Sorry if I sound like your university lecturer, but please do bear with me…

Over time I’ve been looking at different university degree areas and been considering what graduates get up to after they’re all finished.  Thanks to some research by the Higher Education Career Services Unit (HECSU) into what happens once a student graduates in their particular subject/field, I’ve been able to discover where students go and how they start in the world of work.  Indeed, some choose not to – they move on to study in a particular field at a different level.

For those students who decide to take on further study to continue learning, it would appear that many students don’t seem to necessarily follow the same path forward – just a quick browse of the ‘further study’ list proves rather interesting to read:

  • Fine Arts students, for example, were reported to have gone into Masters in Business Management, Film Studies and Management and Marketing.  There was even the odd example of some graduates going into Midwifery.
  • Design graduates didn’t mind changing completely either – some moved on to business-related courses, including International Management.  However, many others found benefit in keeping relatively close to their original degree – we can see many going into Textiles and Graphics.
  • Mathematics students were a little happier to keep their skills within their original field – many moved on to PhD Mathematics, Masters in Economics or Management or possibly even around Enterprise.  Whilst this isn’t a purely maths-based second step, many students clearly like the idea of having some practical applications for their original degree.

The point I’m trying to make here is that students are diversifying, even after they’ve already finished a degree in which they’ve already specialised.  There’s a certain irony in that – students spend two years of some broad A Level study, then specialising for a degree for three years only to have to open their doors again.  Does this mean that students are finding that their degrees were too specific… or perhaps not specific enough?  Bizarre.

Similarly, we could look at the list of jobs that many students find themselves in…. That too makes for interesting reading.  Go down the list of different things that graduates get up to after six months and you don’t find yourself looking at a list that you could immediately associate with that particular degree.  Here’s the odd trend I spotted across the board…

  • Health professionals rank at the top of the list of graduate jobs – is this because of the lack of qualified nurses and doctors in the profession?  Either way, you would have to say that the sole routes into nursing and medicine are through those studying routes.  It’s a relative monopoly on the subjects but I wouldn’t be surprised by this!
  • After your health professionals, we get a slightly more diverse range of paths – the second most popular category for graduates is in the ‘Retail, Catering, Waiting and Bar Staff.’  Going down the list and you’ll see rather broad terms like ‘Business, HR and Finance Professionals’ and ‘Clerical, Secretarial and Numerical Clerk Occupations.’

All of these terms sound either rather vague or not really pointing towards a route that screams ‘I need a degree for this!’  I mean, since when was there a degree specifically for bar work?  OK, so we’ve got Business and HR professionals in there too, but the third of those on the list looks at clerical work – I think the crudest way of saying that would be office work… not a desperately technical job that requires a degree, surely?

Certainly I’m not turning my nose up at any of these jobs in any way… but if you’ve spent time and effort and accrued a lot of debt in order to gain a degree… why would you immediately start with a job that doesn’t require a degree?

OK, so there are a few possible reasons why this might be.

  • You are going to a new area and want to find something to get you started – perfectly plausible and of course entirely reasonable.  However, from personal experience and hearing various stories, many people like to go back home to their home town in order to get settled – not sure if people immediately feel comfortable going straight into a new area right off the bat.
  • The key one:  are students lacking something?  OK, so that degree is a great place to start… but if so many students are taking on further study or in jobs that don’t necessarily require a degree, does that point to something worrying?

If students are lacking something that employers are searching for… what could that be? Two theories jump to mind:

  • Students could potentially lack real-world workplace experience that’s needed to impress prospective employers in their relative field.  It’s always a possibility – not all students have a job whilst at uni and there are generally only two years beforehand to gain any experience.
  • Perhaps, because so many students are off to university (whatever you think of the government’s attempts to curb numbers) employers are not considering a first degree as ‘all you’ll ever need to get started.’  Do students need to have to study to an even higher standard than before?

I suspect it’s a mixture of both really… Certainly for me my work experiences before and during university and the extra learning experiences abroad I’ve had are going to prove invaluable. Then again, it also makes me worried that simply having a degree isn’t going to nail the job you’ve always wanted.  I think it’s really a question of finding something a little extra that’s going to really stand out.

I know it sounds clichéd, but there’s some really troubling evidence out there makes me wonder if students are missing out.  I’m going to have to write another piece on what graduates could do to improve their prospects… The evidence suggests everything is not as it seems.




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Laura is a Francophile with a passion for literature and linguistics. She also loves skiing, cooking and painting.