Figures from the Department of Education from 2018 show that over 50% of young people decide to go into higher education. This is significant and shows that going to university is being normalized. Although this is great news for education and society, it also means that some people may feel pressured to start a degree without understanding what it implies. Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer to this question as it strongly depends on the individual. However, we must understand that society is changing quickly and so are university degrees. Let’s have a look at some important factors that will help us understand the value of a degree.
Higher education is changing
It’s important to acknowledge the fact that the way society is changing is actively reshaping the meaning of higher education.
- What is the value of a degree? Today there are five-time more graduates than there were in 1990. 79% of students get a first or a 2.1 compared to 47% in 1990. Thus, academic standards have dropped. Universities are now encouraged to give students higher grades to boost employment prospects and student satisfaction. This is because they often prioritize getting a good ranking on the league tables over maintaining good academic standards. Overall, with most graduates getting top grades, the value of degrees has significantly dwindled. The vast majority of employers agree that the classes of degrees say very little about a person.
- Universities are businesses and students are customers. We must realise that universities run like businesses and are looking to attract as many students as possible. The Advertising Standards Authority has warned universities multiple times over misleading claims to attract students. This can often mislead people into thinking that going to university is the only way forward and stop them from exploring other options.
- The value of hard skills. Companies are more and more likely to appreciate hard skills, work experience, or self-motivation over university degrees. Given that anyone can graduate from university, it is difficult for employers to choose between candidates. This is why actual work experience, personal projects, and hard skills are often preferred over higher education, especially when the degree subject is broad.
- Getting a job is hard. I won’t stress this enough, even with an excellent degree, work experience, and extracurricular activities on your CV, getting a job will be difficult. Some students take months, even years to land their first graduate job. A lot end up working a job unrelated to their degree.
What to consider before going to university
Remember that to universities, you’re essentially a customer, so they will do anything to get you enrolled while you might not even need a degree. It can be overwhelming and it’s difficult to figure things out at 18. A lot of students end up studying a subject they don’t like or regretting their subject because they can’t find a job in their field. Therefore, there are a few things you might want to consider before making such an important decision.
- Take a gap year. If you don’t really know what to do yet, don’t worry too much, it’s pretty much impossible to have things sorted out when you’re young. You shouldn’t be afraid of taking some time off to think things through and figure out what you want to do. A gap year is a great way to meditate and get a different perspective on things. You could get a job, travel, take on new hobbies and get a better idea of what you enjoy doing.
- Have a plan. If you know what job you want to do and need a degree to get there, then you should definitely go to university. A lot of careers still require you to have a degree such as in medicine or law. Set yourself goals and make the most out of your degree.
- Be proactive. You should use all the resources that are available to you. Do your research, attend open days, talk to lecturers, connect with current students and graduates and ask all the burning questions you have. This will help you understand what life at university is like, and what you can expect from graduating.
A degree is a passport that opens up opportunities, however, students tend to assume that getting a degree is the final goal while it’s just the beginning. Ultimately, degrees are essential for many industries, but they shouldn’t be promoted as the only way forward. Take the time to evaluate all your options and make a decision you feel comfortable with. Whether you decide to go to university or not, make sure to stay proactive, explore and maximise your options.