The university you attend matters, then the course – but make the best of what you’ve got
For many 18-year-olds, the one single event last week – the release of the A-level examination results – may well be the most important event in their lives, as it could shape their destination in life. This event is a result of thousands of mainly little events since perhaps the age of five. It is my view that the way you live today is a result of your beliefs and behaviours in the past – i.e. your thoughts and the actions you have taken. Action is, indeed, the most important as it is the only way your thoughts and dreams can be manifested into reality; however, when you take the action is vital.
There has always being a debate about whether there is the need for almost half of young people to have university education, given there is no guarantee of a good job and also the debt they accumulate in the form of student loan. Philosophically, I believe a university education is worth its weight in gold and it is proper that everyone has access to a university education if they so wish. I will, in fact, recommend it. However, putting philosophy aside for a minute, and adopting a pragmatic approach, the question that we may want to ask is “why go to university?”
There are so many good reasons, such as to get a good job at the end, to meet interesting people from a diverse background or to grow your mind and enjoy what may, perhaps, be the best three or four years of your life.
Why university? Is getting a job the most important reason to go to university?
If the most important answer to the individual is to get a good job, I do not think this is strictly the best route in all cases, as I see so many graduates doing McJobs, such as stacking the shelf at Tesco or flipping burgers at McDonald’s and other jobs that pay near minimum wage, and which do not require a degree to do. I’ve written about both the pragmatic aspects and also the philosophical aspects quite extensively in the past and I’m not going to go too much into that here. What I will do is to offer practical suggestions to young people who got their exam results last week and are in the process of making perhaps the most important decision of their lives, as the consequences of the decision they make will be long-lasting.
Two salient aspects to getting a degree – the university you attend first, and the degree course you study
I will be speaking about two main aspects – the university you attend and the actual degree course you do and I will be suggesting which one matters most and explaining why.
Experience and available data inform me that it is the university that one attends that matters most – followed by the degree course. There is one exception to this and that is studying medicine, as, in the UK, all the universities that offer Medicine as a degree are reputable. Some people may think that studying Law or Architecture guarantees a good job in the end, but I profoundly disagree. The only university course that comes close to Medicine in terms of finding a degree-standard job to any great extent is Engineering and, perhaps, Mathematics. There is a false assumption and generalisation that all science courses lead to a good job. There may be a very slight element of truth in that, particularly with physical science, i.e. maths, physics and chemistry-related jobs, but it is not the case for most biological science-related jobs. It also depends on what you call a good job.
University matters more than the course – supporting evidence
There are two links below to a couple of websites – including the BBC, which provide evidence that a certain degree enables you to earn more than others. These data support my argument above very strongly and they are a testament to what I’ve witnessed in my everyday life and in my involvement in the British education system over the last three or so decades. One note of caution I’d suggest is that statistics have to be analysed carefully. Whilst all the tables very clearly show a proven trend of the reality in earnings for those professions, it is mainly average figures. If you are interested in researching, or would just like to see some evidence that backs up the validity of my argument, I’d suggest that you visit both of the webpages in the links below and please make sure you look at all the tables on all the pages as there are slight variations, but the evidence is pretty strong.
There is evidence in the links below for both graduate earning according to the university attended and also earning by different professions. One piece of data that is rather interesting is that people in the education sector, such as teachers, on average, earn more than lawyers. Another set of statistics somewhere also says that one-third of lawyers earn more than £100k. I’d suggest that the reason for this is that the very top lawyers earn a lot of money and also many people who study law do not actually practise law.
- The university you attend matters most
- The degree course you study matters second – except for Medicine, and perhaps Engineering to some extent
- Personal skills, such as how confidently you present yourself, speak and appear , also help. For most people, in my experience, this particular point matters more than the degree or the university
- The people you hang around with
- The most important characteristic is how determined you are to succeed.
Alternative options to going to university now
1. An apprenticeship – with on-the-job training
2. Set up your own business, and start learning and experimenting – see point ‘e’ below
3. Try a university abroad
4. Retake your A-levels. You could get a part time job and retake your A-levels next year, and then go to university
5. Set up a business or get a job in the industry you’d like to work in and start gaining experience and learning – gaining the most valuable tools. Some say start failing, but I say: start getting results – some may be desired and some undesired, but it’s a lesson and not a failure… Start reading and listening to people such as Tony Robbins and Les Brown…
If you have a really burning desire, irrespective of the circumstances you find yourself in, you will adopt the behaviour and acquire the skills you require to succeed in your chosen endeavour.
If you are determined enough, irrespective of which university you get your degree from and the actual degree you study, you will do all you have to do to achieve the success you desire – whatever your definition of success.
Links below are to statistical evidence about university degrees and earning power
BBC – degrees that make you rich! (Graduate earnings by university) – https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-41693230
Education graduates earn more than lawyers – https://schoolsweek.co.uk/education-graduates-earn-more-than-lawyers-figures-show/
Links to past blog articles about university admission and future prospects – related blogs:
A-Levels and University Entrance Part 1
A-Levels and University Entrance Part 2
- a short video