Should I apply to university?
University offers tremendous opportunities, not just for the duration of your course, but for many years afterwards. You will learn a lot, increase your future earning power, have the chance to gain valuable workplace experience, and make new friends. Choosing whether or not to apply is a major decision, and one that should be taken very seriously. Apart from the financial cost, university courses require a major commitment of your time – time that could be spent on other things, especially paid work. Many people worry about this, or feel that university is just not ‘for’ them. Concerns like these should not be dismissed, but we believe that if you put the time into finding the right course at the right university for you, the benefits will far outweigh the costs.
Though they can offer you many other things, the first (and perhaps the best) reason to apply is that you simply want to know more about a subject. This might be a subject that you studied at school that you would like to take further, a course that will help you advance in your current job, or just something that has caught your imagination. No other institution can offer you the same opportunities that university can to study – the opportunity to learn from leading experts using great facilities alongside people with a similar interest. Nobody ever regrets learning something new!
One concern that puts many people off university is the financial cost, in tuition fees, living costs, and lost earnings while studying. It is clear, however, that average earnings over the course of a working life are very much higher for those with Higher Education Qualifications than for those without. Men with a degree earn, on average, 28% (£168,000) more than men without. For women, the effect is even more dramatic. Women earn, on average 53% (£252,000) more if they have a degree. Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, 2013. No university course in Britain even comes close to costing that much! The great majority of UK students do not need to pay any money upfront. If your calculation is largely a financial one, you could think of the choice to go to university as making a very good investment in your own future.
Many people worry that if they take three years or so away from the workplace, they will be ‘behind’ their peers who spent that time getting on with their careers. You may have been told that it is better instead to enter an organisation and ‘work your way up’. That may be good advice in some specific industries, but you should research this question carefully. Of course there are professions like teaching, law and medicine, which are simply closed to those who do not have a degree. Even outside these areas, many entry-level roles that would once have needed no particular qualifications now require an undergraduate degree (often specifying a 2:1 result) as a condition of employment. Some employers, like the civil service https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/civil-service-fast-stream also offer fast-track ‘Graduate Training Schemes’ that will help you move up quickly, but only if you went to university. University courses also often include work placements (up to a whole year) which give you the opportunity to learn in your chosen industry, and will give you direct experience and contacts on which you can draw when you finish your course and move into the workplace.
Universities have changed a lot over the years in terms of the range of courses that they offer, and the range of ways in which those courses are delivered. Some courses have quite restricted contact hours and expect a lot of independent study from students. Others give you a lot of time working with tutors or in labs, but with less scope for independent work. Many courses offer the opportunity to study part time, or to study two or more subjects in combination with one another, or even to travel abroad. Whatever way you want to learn, you should be able to find something that will suit you well.
Uncertain Futures and ‘Soft’ Skills
If you are seventeen in 2015, your working life isn’t likely to end until sometime around the year 2065. That is a very long way off indeed, and the world (and the economy) is likely to be a very different place. The old notion of a ‘job for life’ has already almost disappeared, and it is quite likely that you will have not only several roles, but work in several different fields over the course of your career. Higher Education will teach you more than just technical skills, however. It will help you to learn so called ‘soft skills’ like critical thinking, good presentation, leadership and teamwork that can be used to handle many different challenges and be transferred into many different roles, some of which have not yet been invented. With a good Higher Education behind you, you will be able to face the future with more confidence in your ability to adapt to whatever the twenty first century has to offer you.