at university – such as engineering, nursing and laboratory science. However, more and more apprenticeships are opening up – in fact, apprenticeships are available in all three of these professions today. If you’re considering a career in one of these areas, university may still be the best way in, but research all your options before making up your mind.

3. Graduates earn more

Graduates earn 35% more than school leavers, according to the stats pros at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS). And while the gap is narrowing, the IFS say it isn’t going anywhere soon. Don’t forget that the 35% number is a headline – there are lots of factors which can make a difference. These include the course and university you choose and the career path you’d like to pursue.

4. Uni gives you time to gain work experience

Going to university means you’ll be very highly qualified come graduation day – but it doesn’t guarantee you the technical and employability skills employers look for. Never fear – the long summer vacation is a great time to gain experience and skills through internships, a summer job or work experience placement. Internships are plentiful – but they can be competitive. If you don’t get one, look for local employers related to the career path you’re considering and get in touch.

5. You’ll get a taste of independence

Students prepare food together

University is a good chance to learn the skills of independent living - while having fun with your friends!

University gives you a flavour of independent living without throwing you in at the deep end. You’ll usually be broken in gently with a year in halls, giving you the chance to learn basic life skills like cooking and doing the laundry. Later, you’ll probably live in rented accommodation. Choosing a student house is exciting and insightful – and although you might not relish the thought of clean the loo or kitchen sink when you move in, it’s all good experience!

6. You will gain high-level transferable skills

Uni may be light on workplace experience, but a degree gives you skills that will stand you in good stead throughout your career. Whatever subject you study, you’ll learn to think critically and analytically, question assumption, carry out thorough and robust research, solve problems, and process large amounts of information quickly.

7. It can broaden your mind

Students in an art gallery

University is a chance to broaden the mind - many students throw themselves into art, culture and politics

One of the best things about uni is that it can alter your outlook on the world. It's a chance to move to a new place, meet people from different backgrounds, learn about fascinating ideas and experience culture, art and politics. OK, so we may be painting a grand view of uni life, but it's all there for the taking – if you want it.


1. You may not gain technical skills

Some degrees, such as medicine or veterinary science, prepare you for a particular career path. Others, like engineering and computer science are geared towards certain areas of work. These degree courses give you skills that you can directly apply in your job, should you choose to continue in your field of study. However, many roles are open to graduates with a degree in any discipline – and according to research by the New College of the Humanities, half of graduates end up in jobs like these. Your degree may give you valuable transferable skills, but you will have to learn the technical skills you need to carry out your job.

2. You may not get employability skills

According to research by Career Builder, only one in three employers thinks students graduate with the skills they need in the workplace. Nearly half of employers surveyed said graduates leave university without people skills, and many said graduates lacked problem-solving, creative thinking, communication and teamwork skills.

3. Contact time is less than at school

Students attending a lecture

Time spent in lectures is much less than many students expect

Contact time is often much less than students expect. In a recent survey, nearly two thirds of students thought they would get more contact time than at school, and a similar number expected to spend more time in lectures than in the classroom. In reality, contact time is usually much less than at school. Courses such as history may have less than 10 hours of weekly contact time.

4. You’ll leave with a lot of debt

According to research by the Sutton Trust, 2015 graduates left university with an average of £44,000 of debt. This is likely to rise as tuition fees and living and accommodation costs increase. The good news is repayments are linked to your earnings – currently, you must be earning around £17,500 to start repaying your student loan, and your remaining loan will be written off if you don’t repay it within 30 years of the first April after you graduate.

5. You will be committing at least three years of your life

A university degree is a big commitment to academic study. Most bachelor’s degrees last at least three years. You should think carefully if you’d prefer to be working in a paid job than dedicating yourself to years of study, coursework, revision and exams.

6. You’re not guaranteed a graduate job

About two thirds of graduates are overqualified for their job, according to the CIPD (the professional body for the HR industry). This does not mean they will never do a graduate job, and with the job market a very competitive place, their degree may still have helped them get that job. In fact, research by the Institute of Student Employers revealed that there were 20% more graduate job vacancies in 2021 compared to 2019.

7. Lifetime earnings can be higher with an apprenticeship

Apprentice working in a lab

Higher and degree apprentices are likely to earn more than a non-Russell Group graduate over their career

According to the Sutton Trust, those with a level 5 apprenticeship (or higher) are likely to earn more over their lifetime than graduates with a degree from a non-Russell Group university. Apprentices in this group are predicted to earn an average of £1.5 million over their career, compared with the £1.4 million forecast for non-Russell Group graduates. With degree apprenticeships, your earnings potential could be even higher – there isn't much data about this just yet.

So what does this mean for me?

The pros and cons of university mean you should think carefully before choosing your path. If you're drawn to university because you think it will help you get a well-paid job, you should think about the career path you’d like to pursue, and research the various ways of getting there.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself before deciding:

If you've weighed up the pros and cons of university and decided it's the right choice for you, make sure you use your time wisely:

  • How can I explore different career paths while I’m at university?
  • How can I gain skills and experience while I’m at university?

Have fun, explore new ideas and meet new people, and make time to enjoy the holidays as well as gaining work experience – you may not get another opportunity for a long time!

Still debating the pros and cons of university? Check out this post which helps you decide whether university could be for you.

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Image credits

Lead image via Flickr, Expert via Flickr, Students eat together via US Defense, Students at gallery via Tampa University, Lecture via Wikimedia Commons, Apprentice via US Navy