You’ve heard about sky-high tuition fees. You’ve grown up with how the Internet can teach you pretty much anything.
Is university worth it still? Your parents, friends and teachers seem to think so but this question plays on loop in your head: Should I go to university?
Despite what others say, the answer isn’t an immediate yes for everyone.
Instead, it depends on two things: you and the world around you.
Is university worth it? What the state of the world tells us
You see the world burning, the ice sheets melting and too many people in hunger, in pain or at war.
Grim, yes. Yet, these are also the three most important reasons to go to university.
A degree is more than just a piece of paper to get a job. It’s a means to right many wrongs.
Everyone’s favourite girl hero Malala Yousafzai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 for her fight for the right of every child to receive an education.
After this, she could have gone on to do anything, but she chose to go to the University of Oxford to study philosophy, politics and economics.
The winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2021 – which “demonstrate that our knowledge about the climate rests on a solid scientific foundation – earned all levels of qualifications leading up to PhDs.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the world’s youngest female head of government and only the second to become a mother while still in office, is a university graduate too.
Hector Bellerin, who plays for Arsenal FC, took an online degree in marketing from the University of Pennsylvania.
Their degrees may not be the sole reason for their success but ask them — and the most successful people in the world today — and they’ll tell you that their degrees were a key factor.
But first, what is a degree and how is it different from what you’ve learned in high school or can learn from the Internet?
What is a bachelor’s degree?
A degree is a guaranteed route to more knowledge, skills and experience.
Gaining hard skills — that’s the “technical” stuff, like how to build a machine or use Adobe Premiere Pro — is part of this journey.
It’s the “meat” that fills the “bones” of people like Bill Gates (maths and computer science major).
Anyone is intelligent and has the dedication to make things happen — but you still need skills. And that’s where a university degree comes in.
Here, you may argue that you can learn to code through YouTube or by taking shorter, months-long certificates.
But then you’ll missing out on the essential skills every company needs today: soft skills.
Soft skills refer to “human skills,” like how to communicate, manage time and work in a team — especially in a workplace.
Many university degrees include internships and projects that let you build these soft skills. Along the way, people will guide you so you can learn these skills quickly and as effectively as possible.
Then, armed with both hard skills and soft skills, you’re now ready to lay a path to impact and influence.
You’ll have what it takes to suggest solutions to crucial problems like child poverty and climate change.
You’re ready to make a difference.
Can’t I just get experience by going straight to work?
The good news is many universities today provide experience to bring to life what you learn in classes.
They’re listening to the growing list of evidence that shows there are better ways to learn and to get ready for a career.
Universities are no longer just places you go to listen to an old professor talk at the front of a lecture hall passively.
Don’t diss this format totally though. There’s a reason it’s been the main way of teaching for hundreds of years.
Lectures have been the predominant form of teaching since universities were founded in Western Europe in 1050. A sage on a stage reads from a text on a desk while students listen.
Walk into any lecture hall today and that’s still a common sight. We’re not going to lie — that’s the reality.
But what’s true too, is these lectures are getting better and getting support.
What that means is many universities are shaking the lecture format up. Some have changed it up every 10 minutes with more active teaching techniques.
Others are adding technology, letting students watch recorded lectures before coming in for discussions.
These improved sessions are now supported by what’s called “experiential learning” as well.
Students are learning by joining placements, internships, and group projects. Think IT students interning at Deliveroo or law students giving advice at soup kitchens.
Should I go to university when it’ll prepare me for only one career?
A university degree is no longer focused on one subject.
Long gone are the days when a sociology student will solely attend lectures at the sociology department, hang out with sociology students and read only sociology textbooks.
Most of today’s degrees cross disciplines.
If they aren’t, there’s no stopping any science student from reaching out to their professor to request to collaborate with the departments of arts and sciences. Things are more flexible.
With a bigger curriculum, you’re set to become a more versatile job applicant. Sociology graduates can build many careers beyond just being a sociologist — yes, including the higher-paying ones.
The return of investment of liberal arts colleges is nearly US$200,000 higher than the median of all colleges, according to a 2020 report from the Georgetown University Centre on Education and the Workforce.
The ROI of a liberal arts degree was found to be close to, but still more than, the estimated ROI of engineering schools and business schools as well.
Jack Ma, Alibaba founder and one of the world’s richest men, holds a bachelor’s degree in English.
Business graduates are managing projects at tech companies, and reportedly earning more than software engineers.
The assumption is non-science, non-technology degrees do not make money — well, the data says they do.
Is university worth it? Sorry, it’s still a hard no for me
If you’re thinking this way, then think A for apprenticeships.
For those who do not want to spend three or four years on campus, you can perform a real job — and get paid — while studying for a formal qualification.
Not all apprenticeships are created equal, though. Here are the different levels of apprenticeships in the UK:
- An intermediate apprenticeship is equivalent to a GCSE Grades 1-3
- An Advanced Apprenticeship is at the A Levels level
- Higher Apprenticeships and Degree Apprenticeships are equivalent to a bachelor’s degree, right up to master’s level for some jobs.
In the US, technical colleges offer a form of apprenticeship too — which was what Ben Kirkhoff, a 17-year-old high school senior at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, Minnesota, opted for.
He’s joining a tw0-year programme that feeds into an apprenticeship and a then a full-time job.
“I’ll have a job right out of college and I know I’ll have a lot of job opportunities moving forward,” he said to CNBC.
Traineeships are another alternative to university.
Think of it as a crash course — lasting six weeks to six months — to prepare you to join an apprenticeship or a full-time job. You’ll get insight into work, a useful reference and a CV boost too.
Can you get a job without a degree? Here’s the hard truth
Plainly speaking, you can. There are many alternatives to university and apprenticeships that will get you a job.
But the road will be longer and tougher.
A university degree is still the most reliable signal to a company that you have the knowledge, skills and experience to perform the tasks they need.
And that’s just at the entry-level. To get higher up the career ladder, most jobs still ask for some form of university experience.
In the US, those without four-year college degrees have lost 7.4 million jobs since 2000.
On the other hand, those with a bachelor’s degree generally earn 75% more than those with just a high school diploma, according to “The College Payoff,” a report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.
And the more degrees they have, the greater the payoff.
Bill Gates, one of the richest men in the world, had this to say: “Although I dropped out of college and got lucky pursuing a career in software, getting a degree is a much surer path to success,” he once wrote in his blog.
Yes, it’s not always fair but that’s the reality school-leavers must deal with.
Things are looking up, though. Many without degrees have the skills to realistically move into new jobs that pay up to 70% better than their current ones, according to one report.
Let’s not forget that jobs and salaries are important, but not everything. If going to university leads to the value and impact that you seek, go for it.