Something I wrote several years ago that still gets a lot of attention is the post My big fat worthless degree.

It’s lasting popularity, I account to the fact that countless others have gone down this path, to feel cheated.  I imagine my words resonated with readers frustrated by their life choices.

This is a topic I’ve wanted to revisit because when I wrote the post I wasn’t in the best frame of mind, read this snippet:

“I know now I was an idealistic idiot. Doubling down on my education with two useless degrees is not the answer.

Higher education is like a casino, ready to feed unlikely dreams as long as you keep paying out to the house.”

I was pretty angry at the time, as I went to university leaving a dead-end job hoping to make gains in my career, only to go back to working another dead-end job, so you can understand my frustrations.

Since then lots of things have changed – I’ve made improvements in my career and don’t feel bitter anymore, but the cost of a degree in the UK is more than ever, as new graduates have to make the tough decision whether they want to invest this money to face more competition from university graduates than ever before.

Therefore, I ask the simple question

“Is it worth getting a degree?”

Does a degree get you a better salary?

Current stats say that the UK graduate earns more than someone who has not been to University – an average of £34,000 against £24,000 quoted by this Guardian article.

This is interesting, as the key word here is “average”, this means there are graduates making more than this, but on the flipside, others are making below this amount.

It would be interesting if that figure illustrated the professions chosen by graduates making above that average – I’m going to guess that these are more likely to be those who studied to be doctors, scientists, engineers rather than those who decided to study gender, the environment, and sport and exercise.

When you consider those graduating in 2019 are leaving with an average of £50,000+ student debt, you have to ask, is an extra £10,000 (plus taxes) really worth it?

If the graduate decides to do a master’s degree, take a gap year, do a PhD… you can start to see how costs could escalate even more.

 

But a degree shouldn’t just be measured on economic value!

This is a common argument I see people make to justify going to university – education for the sake of education, rather than financial gain.

But pursuing a degree for the sake of knowledge is slippery – do you really want to be saddled with a £50,000+ debt, just to pursue a topic you were sort of interested in at 18 years old?

I agree the pursuit of knowledge is a fine and noble pursuit, everyone should make that priority throughout their life, but a degree isn’t the only option to fulfil this.  You could easily say a library membership is a more affordable alternative.

And technology has made it easier to learn with more free/cheaper resources.  Check out the thousands of free courses offered by EdX and Harvard.

 

What about the other soft skills from university?

One of the greatest things I gained from university was not actually from the course, but from the life experience itself – moving away from my parents and surviving on my own did wonders for confidence.

And it gave me a social life that will never be matched again.

But again, both can be achieved, with cheaper alternatives!

On the positive side of doing a degree, one of the greatest skills I gained was pushing myself to the limits of my potential.

My master’s degree was worthless, but it tested my ability to deal with the stress, reaching a limit I never realised I could do.  This has resulted in knowing my boundaries and being able to handle stressful challenges.

 

Do employers need a degree?

One of the arguments that persuaded me to go to university was the number of jobs which said, “Must have a degree.”

I felt not having that piece of paper was holding me back.

Now my career has progressed to be involved in recruitment, I do question the “Must have a degree” prerequisite.

I’m always cynical when a job requests this, as not all degrees are equal, so making a broad request like this will get graduates of different calibre, therefore making the requirement pointless.

Employers may also caveat with “equivalent experience,” negating the degree requirement.

Something to also consider is What does your degree say to your employer?

When I graduated from my master’s degree, I struggled to find work – even for entry level work that I was more than qualified to do.

I soon learnt that they looked at my CV and thought I was overqualified, and would ask questions like

“Will he settle?”

“Will he get bored quickly?”

“He probably won’t do the job for as long as we would like…”

It sometimes feels like you can’t win as a graduate!

 

Is it worth getting a degree?

I appreciate this post is heavily biased towards not doing a degree.

This I recognise as “degree regret” a common symptom in my generation, who were brought up on the belief, to be someone, you need to get a degree.

This idea was put in our head by good intentioned (but naïve) loved ones and the blatant lies of teachers, more motivated by having a good report showing how many of their students were ‘successful’ going into further education.

Degree regret is worsened by seeing people who chose not to go down this path doing better than you.

You start think “What if…”

What if I learnt a trade?

What if I joined the military?

But you can’t live like that and have to learn to accept the path you’ve taken.

Overall, I think I’m one of the lucky ones, I’ve reached the above average section of UK graduate salary.

This wasn’t easy, I graduated in 2009 and have only just reached this 11 years later, in a situation I account to my determination and experience, rather than qualifications.

I also got to university before a massive bump in fees was implemented, meaning it was still an affordable aspiration for UK students and not a lifetime of debt.

 

Advice for anyone considering a degree…

  • Consider the financial implications. If you have to pay ‘X’ then understand whether this is a worthy investment to a better salary.
  • Don’t be pressured into going by anyone, ever.
  • Take a year out working before making your decision.
  • Don’t go if your main motivation is “the university experience.”
  • Education for the sake of education isn’t worth being £50,000+ in debt.
  • Look at cheaper alternatives to personal development.
  • Take opportunities in the workplace to pay for your qualifications.

A degree is always going to be a gamble when it comes to commanding a greater salary, with certain courses giving you better odds based on societies economic needs, therefore when considering to go for a degree, choose wisely…

If you are at this milestone, I wish you the best of luck in your decision, whatever you choose to do in life make sure to work your arse off and become the best at your craft.

<<read the inspiration behind this post: My big fat worthless degree>>


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15 thoughts on “Is it Worth Getting a Degree?

  1. Also I think to get on in life you need to be a self starter in life. You need to kick yourself up the backside. And have a standard, a dream, motivation and then you make your life with or with out a degree.

    I have seen people do silly degrees, and are the laziest people and just waste their life and be in debt.

    There are many avenues to a good career and a degree isnt necessarily one.

    BUT for me it was the BEST choice and thing I did. But I got a grant, I did a thin sandwich. Therefore I learnt money for 6 months for 3 years of the four year course, so that helped. But I never got any long summer break. And some aspects of the degree to this day were unhelpful. But I was a bit naive going to uni and selecting the course. I selected on the bases of lectures, the ability to live away and it was close enuf to go home if i wanted too, and it was a subject i enjoyed.

    But i think in life if you do anything, and want to make life work, you gotta be a self starter. And tiny details matter even in the smallest of life activities.

    Like

    1. This is definitely true. On my courses you could see who the self starters were and the ones just cruising along for the uni experience.

      I think your approach is definitely the best getting actual work experience as it does feel like banging your head against the wall when you apply for jobs with a degree then get told you need experience!

      My criteria to select my course was similar far enough away to live away but close enough to get a quick train ride home!

      My main tip for anyone going is make sure your earn while you study it will help with debt. Because its difficult knowing what you want at 18 to also spend a year or two working as it might give a better idea what you want to do.

      Thank you very much for your thoughts. Much appreciated 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I did my degree when you could get Grant’s. Now it is a loan and that changes things as you are already in debt.

    I personally felt my degree was needed and helped in all my jobs. And career. Also living away, getting work done by yourself us an important life skill.

    I have seen people do well without a degree too. I seen people work and then do a degree.

    I agree uni isnt for everyone. And not all degrees are equal.

    But for me my degree was worth it. I dont regret it. It was the thing that really changed my life and me.

    But I get what you say in this post. And it isnt for everyone especially when you have to take a loan.

    People can do well without a degree. And some do at a later age, proves it helps your career.

    Like

    1. Thanks for sharing. When I went fees had just gone up from £1000 to £3000 a year, which I still considered affordable as I’ve paid more for cars.

      If I was going now I’d have a hard time justifying starting my adult life with a £50,000 debt.

      I think in ways it help – having something structured to learn and living away.

      It’s taken awhile but I finally feel like my degree contributes to my job, though I know a fair few people who have gone into doing things that don’t require academic qualifications or retrained.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely, although at times I question how far my Msc has got me I figure at least I tried.

      It’s not for everyone I studied alongside people more interested in partying so !they didn’t always attend. They were the ones who didn’t pass. I would hate to think I spent all that money and only came out with a second year pass certificate!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That’s true I went to college as a ‘mature’ student, I was 23, but all I could think while I was there was to make the most of it because I wanted to get a better job than what I’d previously done, my younger contemporaries, never having this experience could appreciate the time in the same way.

        Liked by 1 person

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