Over-qualified but no Experience: What is a Degree Worth Nowadays?

The way we understand a university education is changing rapidly. The idea that a university degree is the ticket to your dream job is not one that is relevant or true to a large extent now. With more than half of UK graduates in non-graduate jobs, it feels pertinent to stop and ask whether university is actually worth it nowadays. Have we reached a point where school leavers should turn their backs on the assumption that university is really the next logical step?

Okay, there is no doubt that university is a great experience. A first taste of real independence, meeting new people and getting involved with societies can teach you a lot about yourself, bring you out of your shell and simply change you for the better. The university experience is, and always will be, a positive one for personal development. Yet of course this experience comes with an exceedingly large price tag – tuition fees, student accommodation and everything else in between.

While it’s true that student loans don’t have to be paid back until you’re earning over a certain amount, it can still feel pretty demoralising to know that there is somewhere between ten and thirty thousand pounds of debt hanging over your head before you have even reached your mid twenties. So, it is really no wonder that graduation day had a certain bittersweet feeling to it. All the hard work paid off in achieving the grades I wanted but I feel I speak for many fellow graduates in saying that I don’t feel any more employable than I did before I completed my degree, combine that with the pile of debt and you have a very bitter feeling indeed.

The assumption that university is assuredly the best option for school leavers is one that should be altered. Although, I’m glad I completed my degree and thankful I had the opportunity to do so, I also feel I would have benefited at the time I was applying to uni from some advice that a degree is not the only means of attaining a “good” job or indeed your dream job.

We have all faced the deflating moment checking the criteria for a job only to find that it is essential to have a certain amount of experience to even be considered for it, no matter how enthusiastic you are about it. Indeed, a mere glance on the requirements for a job you’re interested in will show that there is much besides a degree that will make you a desirable applicant. As a graduate I bitterly have come to understand that work experience and skills really mean a lot more to a prospective employer than simply a degree. And that isn’t even to say I don’t have work experience either. I’ve worked part time for the guts of five years whilst studying.

While a degree shows you have the dedication and hard work to persevere with something difficult, it is just common sense that your degree won’t measure up beside someone who has A-Levels and three years’ extensive experience in the field you are applying for. Would it have been better to leave school, try to get some work and work your way up from there? Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development chief executive Peter Cheese has stated that “It’s crucial we as a nation take stock now of whether our higher education system is delivering desired returns for graduates, for organisations, and society,” further outlining that apprenticeships may be a better option for school leavers than higher education. You can earn money, learn workplace skills and gain valuable work experience all at the same time. Yet, an apprenticeship wasn’t even something I had heard of until recent months, it was never something I’d came across in careers classes at school.

Yet with a record number of students heading to university this September in the UK, the university option for school-leavers is not losing any of its popularity. While workplace skills and experience count for a lot when applying for a job, the abundance of young people in the UK who will have a university education will very likely, in the long run, have an impact upon qualifications criteria for jobs. This means that with work experience held in high esteem combined also with education expectations being raised, jobs are very likely to just get harder and harder to attain.

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