Should you attend university?

Going to university used to be the unquestionable next step after high school - an opportunity that anyone would take if they can. In recent years, while this remains the popular choice, more and more people are opting out of university to pursue alternate paths. No matter where you stand on this issue, you’ll benefit from a realistic assessment of the value of a university-level education.

Photo Credit: Harvard University

First, let’s look at the arguments for why you should go to university:

  1. It prepares you for specialist jobs: Certain jobs that require specific knowledge and skills such as doctors, lawyers, or engineers, require a degree if not multiple. Bachelor degrees can provide a comprehensive base of intellectual assets that will keep more career options open for you.

  2. Easier employment and higher average salary: Although the gap is closing, on average, university graduates still have higher salary than those who don’t have a degree. A bachelor degree can make the employment process much easier for you, depending on your field of work, and enable you to apply to higher-level jobs with higher earnings.

  3. Develop work & life skills: University is a place of massive potential for growth - besides traditional academic and professional skills, you will gain skills necessary for adult life such as socializing, time-management, and money management. Though you can definitely learn these outside, universities can expedite your growth by providing opportunities and supportive networks of mentors.

  4. You can learn about what interests you: Lastly, if you love learning, this is an opportunity not to pass over! It’s a privilege to be able to learn about what you love, and if you’re passionate about certain topics, university can be a wonderful time of exploration for you.

Now, what about the cons? What can possibly deter you from going to university?

  1. Cost: going to university can be very costly, especially if you’re an international student studying abroad. Tuition, living and other academic expenses can be a hefty sum for which you might need to take out loans to cover. A large percentage of students graduate with student debts that take tens of years to pay off.

  2. A degree doesn’t guarantee a job anymore: Due to oversaturation of graduates, a bachelor degree has been losing its competitive edge. Many graduates end up unemployed or working entry-level jobs that non-graduates also qualify for but have gotten ahead at. In Vietnam, sadly, it’s not uncommon to see university graduates or even PhD holders becoming Grab drivers to make a living.

  3. You might change your career paths: You should know at least 1 person in your life who ended up doing something different from the major they studied in university. Changing careers is very common and proof that you can learn necessary professional skills outside of university.

What are your alternate options besides university?

  • 2-year college: this option allows you to gain the knowledge and skill base that university provides while also leaving time for gaining working experience. This is particularly suitable for career paths that are more practical instead of theory-based such as business or mechanics.

  • Apprenticeship: this option leads to the smallest wage gap compared to university graduates. Apprenticeships are available for many industries, from law to fashion, and allow you to simultaneously gain qualifications and working experience.

  • Go straight into working or internships: you can choose to go into the workforce directly if the field you want to go in doesn’t require formal higher education. A common example is with digital marketing, where you can sign up as interns or trainees to receive training first before moving up to a full-time position.

  • Vocational schools: this option prepares you for hands-on jobs such as architecture, mechanical engineering, etc. A lot of vocational schools have connections with employers, so career prospects can be even better than for university graduates for certain majors.

  • Professional qualifications and certificates: these can be taken part-time and online, allowing you to work at the same time. There are increasingly more internationally recognized qualifications that will bolster your CV.

  • Start your own business or work as a freelancer: this is a popular option for youths who want to work in creative fields such as photography and graphic design, and for entrepreneurial minds as well. If you like to take initiatives and are bursting with ideas, entrepreneurship is an exciting, albeit not easy, path to take.

So how should you make your decision? Consider some of the factors below:

  • Your career path. You don’t need to have a specific job in mind, just the general path that you want to take. Is it relying more on theoretical expertise and hence requires a degree or is there more emphasis on working experience?

  • Your financial situation. What would university cost you, and what would you gain from it? Do some quick calculations with tuition and average starting salaries for graduates from the university you plan to attend, and you’ll be able to get an idea of the return on your investment. Is it worth it for you?

  • Do you like learning? Where do you feel like you’ll grow and learn the most? Are you a theoretical or practical learner?

  • Are you ready to start working? The alternate paths to university mean you can and are likely to enter the workforce earlier. Do you feel prepared to do that?

  • Your life goals. What is important to you - financial security and stability or creative freedom and practical experience? Don’t feel pressured to go for what is deemed desirable by society but really follow what matters to you.

  • Take a gap year to try things out before deciding. You don’t have to have everything figured out now. Take a year off to try new things, take on an internship, volunteer abroad, etc. to gain perspectives on what you want to do.

There are no right or wrong decisions, only the one that is suitable for you at this very moment. There is no deadline for getting a higher education - you can go fresh out of high school or when you’re 30! As long as you’re being strategic about your choices and doing what feels right for you, you can carve your own path towards a fulfilling future.


Cover Photo Credit: CareerAddict