Should I study for a Degree?

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14/11/19 Reference this

If you are a school leaver, or are currently studying for your A-levels, and are considering furthering your education by applying for a place at a university and doing an undergraduate degree, then there are a number of advantages and disadvantages of studying for such a degree that you should first consider before applying. Thus, although it might seem that studying for a degree is a no-brainer if you qualify with your A-level results, this is not necessarily the case, as there are many highly successful people who have not gone on to get a degree, and there are equally many people who have a degree who have been unsuccessful. For example, people without a degree include Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook), Bill Gates (the founder of Microsoft), Richard Branson (the owner of Virgin and one of the most successful and wealthy businessmen in the world), and Steve Jobs (the founder of Apple Inc.). So it just goes to show that a university degree is by no means a prerequisite to success. On the other hand, it has recently been reported by The Guardian newspaper that a half of recent UK graduates are currently stuck in non-graduate jobs, meaning that they could have got the same job, sooner, without doing a three or four year university degree; and typically taking on huge amounts of debt in the process. Therefore, these are some of the issues that shall now be examined in more detail, so that you are fully aware of both the advantages and disadvantages of doing a university degree, so that you can make a more informed choice, and decide for yourself.

Advantages of Studying For an Undergraduate Degree

  • A degree provides the potential to earn more money in the future
  • There are more opportunities for networking during a degree
  • There is an opportunity for personal development
  • There are generally better career opportunities
  • A number of transferable skills can be developed (including skills in technology, communication, and presentation)
  • Problem-solving skills can be significantly enhanced

Disadvantages of Studying For an Undergraduate Degree

  • The typical debt amassed as a result of tuition fees and living costs is significant
  • The loss of precious time that could be better spent elsewhere
  • The lack of practical experience gained due to a focus on the theoretical
  • Being overqualified for menial work if your chosen field becomes saturated with too much competition
  • The danger of choosing the wrong course, and limiting your options by going down the wrong path
  • The potential for changing market conditions making your degree worth less by the end of your course

The Advantages of Studying for a Degree

To begin with, the advantages of doing an undergraduate degree, to some extent, are affected by what course you choose to do. For example, people who get a medical or dentistry degree can expect to get a job at the end of it, with 95% of all graduates in these areas gaining employment in their chosen field of study. Similarly, those with media studies and information studies degrees are also highly likely to find graduate work at the end of their degrees. Nevertheless, salaries can also vary wildly depending upon the degree taken, with medical graduates having a median pay of £45,600 per year, compared to just £21,000 for media and information studies graduates. So, the lesson to be learned here is to choose your degree carefully, depending upon what your final aim is (i.e. to make money, or to break into a particular field?).

Some other advantages of doing a degree, in addition to the potential to earn more money, includes personal development, networking, and gaining access to better career opportunities. For example, with regard to personal development, time management skills and organisational skills are likely to be fine tuned while at university, which are skills required to successfully navigate any undergraduate course that you choose, and this will serve you well in the world of employment. Moreover, the social networks, and the quality of them, that you develop while at university can also be invaluable in your life. For example, people often get jobs based upon recommendations from others, and professional networks often begin forming while at university. In addition, studying for a degree can also aid in developing problem solving skills, improving general writing and presentation skills, autonomous work patterns, report writing, working in teams, technology skills, leading others, and communicating with people in various ways. These are therefore transferable skills that can be used in the labour market, and they are skills that are highly valued by employers.

However, perhaps the most important factor in deciding whether to do a degree, or not, is that of the potential financial gains and increased job opportunities, with The Telegraph newspaper reporting that jobseekers without a degree could be earning up to £12,000 less than graduates when they enter the job market, which is the equivalent of more than £500,000 over the course of an average working life (not accounting for inflation). Nevertheless, it should also be noted that there are regional variations in the average graduate wage, with this tending to be higher in London, the East of England, and Scotland, which all average over £27,000 per year for graduates; along with variations in pay depending upon the degree taken, with the top five graduate salaries based upon course being in civil engineering, engineer, computer science, mechanical engineering, and mathematics. Furthermore, the bottom line is that full-time employed, working-age graduates will earn an average of £31,000 per year, compared to £22,100 for non-graduates. This therefore equates to around a £9,000 increase for graduates compared to non-graduates, so the financial gains are tangible, but this should be carefully weighed with the costs of getting such a degree, and the debt that is likely to be accrued while studying.

The Disadvantages of Studying for a Degree

Clearly then, although there are a lot of advantages of having a university degree, there are equally a number of disadvantages to balance this, and so it is important to be aware of both the advantages and disadvantages of studying for an undergraduate degree, before making this important life decision. The first, and most obvious, disadvantage, is that of the cost of taking a university degree. At present, university tuition fees can be as much as £9,250 in the UK, while annual living costs are in the region of £15,000, meaning that students can be paying, on average, around £24,000 per year while studying for their degrees. Over a three year course then, this can add up to around an incredible £72,000. In the UK then, according to the Financial Times, the average graduate who has done a three-year degree carries debit of more than £50,000, and faces high rates of interests when paying it back over a number of years, which increases the debt further. Thus, although graduates earn on average around £9,000 more than their non-graduate counterparts, it could take almost decade or more before any real gains are made, after paying back these debts. This therefore represents a long term investment, and one that is risky, and might not necessarily come to fruition with any meaningful gains, depending upon the course taken, and the area in which you live.

In addition, if you do a degree, you will also lose three or four years of your working life, which might be better spent getting experience in the real world. For example, in this time, you could build the foundations of a good profitable business, or you could work your way up a company hierarchy and learn a plethora of practical business skills. Thus, university studies are often theoretical in nature, and provide little real-world hands-on experience, if any. Moreover, at the end of a degree, as a result of this lack of practical experience in your chosen field, this might mean that you end up working an internship for minimum wage, or even on a voluntary unpaid basis, or you might be unable to get a job in your chosen field at all, and end up doing something that you don’t really want to do.

Furthermore, if you do get a degree, and you cannot get a job in your chosen field due to there being too much competition, or you having a lack of practical experience, then this might be counterproductive, as you could find that you are overqualified for a lot of roles; and while this might seem unfair and illogical, from the employer’s point of view, someone with a degree taking on a menial job is not likely to stay in that job for too long, given that they clearly have aspirations of taking on a higher level role. So, if there is no scope for advancement within the company, then the applicant could be deemed to be overqualified, and be declined in favour of someone less qualified, who is more likely to be satisfied with the job, and stay in the position long term. In addition, with more and more people doing a degree in the current era, it is highly likely that you will find yourself in this situation, due to, as noted, there simply being too much competition, and too many qualified applicants. Indeed, official figures from the House of Commons shows that the number of university degrees being obtained in the UK has risen dramatically over the past few decades, going from less than 10,000 in 1930 for males (and almost none for females), to just shy of 50,000 for males and around 37,000 for females in 1990, to around 150,000 for males and 200,000 for females in 2010. What this means then, is that holding a university degree has become the norm rather than the exception, and this is causing too much competition in the labour market, and subsequently, arguably, devaluing such degrees for those who hold them. 

The Number of University Degrees Obtained in the UK From 1930-2010
(Source: House of Commons, 2012)

To add to this, for those who do an undergraduate degree, there is also the danger that the wrong course might be chosen, meaning that a change of course might be required midway through the course, leading to spending even more time on the degree. Also, the job market is constantly changing, so by the time that someone graduates, the situation may have changed significantly, and there might be many more people who hold the same degree – meaning that there is too much competition in the marketplace, and salaries might decrease as a result in this area. As such, although the course that you take might be the right course when you first start your degree, based upon the research that you have done about your chosen role and field, it might not be the right course by the time you reach the end of your degree, as a result of changing market conditions, and social and economic changes in general. What this ultimately means is that you might spend three years studying for a degree, and working hard, only to find out that the rewards at the end are not what you expected when you began – leading to something of an anti-climax.

Finally, there are also a number of other disadvantages of doing a degree, which might include sacrificing some of your social life and friends, due to having to move away to a different area for your chosen degree, and being away from your family – or even a spouse. Moreover, you might also feel that your creativity is being stunted somewhat while at university, depending upon your course, as some curricula are quite rigid, and often rely on much memorisation. Also, a university course might also help to create a habit of overthinking problems, when in the real world, decisions often have to be made quickly and intuitively, which is contrary to the methods that you will likely be taught on an undergraduate course. As such, whether a university degree is right for you, or not, might very much depend upon a number of individual circumstances, on what your goals and aspirations are, and on what kind of person you are, and what kind of person you want to be.

Some Final Thoughts…

As you can see, there are a number of pros and cons that must be considered when it comes to deciding if to do a university undergraduate degree or not, and in order to come to the right decision, one must carefully weigh individual circumstances. Thus, it is impossible to say that the advantages of a university degree outweigh the disadvantages of a university degree, or vice versa, as such positives and negatives depend upon the individual. As such, for someone applying who is independently wealthy, the disadvantage of cost will be much mitigated; while for someone who is aged eighteen, the prospect of losing three years out of the employment market will perhaps be less important than for someone aged fifty. Therefore, all of this needs to be carefully weighed before making this important life decision, as it is a decision that could follow you for many years and decades in the future. Nevertheless, if you are not sure, you could always strike a balance, and become a part-time student, and pursue other interests and business/employment opportunities at the same time – thus getting the best of both worlds.

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