For a lot of people, university is the assumed path to success. You go to school, college, university and then on to a high flying career. So many people, myself included, are guilty of never considering any other way.
I don’t remember ever actually making the decision to go to university. The time came to fill out the UCAS forms and pick my favourite five campuses, and I did so without ever questioning whether this was the road I wanted to take.
It was the path set out by society, and so it was the path I stumbled down without a second thought.
Having now been there and done that, I look back on my university days and wonder if they were worth anything more than memories of pot noodles and cheap nights out.
The university experience
There’s a lot of hype surrounding the university experience, and to be fair, a lot of your best memories will be of your uni days.
For most students, it’s their first time living away from home. With little things like being able to eat what you want, when you want; or coming home as drunk as you like, at whatever time you like, it’ll be the first time you’ll feel completely free. With everyone high on their first taste of independence, your first year might be a bit of a crazy one, and the likelihood is, you’ll love it.
I went through my first year at university thinking that I wouldn’t change a thing, it seemed worth every penny. When I went back home for the holidays, people asked me if I regretted the £40,000 worth of debt I’d have when I graduated.
What was my response? ‘Of course not.’ I was enjoying the experience so much that the government could have upped the fees by thousands, and I’d still have mindlessly paid them.
When you strip it down though, all the university experience really is, is three years of cheap alcohol, new friends and a sense of independence.
Of course there are the lectures as well, but they’re probably not going to form the most memorable part of your time at university. So when you really think about it, like I did after the hype of my fresher year wore off, these are experiences you could easily have elsewhere, anywhere in the world, in fact.
With £40,000, you could travel the world for three years. Read that again.
Better yet, travel solo, and you’ll learn more about being independent than you could ever learn at university.
You’ll meet people from all walks of life, and drink in the bars of several countries. Sounds better than meeting the same people each day, in the same student bar, with the same watered down beer every night, right? With £40k you could see and learn so much more than university has to offer.
The learning part of university
Technically, the main reason for going to university is to learn more about a certain subject and eventually get yourself a bit of paper that says you know more than the average joe. So are the lectures and seminars actually worth the tuition fees?
My degree was in English Literature, and a year into it, I started to realise that it wasn’t as useful as I’d hoped and wasn’t really worth the money. My experience obviously doesn’t speak for everyone, but I know a fair few people who found themselves in the same boat as me.
Each week, for £9,000, I received a maximum of 8 hours in university. This worked out at around £30-£40 per hour. I know what you’re thinking, that it’s expensive because it’s quality teaching. Not quite.
Each lecture was simply an hour of having a powerpoint read out loud. Each seminar was an hour of discussion in small groups, with limited input or guidance from the seminar tutor. It was a bit like a book club, only in the middle of the day, and without any wine.
The most notable time that I realised I was wasting both time and money, was when I turned up for my 9am lecture, only to be told that we should spend the hour ‘going to the library and finding inspiration.’ That’s what £30 of my £9k tuition fee was spent on.
I went to university with the impression that it would help me prepare for some sort of career, but clearly, I’d gotten the wrong end of the stick. The lectures and seminars of academic subjects would, I’m sure, be useful if you wanted to go on to be a lecturer in that subject. But for anything else, your degree-level knowledge is pretty pointless. And as for gaining valuable experience alongside your degree, you can pretty much forget it. Academic subjects don’t really get work placement opportunities, regardless of how relevant it might be.
The career prospects when you finish
Okay, so now you’re probably thinking that even if my degree didn’t teach me a great deal, it must still have improved my career prospects? Again, not quite.
Even before I graduated, we were given a lecture that outlined the stats of where English Literature graduates ended up. Sure, 96% of them were in full time work or education 6 months after graduation, but when you break down that statistic, it’s not quite so promising.
Those that stayed in education mainly did so because they weren’t quite ready to face the long hours, terrible pay, and crippling debt of the real world. And those that went into employment, didn’t exactly land themselves high flying careers. You might expect a graduate to go into a reputable company or firm, where the potential is great and the pay is lucrative. But that’s not quite the case.
A whole load of graduates end up in fast food joints, or as bar staff in local pubs. The salaries of which barely cover basic living, let alone paying off £40k of student debt.
The average salary for most graduates is under £21,000 a year, and it doesn’t go up by much with time either!
The fact of the matter is that there aren’t many jobs that actually require you to have a degree.
So that job you aspired to get after you graduated, you could just as easily have applied to without a degree. You might go to the interview feeling high and mighty, with a 2:1 in your pocket, but chances are, you’ll be up against tons of other candidates who have experience in a similar position. Experience they gained in the time you were at university. Time you’ll never get back.
Or lets say you want to take the less conventional route of self employment, and start your own business. No degree will prepare you or teach you more about it than actually doing it. When children are taught to swim, they get in the pool. Business degrees and the likes might teach you the odd useful tip, but to succeed, you just need to do it.
However, if you plan on getting yourself an internship, this is where a degree will come in useful. Internships allow you to spend a certain amount of time (usually a year) experiencing and learning about whichever industry it is you hope to get into. It’s sort of the second stage of university that no one really thinks about until they graduate.
Once you’ve done an internship, your prospects are probably a lot higher. You’ve got a foot in the door.
But considering that most of them are unpaid, with long hours, and usually require commuting, they’re just not that desirable. By the time you’ve finished three years of hard work and no money, another year of the same (without a student loan to support you) just isn’t that appealing.
So university does have its moments. You meet new like-minded people, experience independence for the first time and have some pretty good memories by the end of it. But when it comes to down whether or not it was worth it the answer is: not really.
The main selling point of university is that it will better your prospects and your future. But in reality, it doesn’t. You might benefit from it somewhere down the line, maybe in your 40s, but until then, you should probably expect worse career choices and worse salaries than those that dropped out of college early.
Experience will always mean more than a degree, and nothing useful will ever be learnt from sitting in a classroom.