It is a peculiar and somewhat unnerving prospect, isn’t it?
You pack your bags as a Fresher and head off for three or more years of what people call the greatest time of your life. They’ll be parties and laughs along the way, just so long as at the end of it you leave with a degree that will help you in some way later in your life. Right?
The idealistic view of university is just that: you go there, work hard, have a nice time, pick up your degree and enter the job market. You’ll find yourself doing something with your degree and you’ll look back on your time with glee and happiness. I suspect that the reality after you’ve spend your time at university is somewhat different.
In statistics published by the Higher Education Career Statistics Unit (HECSU) this year you can see several interesting pieces of data…
- Let us start with a bit of background. If you look at the 314,000 students who graduated last year in the UK, we note that the unemployment rate stands at 9.4% (6 months after graduation.) Of those who graduate, 51.6% have a full-time job within 6 months. 31,410 graduates went straight into further study or research of some description, equivalent to 13%. For those of you that went into further study, over 40% went into a Master’s Degree and nearly 20% went into some form of postgraduate qualification of education (PGCE – the most common route into teaching.)
- When you look at those who went into work (either full-time or part-time), you will see the number is around 173,000 people. Of that, 13.8% worked in employment under the ‘healthcare professionals’ category, the largest proportion in the survey. Interestingly, second on the list is the category entitled ‘Retail, catering, waiting and bar staff.’ Slightly concerning, I was not aware that you needed a degree for that… It’s clear from this that perhaps there is a lack of graduate opportunity out there.
- When you dive down into individual subjects you can at times find strange little pieces of data. For example, unemployment in mathematics graduates is 9.4%. Not a bad total, especially when you see that 44.9% are in a full-time job within 6 months and another 23% are in further study. What is interesting though is where they end up if they get a job. Nearly 40% of maths graduates in a full-time job got one in the Business, HR and finance category.
All of a sudden, I’m thinking ‘well, what was the point in maths there?’ There’s an obvious link between mathematics and finance, for sure. However, the report listed examples of different companies in that sector. They included a supermarket, a bank and a rail company.
I had a look on their respective sites for a bit of information about what they ask for in graduates. The supermarket, for its Store Management programme, asks for a 2:1 classification in ‘any discipline.’ In fact, they have 21 areas for graduates, the only ones that require a specific field are their technical science applicants (2:1 in any science-related degree), Optometry (a graduation in Optometry itself) or Pharmacy, opening it up to pharmacy graduates. The latter two I can understand, given their technical and demanding nature.
When I looked at the banking options for the General Management area, it was much of the same story: the discipline wasn’t so relevant when it came to applying.
This strikes me as a little unusual – surely applying for, say, a finance or risk-related position would be aided by a business or economic background. Perhaps not.
What is becoming clear then is that companies looking to employ graduates are not looking so much for a particular subject, but more a capacity to learn. Indeed, someone who obtained a 2:1 or 1st in their field at university has got great capacity to learn and has some excellent skills.
There are of course notable exceptions. For instance, I can’t see many philosophy graduates walking into a medical position. Some places will only take on people with a specific degree for a good reason, like medical-related work. It’s probably also safe to assume that some prospective employers wouldn’t mind someone with the ‘right’ background, since they will likely need less training.
Then again, research points the other way – you really could point to the fact that some people with less-relevant degrees are able to find graduate opportunities simply because of their ability to take on new concepts and ideas.
Furthermore, think of getting onto that degree in the first place – it might not have been compulsory to have A Level experience in the first place. Case in point: Me. I am on an International Business Management and French course with no previous experience of business, finance, economics or anything similar. I got a Grade C in A Level Maths, if that helps?
Even teachers don’t necessarily have a specialism to hand – recently it was revealed that only half of newly-qualified maths teachers have a mathematics degree. That’s a source of controversy for another day, but you can still see the original point – opportunities are always open somewhere along the line.
So, to answer the original question if the choice of degree really matters… Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. It’s not exactly the most definitive answer I know, but then again the evidence is showing that maybe the experience and a good grade in whatever you do might be enough in the majority of cases.
Ultimately, it could make things trickier for you. That advantage you thought you had over Joe Bloggs because you have a closely-matched degree for that finance graduate scheme place might be gone… not because he did the same course somewhere else, but because it turned out he was a philosophy protegee who managed to re-write the rules of existentialism. Not relevant, but he’s clever and can think rather well.
Be careful, you might find yourself fighting some unlikely competition.