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University Degrees: Are They the Only Option?

Every year thousands of students have to decide whether to go to university and every year, following the herd, thousands of them go. The expectation is that you go to university. Colleges allocate special days for applying to university and before you know it you’ve received your offer for a place. The whole process is over in a flash without time to properly consider whether university is for you. The lack of known/talked about alternatives also make university seem like the only option – either that or get stuck in a dead end job.

Article by Naomi M. 

So whether you’re unsure about going to university or certain that it isn’t for you, what you need is honest information about university and those “taboo” alternative options.

The Pros of Going to University…

  • Having a university degree under your belt can certainly help your career prospects. Around a quarter of jobs of advertised specifically require that you have a degree to apply, therefore, more of the job market is available to those with degree qualifications. Furthermore, employers often use degree qualifications as a simple way of sifting through a large volume of CV’s to narrow down potential employees – no degree and you may be moved to the bottom of the pile, or even the bin.
  • University graduates are also more likely to enter a job in a higher position than someone with only A-levels, thus will receive a higher starting salary.
  • Experiencing student life is a reason in itself to go to university. It’s not all about hard work; there are tonnes of clubs and social events you can be a part of. You will meet lots of new people during your time at uni, some of whom may become really close friends.
  • Moving away to university also offers many students their first taste of independent life. You have the freedom to make your own decisions, no need to clean your bedroom or wash other people’s dishes – not if you don’t want to!
Miami University
Image by Rockfang

…and The Cons

  • Now there are a lot of people applying to jobs with degrees, you need something to make you stand out from the crowd; and I don’t mean with a masters but rather with work experience. It is very difficult to fit in any decent work experience when you’re at uni so those that opted not to go will definitely have the upper hand in terms of practical experience.
  • The issue with practical experience and going to university is that most degree courses contain little or no practical skill training. Nevertheless many employers are demanding that potential candidates have work experience. So you spend three/four years working hard at university, getting into debt, only to come out the other side forced to take any unpaid work you can get your hands on in order to gain experience – even though you have a degree. Great!
  • Paying university fees is one of the biggest discouragements for going to university; particularly now with the rising tuition fees which have more than doubled since 2011. For people who can’t pay their university fees up front (the majority of us) will be left with massive debts from loans.
  • Furthermore, many who aren’t rich but also do not qualify for full funding from Student Finance will find it difficult to fund living costs.
University is expensive

Alternatives to University Degrees

You’ve had a think about going to university, weighed up the pros and cons and now you need to consider some alternative routes.

1. Apprenticeships

Apprenticeships offer the chance to work for a real employer. You will receive training whilst you work, gaining a combination of both knowledge and practical skills. Apprenticeships come in varying levels, some of which award the equivalent of an undergraduate degree qualification on completion. If that doesn’t sound good enough the employer will pay for all training as well as pay you a salary!

2. Work Experience

Whether it’s unpaid volunteering or paid work, gaining hands-on experience of working in your desired field will make all the difference when it comes to applying for that sought after position. Not all career paths require gaining degree level qualifications and working from the ground up is not to be snubbed at.

Work experience over university

Image by thinkpublic

3. School Leavers’ Programmes

Similar to apprenticeships, school leavers’ programmes combine real work with training. These programmes are often as intense as university but there is the added bonus of no fees, getting paid whilst training and receiving a professional qualification at the end of it.

Some Careers Which Do Not Require a Degree

Accountancy – You could get a degree in accountancy or you could train to become a chartered accountant straight from school. Apply for an Assurance/Audit apprenticeship or a school leaver programme offered by an accountancy firm to begin your training – did I mention you could qualify before someone that went to uni and got a degree?

Journalism – You certainly don’t need a degree in journalism to become a journalist. You will however need talent and dedication and must be willing to undertake a lot of unpaid work to gain experience. Gaining journalism qualifications through a course accredited by the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) would also be beneficial and at a fraction of the cost of university fees.

Don't need a university degree to be a journalist

Image by NS Newsflash

Marketing – Become a marketing manager through the many available apprenticeships and school leavers’ programmes. It is important to know the industry well and that is only truly gained through experience. Employers expect even those with degrees to have sufficient experience before applying for such a position.

Plumbing – To become a plumber you must complete two level 2 or 3 (depending on experience) plumbing qualifications accredited by EAL, City and Guilds or BPEC. As well as these there are courses available to further prepare anyone with little or no experience of this industry. Due to the practical elements involved in the qualifications you must be working at the same time to qualify. There are of course plumbing apprenticeships out there to help with this.

Police Officer – Here your employers (The Police) care less about academic credentials and more about the person and whether they have what it takes. Before applying though it would be beneficial to get some work experience. You could join the Metropolitan Police’s volunteer Police Cadets or you could volunteer as a Police Community Support Officer.

Don't need a university degree to be a police officer

Image by Terry

So you see getting a degree is not essential for all career paths. Opting not to go to university though is certainly not the easy option. You will need to put in as much work to get where you want to go, a lot of which will have to be done using your own initiative – this alone will be attractive to potential employers.

Perhaps if more students chose alternative routes it would banish the misconception held by many, including some employers, that only university graduates should be considered for certain roles. What do you think?


Naomi Medforth is a budding young writer and a Psychology & Criminology student. Being a university student herself, she knows the ropes with first-hand experience of the process.

Featured Image: bru76

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