It’s a common dilemma for many school leavers when thinking about a future career. Should you jump straight into the job market or get a university qualification first? The short answer is: it depends.
According to the Ministry of Education, university graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher enjoy a median weekly earnings premium of almost 120 per cent over those with a diploma or tertiary certificate, and a whopping 170 per cent over workers with no tertiary qualification. On the face of it, it seems an easy decision to make, but there are some things you need to take into consideration before you make the leap into academic life.
Jobs in your chosen area of interest that require a university degree may be difficult to get into, because of more graduates worldwide (meaning more competition) and employers seeking only the best-qualified candidates. Studying for a degree before having a well-defined vision of what you want to do can lead to slogging away in a job for which you’re not suited. A recent Universities UK study suggests about one in three graduates are “mismatched” to the jobs they have after leaving university.
Higher education is not for everyone, and getting straight into work after finishing school can put you on the fast track to getting ahead financially. At the moment, the building and agricultural sectors are desperate for good workers, and apprenticeships can be a great way to learn on the job and earn good money in the process, without the burden of a student loan. New research by Scarlatti’s Sweet Analytics concluded that by age 28, Kiwi males who undertake ITO training after leaving school are on average $165,000 better off than their university counterparts.
As a young adult, making an important decision like this can be a challenge, as your options might seem endless and you may not have a clear picture of exactly what you want to be doing later in life. You may also be getting well-meaning but conflicting advice from friends, teachers, your school careers advisor or your parents. So how can you make good decisions and get clarity and direction around your future?
The key is to focus on what you want before thinking about how to get there, or possible obstacles in your way.
I recently coached a very competent young woman (let’s call her Jen) who was in her first year of tertiary education, studying towards a nursing degree. Although Jen’s grades were tracking well, she was not enjoying the course and was having doubts about her chosen career path. She felt trapped and a bit lost, and was seriously thinking about quitting and getting a job instead.
One simple exercise I get my clients to do if they’re struggling to figure out a career path, is to write down what they’re objectively good at in one column, and what they enjoy doing in another column. Then we try to find some intersectional points to get a better understanding of what may be a good career fit for them.
Jen’s list of things she’s good at looked like this:
- Working in a team
- Working with children
- Being a leader
- Helping people
The things she enjoys doing looked like this:
- Being outdoors
- Emergency medicine
- Being around people
- Keeping busy
After some analysis, research and discussion, Jen realised her ideal career would lie in the emergency paramedic field, perhaps working as part of a rescue helicopter team. Once she had a clear vision of her future, everything else started to fall into place, and she’s now feeling enthusiastic and motivated to complete her nursing degree as a stepping stone to her dream job.
Another young client we’ll call Ryan was at a total loss as to his career options. Since he’d left school, he’d been having a good time with his mates, partying and enjoying being young and free, as teenagers do, and not really thinking about tomorrow. After receiving an injury and being mostly confined to the house as a result, reality hit, and Ryan decided he needed to get serious about his financial future.
We spent quite a bit of time discussing and researching various options around what he wanted to do, and eventually arrived at a career in the Army, where he could get paid to learn new skills, get some discipline and order into his life, and be able to pursue any specialist areas that suited him.
For Jen, completing her degree is going to help her get to where she wants to be. University wasn’t the right path for Ryan, but he still has a great career ahead of him.
When deciding whether to get a job or study for a degree, first decide on what you want in your career. If you don’t know yet, don’t be afraid to take some time out or get a casual job while you think it through. Once you have a career goal that suits you, and aligns with your priorities and values, make a plan to get there, and go for it.