University – is it good for your career?

With higher tuition fees now a fact of life and alternatives to university becoming more attractive, it’s understandable that students are keen to explore whether a university education offers value for money. Is it the best investment in their future?

In terms of financial reward, the latest statistics from the ONS outline university graduates earn on average £9,500 per year more than their non-graduate peers. Yes, they would be repaying their loan from these extra earnings, but with the threshold for repayments now at £25,000 and those repayment rates low, you don’t need to be an economist to work out that this still represents a significant thumbs-up for university education.

Part of the reason for the higher salary is the confidence that employers have in the skills and knowledge a student will gain during their time at university. The most tangible element of this is the range of practical, professional experience now on offer, including placements, internships and sandwich years.

Granted, you could argue that this practical experience is also integral to an apprenticeship or full-time job – but a university education goes much further. Students get the dual advantage of learning the deep-level theory and then applying it in a real working environment. And what a world of opportunity awaits – depending on the institution and course, networks and partnerships could see students jetting off to any corner of the world for their work experience. With tourism and events management degrees among its portfolio, the University of Derby currently has one fortunate student living the dream on a placement at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Not all experience is at this structured level – many students can further boost their CVs by taking on volunteering roles or part-time work within the university or beyond. Part-time roles can include student ambassador schemes, a great training ground where they can nurture their skills and network with potential employers, all under the supervision of university staff. This support permeates a student’s university life, with workshops and drop-in sessions usually on offer to make sure graduates are ‘job-ready’, with CVs and interview skills to impress.

Where a higher education really scores, though, is in the transferable skills a student develops. Whatever they are studying, they will learn time management, communication, digital skills, flexibility and so much more. Coupled with a high educational standard, employers know they are likely to be hard-working and full of leadership potential. I studied sports science at university, but now work within the University’s marketing department – because the skills I developed outside of my subject knowledge have made me employable far beyond my initial discipline.

It’s important to remember, though, that university is only as beneficial as you make it. Students who engage when at university and embrace all the opportunities on offer will be the ones to reap the rewards. In the highly competitive market place, they should be encouraged from the start to push themselves all the way and make the most of the unique blend of skills development, experience and support that universities can give them as they head for their dream career.

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