So you will be leaving Sixth Form soon and have to decide whether to take up a place at University or join the world of work.
For a lucky few, your chosen career path is clear: you wish to be a doctor and you need to go to Uni, plain and simple. For others – probably the majority of students, the next few years are a blank canvas, and you are left wondering whether investing three or four years at University is likely to pay the dividends you are looking for.
Before you make the decision, you should take time to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of going to University. This blog post sets out to give you some of the questions you should be asking yourself.
Should I Go To University?
Despite what society tells us, University isn't for everyone. And choosing not to go to University aged 18 does not mean that that opportunity has gone forever. Yes, it may be more complicated enrolling at Uni as a mature student when you have a full-time job and a mortgage to keep on top of but the opportunity to go back to education (especially a degree) is always there.
That said, many would argue that the University experience is at its best if you follow the majority of your peers and go straight from college or sixth form. But the big question is not 'what should I do?', it is 'what do I want to do?'.
Let us help you make up your mind about going to University and avoid getting caught up in the pressures of society or family expectations.
The Pros Of Going To University
Here are just some of the reasons for becoming a University student.
The chance to specialise
If you have a passionate love for history, you dream of a career as a barrister or you are a budding Stephen Hawking, University is an ideal place to encounter great thinkers.
If you are lucky enough to encounter lecturers and tutors who are as passionate about your field as you are, it can be intensely rewarding. Being knowledgeable about a particular subject is something you can be proud of and that can help you stand out against the rest, but it can also put you in quite a lonely place if you have no one to share this amazing thing with. Why else are there groups set up for fanatics to follow and share their opinions on on social media?! There is no better sensation than talking about something we love in great company, and University could be the answer to just that for you. What's more, mixing with people who are like-minded can open you up to more lessons about the subject you are already set on.
Your Professors and the student body on your selected course will accompany you along the most important areas of your subject. They'll provide important reading lists and keep you abreast of new developments in your chosen subject. It is no wonder that most graduates look back on their University days as the most mentally stimulating of their life.
Moreover, most postgraduate students would agree that their time at University is when the advanced their knowledge the most - taking in unbelievable amounts of new and invaluable information and data over the course of the three to four years.
University is a good investment
Despite the high fees many Universities in the UK can charge (currently £9,000), a tertiary education continues to pay dividends.
The Office for National Statistics indicates that graduates are more likely to be employed than those with a lower-standard education. Indeed, non-graduates aged 21 to 30 have consistently higher unemployment rates.
Graduates also have the lion’s share of skilled jobs and the choice of University is relevant as well: graduates from top Universities earn higher salaries than those from other institutions. You should be aware that the rewards for study are likely to come later: on average, graduates aged 21 earn a lower gross annual wage than students who opt for an apprenticeship. This is owing to the fact that new University graduates will have just entered the labour market or may take time to find a job in their chosen field.
It all levels out in time, though: those with apprenticeships earn less than graduates from age 25 onward. According to Labour Force Survey figures, over a 40-year working lifetime, a graduate will earn £415,320 more than those who have not studied for a degree. Net life-cycle earnings are increased by 28 per cent for male graduates, and by 53 per cent for female graduates.
Meet new people
If you have been at the same secondary school for the past seven years, chances are, you are used to moving in the same social circle.
University offers the chance to encounter people of all ages and from different backgrounds, which can broaden your horizons and enlighten you on different habits, customs and ways of thinking. University offers the unique opportunity to meet people from other countries and to immerse yourself in their culture and traditions.
So how do these unlikely friendships blossom?
If you move to University halls, you'll likely share your accommodation building with hundreds of students with five or six of you residing in the same block and sharing cooking facilities and social spaces. Even if you enter a house share, you'll find yourself surrounded by an eclectic mixture of personalities all living under one roof. This means that any time you use the kitchen or want to hang out in the TV room, you can get to know your housemates and form close bonds thanks to all being thrown into the same situation.
You just wait until you become an unusual family and then get to meet each other's parents and siblings!
University friends are often friends you keep for life because you are at a more mature stage in your life where you appreciate others for who they are, whether they are like you or completely different! Some people also, through sharing similar interests and experiences, meet their life partners at university.... so be prepared to see your life change for the good if you head off to Uni!
The value of independence and trust
University can boost your confidence in your own abilities, especially if you opt for an institution which is far from your hometown.
Tasks that may seem arduous (doing your own cooking, ironing, shopping) are actually great teachers of skills like time management and budgeting. No matter how many tins of baked beans you pack for that first semester, you'll eventually run out (especially if you become accustomed to traditional student life and come home from clubbing at 2am hungry and raid the cupboards!) and you'll have to learn to fend for yourself. No student has an endless budget to eat out so you'll often find yourself learning the basics of cooking, while also showing more of an interest in household tasks.
Perhaps you and your flatmates might even establish a cleaning rota or one of you will take on the 'parenting role' and love to cook for your friends?
Moving away from home for the first time also teaches you to establish your own limits (curfews, visits which are or aren’t allowed to your home, etc.). Being independent likewise encourages you to be responsible with your freedom.
One of the greatest things about living away from home but still being surrounded by people is that you always who rely on you and look out for you, too. Learning to be independent also means remembering to be mindful of your peers and looking out for each other in the absence of the family unit.
Finding new interests
University offers such a wide range of activities, opportunities and incentives that you will be hard-pressed to keep your choice of extra-curricular activities to a minimum.
Hone your skills in writing by joining the editorial staff of the student newspaper or sign up for a film club or equal opportunities group. Not only will you find a range of student-driven entertainment about (like poetry readings in cafes, or groups whereby you can visit the architecture of your place of study) but you can also find a heap of paid student jobs like becoming a bartender, waiter or assistant at your local book shop. While these may not be jobs for life, they certainly give you an insight into the life of work, prioritisation of time and areas of business you are interested in.
University is as much about discovering yourself and others, as it is about obtaining a degree; make the most of this unique opportunity and aim to have fun while you learn.
Getting a job can be a harmless way of meeting new people, having fun and earning some much-needed cash to fund your new lifestyle provided it does not interfere with your learning.
University can teach you about entrepreneurship
The QAA report, Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education: Guidance for UK Higher Education Providers, highlights the important role good Universities can play, not just in creating experts in specialist fields, but also in instilling an entrepreneurial spirit in students.
After all, if you have invested a great deal of time and money in your education, you should develop the skills you need to make the most of your degree, by being aware of your capacity to manage and exploit your intellectual assets, or even consider self-employment or the establishment of a start-up business!
When you sign up for University, don't forget to check out all the resources available to students in terms of careers. Most universities offer career advice and counselling which can be invaluable to helping you set your professional goals at a very crucial time in your life.
A positive outlook
It seems that opting for a University education has positive effects on one’s mental and physical well-being.
A study commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has found that graduates are less likely to suffer from depression, obesity or an addiction to smoking. They are also more likely to vote, help their children in the pursuit of education and enjoy a higher sense of well-being.
Interestingly, a study carried out in the USA has found that graduates with a bachelor’s degree have a life expectancy of almost nine years longer than those who have not obtained a high school diploma. Graduates also tend to be more integrated into their respective communities, becoming involved in volunteering and other pursuits, which are beneficial to the community at large.
So even if you have heard stories about students missing home or abusing their newfound freedom, then remember that the majority of University students thrive whilst studying for their degree in this next step towards achieving their life goals.
If you choose a positive mental attitude, you'll adopt a positive mental attitude!
Another great tip for taking care of your well-being whilst at University is to attend mindfulness or meditation classes which can help to relieve any stress or negative feelings. With much more emphasis on the importance of student mental health these days, it won't be hard to find a suitable escape from the world of books.
The Cons Of Starting University
After all of those positive benefits, it is hard to imagine that there's anything bad about starting University. However, we are not denying that University isn't always the best option. Here are just some points to consider which might not offer the same positive outlook on attending University.
Irrelevance to your future career
If your chosen job does not require University training, then a three- or four-year stint in University may be a waste of time. Not just precious time of gaining suitable experience, but also money (which we'll go onto in a moment).
If your dream job doesn't require a degree or wouldn't be helped by having a supporting relevant degree, then it really isn't worth setting aside all that time just because your friends did. Your friends will have their own, personal reasons for attending University, probably to do with getting where they want to be in life, so it is also important for you to make an independent decision about your situation.
Recruiters won't be impressed by the fact you have a degree if it has nothing to do with the roles you are applying for, so you could end up being in the same category as those heading straight into employment with only A Levels under the belt. Gaining a degree doesn't necessarily make you employable, it's wise choices that help you move forward in life.
If anything, prospective employers want to see that you understand the business and two years of being an intern or junior in a relevant firm could be your entry ticket to that profession, rather than a full-blown University degree course.
The thought of graduating with a student debt of £27,000 can discourage many students from pursuing a tertiary education.
Indeed, BBC news recently reported that the rise in fees had led to a 17 per cent drop in UK undergraduates. The case is especially grim for part-time students, who are more likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds to begin with, and who may find the fees simply too high to afford.
Another thing to consider is whether gaining this expensive qualification will reap the rewards and pay itself off in future? For example, if the profession you want to be in only pays a low salary, is the cost worth it to be paying off your debt over such a long period to come?
You'll start paying back your loan when you hit a specific income threshold, so be sure that your lifestyle will support this following on from University.
Conclusion: Is It Worth Going To University?
Clearly, there are more pros to going to University than there are cons, but it is also evident that every reason for or against is completely personal to you. There may well be opportunities to make new friends but you might have social anxiety and find this too much to handle. You might find the initial expense horrifying but wind up being a successful entrepreneur owning a multi-million pound business and pay it off easily... there are so many factors to consider and only YOU can decide what is best for you.
Of course, take feedback from family, accept suggestions from careers advisers and teachers but certainly do not allow yourself to settle on any decision that you aren't 100% happy with. It is normal to feel nervous when starting a new chapter, whether it is to move away for your degree or to start working (like a real adult!), but you will know when you have made the best decision for you.
I hope that you have found this blog post useful, and possibly provided some food for thought in your decision whether to go to University.