There’s a wealth of information out there for students thinking about university. But how often do we talk about the impact academic choices will have on life after university? Is it time to give more pragmatic advice to students?
In secondary school students are given a lot of advice about how to choose the ‘right’ uni course. They’re told to think about likes and dislikes, and their strengths and weaknesses. They’re told that university is a time to grow academically and round out their personalities.
However, our 2015 applicant survey, found that the main reason applicants said they were going to university was ‘to improve employment prospects or pursue a specific vocation’ (64%). But only half of applicants aged 19 and under said they felt they had enough advice from their school/college to make an informed choice about courses/ universities.
Learning and earning
I did think about career earnings before attending university. I felt comfortable in academia and had the grades to pursue whatever degree I wanted. In the end, my interests won out and I chose liberal arts and social sciences. I don’t regret this, as I believe that if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, nothing else will follow.
Yesterday the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) reported on individuals’ income 10 years after graduation. The data showed that those choosing to study medicine and economics have the highest earning potential a decade after graduation.
The median earnings for medical graduates after 10 years is £45,400 for women and £55,300 for men, and for economics graduates it’s £38,200 for women and £42,000 for men. Whereas the median earnings for creative arts graduates is £14,500 for women and £17,900 for men.
On reflection, I would’ve appreciated a bit more pragmatic discussion around what would happen after university. Despite my forethought, I didn’t really feel the full extent of my decision until I entered the workforce. Where once my intellectual capital was highly valued, it now seemed stigmatised by being labelled by a degree.
But for some going to university isn’t about the degree. Recently a friend of mine applied to Stanford Graduate School of Business. I asked him if he felt an MBA would give him knowledge or experience he wouldn’t be able to gain from a workplace. ‘Well,’ he laughed, ‘It’s not about the degree, it’s about the networking’.
The IFS study did highlight that a student’s background or networks appear to also be contributing factors to earnings, as did gender and university attended. A university friend of mine joked that she chose to study engineering because, although she didn’t like it, her future career in sciences would help her make up for the gender pay gap.
The IFS findings, which aren’t necessarily surprising, still surprised me. I had a moment of – Is this still what we’re finding?
The data is clear that these choices affect not just career aspirations, but also career practicalities. However, observing trends won’t necessarily solve the problem – such as when the data emerged that when women break into a traditionally male field, the field is apparently devalued.
So as illuminating as studies such as this are, what can be done about it? How can we help students make more informed decisions about life both during and after university?