Life: What is the Value of a Degree?

The title of this post is a question that seems to be getting flung around a lot in the media recently, and was also the topic of debate of an episode of ‘Up For Hire‘ I was in the audience for on Tuesday evening. This is a subject I feel so passionately about that it’s difficult not to just rant but I’ll try and structure this post so you can hopefully understand my point of view!

My Background

My home for 3 years!

I studied English Language and Linguistics at the University of York from 2007 – 2010 with the initial intention of wanting to go into Etymology (that’s History of Words for dictionaries etc) after graduation. Like many people, after 3 years of that subject I actually realised that a career in Linguistics probably wasn’t for me, but luckily I’d made the most of my uni years. I was involved in University Radio York, campus magazines, sports societies (well, aerobics anyway!), volunteer work, unpaid work experience and held down a part-time job. After graduating I continued to work in retail for 5 months before I started a Marketing internship at a law firm for 9 months and 2 months ago started my job at a digital marketing agency as a Social Media Specialist.

Up For Hire

This show is on Mon-Fri this week (17-21 Oct 2011) live at 9pm on BBC3. It’s addressing the current unemployment problems in the UK, focusing particularly on the fact that many young people are struggling to get work. Yesterday I was in the audience (catch me on BBC iPlayer while you can!!), and the debate was on the value of a degree. 

I’m of the opinion that a degree is the most valuable thing a young person looking for employment can own. A degree shows 3 years of commitment, dedication and hard work, regardless of the subject you take. The audience of the show I was in was predominantly full of people who were shockingly anti-university. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think everybody should go to university. It’s definitely not for everyone, and many people want to pursue other paths. However, what really got me was the vilifying of graduates at last nights show – people were essentially saying that graduates had wasted their time and money and that employers no longer look for degrees.

How is a 3/4/5 year commitment to something a bad idea?! As I’ve said, my degree isn’t directly related to my career path, however without it there is no way I would be where I am now, just a mere year after graduation. It may sound like a cliche, but university really does provide important life lessons to young people: you mature and become an adult at a steady pace without the forceful jump of a full time job or parenthood. You meet a HUGE variety of people, you have to learn to manage a home and finances with the nice comfort blanket of a student loan. 

Yes, the student loan of course is a bug bear in itself. I myself am in a debt sum of 5 figures (not to mention the money my parents forked out to help me with rent) which won’t be paid off for many many years, but you don’t get something for nothing. As much as I disagree with the simply ridiculous tuition fees Ham-faced Cameron has allowed, it’s not like you don’t get anything for your money! You get an education, you get experience, you get friends, you get a whole new path to start your life on.

Feeling very proud at graduation

I think there are many people who do assume that once they have their degree they should just get a job. But that just isn’t the case. However, non-grads are making similarly silly assumptions. The girl sat next to me in yesterday’s audience stated she’d got A*A*AB in her A Levels but had chosen to ‘abstain from university’ as she believes she can get the experience she needs to get into talent production and management elsewhere. I had to jump in and tell her otherwise, because this, to be honest, is a stupid thing to think. Nobody, no matter what your background, academic or otherwise, should assume they will be able to get work experience any easier than they could get a job. Entry level roles in every sector are packed with applications from talented individuals, and even though some employers may consider you without a degree, they will not consider you without experience. And the work experience employers will not take you on without a degree! 

In competitive markets such as the one the ‘abstainer’ wants to go into like talent management people are chomping at the bit to get on the ladder. I know this as Marketing is just as hard to get into. I learnt that employers are looking for a couple of things:

a) a 2.1 or above (often in a well rounded subject from a redbrick university)
b) excellent range of extra-curricular activities while at uni and since graduating
c) at least 6 months – 1 year of relevant work experience

It took me 5 months of solid applications and interviews before I managed to land just an internship! And I know that there is no way that without that internship AND my degree that I would have got the amazing job I have now.

So yes, university isn’t for everybody, and of course there are many employers that will consider those without a degree. BUT to think that NOT going to university will make you more attractive to employers is wrong; you’ll have to work just as hard to prove yourself, still start from the bottom and get a ton of experience first.

Let’s not attack peoples’ desire to be educated. A degree IS valuable and I will never regret studying for mine.

Watch me stick my oar in on Tuesday’s episode here


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