Twenty years ago, deciding whether or not to go to university was arguably an easier decision than it is today. You either wanted to pursue an academic career or you didn’t. Nowadays, the sheer amount of courses on offer means that university isn’t only reserved for those interested in studying the classics.
As modern universities continue to offer more contemporary courses in subjects like online marketing, digital media and film studies, more students are finding themselves torn between entering straight into the job market and spending their next few years studying. Here is our careers advice for students who may be asking whether university is for them:
Consider your long term career plan
At Success at School, we remember how frustrating it was when someone asked about our career plans when we were still at secondary school. How are you supposed to know what job you want when you’re only seventeen, right? Oh yes, we’ve been there, but having at least an idea about what your career goals are is better than having no plan at all and simply deciding to go to university because you don’t know what else to do.
In the future, if you don’t see yourself working in a job that requires you to have a degree, then perhaps university isn’t the right career path for you just now. Maybe your time will be better spent gaining work experience and looking for internship opportunities? Remember, you can apply to university at any age. No-one says that you need to go while you’re in your twenties.
Can you commit to at least 3 years’ further study?
University can be heavy on the brain and heavy on the pocket. Ask yourself whether you can actually see yourself committing to studying for the next few years. If you found it difficult to get into a study routine during your A-levels and struggled to keep your focus, then maybe university isn’t for you.
And don't forget the expense – student finance is manageable with a bit of common sense, careful budgeting, and the right help, but there's no point in saddling yourself with years of debt for for something you don't really want.
Of course, many students do find that once they’re at university, their focus improves and they develop better study habits, but not knowing whether you have this capacity makes your decision all the more important.
Does the student lifestyle appeal to you?
Let us start by saying that everyone’s university experience is different and there’s no such thing as a ‘typical’ student lifestyle. Some students live on campus; others stay at home and travel in, some students work while studying and others have families to look after.
However, a lot of students do tend to be in their late teens or early twenties and for most, going to parties, sleeping late and skipping the odd lecture is all part of the university experience. If this doesn’t sound like you, then maybe you’d prefer to enter straight into the job market?
You should also consider whether you’re happy to live on a budget for the next few years. Even if you have a part-time job, paying your way at university can be tough and most students need to live within their means.
What’s the current job market like for your chosen subject?
Whichever subject you decide to study, there are usually careers associated with it. Before deciding whether university is the right career path for you, do some research into the jobs market in those industries. Does employment seem plentiful or are major employers letting people go? How competitive is the industry? Does it look set to thrive over the next few years or hit a slump?
You should find answers to all these questions before committing to a specific course. Sometimes having an interest in a subject isn’t necessarily the best reason to study it, particularly if employment in that area is sparse.
If in doubt, we’d recommend arranging a work experience placement before you decide whether studying a particular subject is a good idea. A lot of employers actively take on work experience students to help them get a feel for the type of job that they might be doing in the future.
While you’re there, ask employees what they like and dislike about their jobs and whether they’d recommend you pursue a career by studying at university. Remember, not every high paying job requires you to have a degree.
If you’re still unsure whether university is the right career move for you, then why not post some of your concerns on our student careers forum and let one of our team answer any questions you might have?
By Jamie Thomson