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What would university offer and should my child go?

Going to university can be a wonderful opportunity for many, but it is not always the right option for every student at 18 and there are alternatives available. 

For some it is the chance to study a subject that is of particular interest to them, whilst for others, it is essential that they go to university and gain a degree, as they need it for their chosen career. To help you understand the advantages and disadvantages for your child below are a list of pros and cons for you to consider.

Pros of going to university

Greater Earning Potential

Going to university is usually a good investment for students with around 80% of students likely to gain financially. Statistics from the Department of Education show that the median annual salary for graduates over their lifetime is £34,000. The corresponding figure for non-graduates is only £25,000.  According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies in 2020, over their working lives, men will be £130,000 better off on average by going to university after taxes, student loan repayments and foregone earnings are taken into account. For women, this figure is £100,000. Overall, lifetime earnings for students are higher having been to university although there can be individual differences, often attributed to subjects studied. 

Improved job choice and employment prospects

Going to university will enable them to develop their employability skills such as making effective presentations, conducting research and working effectively in a team. The combination of their degree (in any subject), their higher-level employability skills, work experience and involvement in university life, can make them very appealing for employers. University can offer direct access to certain careers where a degree is essential such as medic

Research by the Skills and Employability Board in 2022 predicts that in the next five to ten years, there will increasing demand in England for managers, directors, and senior officials and for workers in professional occupations, associate professional and technical occupations, and caring, leisure, and other service occupations. This is encouraging for graduates, as it's likely to translate into an increase in graduate employment in high-skilled roles.

Improved chances of promotion

With a degree under their belts from university or alternative provider, there is more chance of promotion within the workplace. 

Opportunity to study a subject they love

Students can gain a tremendous amount of personal fulfilment by studying subjects in depth that they are really interested in. Apart from that, having a degree in any subject can lead to a graduate level job with approximately 70% of vacancies being open to students with any subject.

Life experience

For many graduates it is the other opportunities available at university, in addition to their academic study, which they really value – making life-long friends, studying abroad as part of their degree, the opportunity to have graduate level work experience, networking with prospective employers and immersing themselves in university life through sports, clubs and societies.   

Personal development

Whether you are living away or at home whilst at university students will have the opportunity to flourish as a person in so many ways including:

  • improved self confidence through independent learning
  • develop social skills and learn through mixing with a diverse student population
  • learn to be resilient when facing challenging times
  • become confident with practical everyday aspects of being a student such as managing your finances and sorting out accommodation arrangements
  • finding out more about your strengths and weaknesses through experiencing every aspect of student life.

Cons of going to university

Student debt 

Paying for a university degree is costly with many students paying up to £9,250 per year for tuition fees. Add in living costs as well and the average debt over three years can amount to over £45,000.  Students are usually eligible for loans to cover the cost of tuition fees and living expenses although this often needs to be subsidised in other ways through part time work or support from relatives when they are able to.

Interest is currently charged on student loans at 9% of their income above the repayment threshold (cut by the Government from £27,00 to £25,000 for 2023).  Any loans not paid back within 30 years are written off although this is being extended to 40 years from 2023. 

You don't always get a graduate job

Going to university to gain a degree doesn't always guarantee a graduate level job and Data published in 2019 by the Office for National Statistics found almost a third of graduates were overqualified for their job. It's vital that you consider whether studying a particular subject at specific institution is going to provide good value for money.  One way you can assess this is by looking at the destinations statistics for the courses being considered and what proportion of students are in professional jobs or studying for a further degree within 15 months of graduating.  Universities are obliged to publish destinations information for each course they are offering.

Should your child go - things to consider?

Perhaps it would be helpful for you to help your child consider the following questions.

  • Do they need to go? If they have a specific career in mind, they may need to gain a degree to get the job they want, but if they are not sure about the university route it may be possible to achieve their career goals through one of the other vocational pathways open to them at 18. You can find out about the other available choices at 18 in Careerpilot.
  • Are they ready to go? Many students take time out to consider their plans with a gap year. Careerpilot has a section on gap year information.
  • Is there a course they are interested in enough that will motivate them over a long period of time?
  • Do they understand that going to university and gaining higher-level qualifications can certainly help get a job but students also need to show their employability skills? Many degree courses will help students develop these skills while they are studying.

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