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education and career

it doesn’t matter what you study at Uni

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Honestly, it doesn’t matter which subject you study at University. The degree subjects with the highest average earnings are medicine, dentistry, law and engineering. That’s because there’s a clearly defined, well paid job at the end of each of those courses. If you want to be a doctor, dentist, or engineer, then I’d strongly suggest you take the relevant subject at Uni.

Interestingly, the same is not true of law. If you want to be a lawyer - whether a well-paid city lawyer, or working for the CPS - you can either take a law degree as your first subject, or you can take some other subject and do a post-graduate law conversion course. If you want the well-paid solicitor’s job, then it doesn’t really matter which you do, as long as you get an excellent degree from a good university and, of course do well in the relevant interviews.

the reality of post-university jobs

Most careers don’t have a specific first degree attached to them. Most don’t have necessary post-graduate training either. Some of those careers are well-paid, and some are less so. But with any given degree subject you can earn a lot of money if you want to.

I’ve got a maths degree, there isn’t an obvious job that leads from that - most people seem to assume that maths graduates become teachers. Not really the case, teaching was an unusual maths related career to go into after my course, most people have ended up working in finance, others in transport, toy manufacturing, supermarket retailing, and cold fusion research. Some or all of those careers may require additional on the job, paid learning, but all accepted graduates with little more than good grades.

Now, you might say that maths is a *hard* subject, or that anything numerical is going to be ok, but things like media studies are joke subjects. I don’t think that’s really fair. It’s true that if you do a science  / technology / numerate degree it opens plenty of doors for you, but these are only good doors if you like numerate stuff. If you don’t like that kind of science-y stuff, then why on earth would you want a job doing something related?

There are also plenty of careers that prefer arts or social science graduates. Publishing, tv and media, libraries, marketing, journalism and advertising. Some of these careers pay more than others, but you get to pick what you want to try and do, so you can take that into account if you like.

Finally, there are lots of jobs that are looking for graduates with no preference for degree subject. Surprisingly, in the UK banking and accountancy fall into this category. It’s not uncommon for historians and classicists to become accountants. Indeed plenty of engineers move into accountancy because it turns out the engineering, despite having good starting salaries, isn’t that lucrative after all.

what does this mean?

It means that the implications that your choice of degree subject has on your finances can be limited if you want them to be. Yes, many jobs with high earning potential are closed to, say, sociology graduates, but if you wanted to do sociology you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed them anyway, and there are plenty of other careers that you could pursue.

If earning a lot of money is important to you, it doesn’t matter what subject you studied at university, you can earn a lot of money, if you try hard and smart enough. You can certainly find a job you enjoy regardless of your degree. You may not be able to combine money, and enjoyment, but that’s true of everybody.

It doesn’t matter what you study at Uni, you can make anything work.

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16 comments for “it doesn’t matter what you study at Uni”

  1. In North America to get accepted into library school so you can do a MLIS (Master of Library and Information Studies) and become a librarian, any undergraduate degree is acceptable. Most librarians did their undergrad in English or History or similar fields, but those with scientific backgrounds are in high demand.

    Posted by Canadian | May 5, 2008, 12:48 pm
  2. ‘Tis true, in the U.S. and elsewhere, for some graduate degrees it doesn’t really matter what you did as an undergraduate. In fact, many graduate programs are looking for candidates with varied experiences: for example, my brother is a doctor, and he mentioned that while the interview panel was interested in his science courses, they were also interested in other interests he has (like working on cars, traveling, and languages)!

    Personally, I have a degree in international relations and a master’s degree in international education. I’m currently pursuing a master’s degree in counseling, and I had no trouble getting into the program without an undergraduate degree in psychology.

    I think the difficult thing is in determining WHAT to “do” with those more vague degrees. There are so many options: sometimes that’s overwhelming, and I know I’ve questioned my career choices many times!

    Posted by Finally Frugal | May 5, 2008, 1:44 pm
  3. I agree. You just need experience or some way of showing you can do the job. I wish I had done an internship…but I didn’t have a car. I did do a research assistantship for 3 years.

    Posted by Mrs. Micah | May 5, 2008, 6:48 pm
  4. I would disagree with this. Yes there are industries for every major. But I majored in classics, and it does not really open doors for me at this stage of my career. Math is a versatile degree. With a degree in math, you can go almost anywhere. If you want to go more scientific, people in scientific disciplines respect math. If you want to go more towards humanities, people respect that you have math. Even if you want to go into journalism or writing, you can break in from a technical writing or financial journalism path with a math degree. It just does not work the other way. With a degree in history, English, or classics, science departments and jobs requiring scientific or mathematical skill sets close their doors. In fact when I was studying for my master’s degree, one professor of a scientific subject refused to allow me into his class, telling me that the material would be “like Chinese” to me. I was always very good at math and science, but when I went to school I was able to transfer in a lot of credits in Latin and history, and these made it take much less time for me to graduate with a degree in classics. I did not really know what I wanted to do and the advice I received was the advice you are giving, that it does not matter what you major in.
    I would say, instead, that your career is mostly driven by you. Math and science majors will open up more doors for you, but what happens afterwards is up to you. I am wary about statements like “you wouldn’t be happy in those jobs anyway” because no job is perfect. I wasn’t crazy about my entry level jobs, which required a lot of administrative work. Most people I know who are still drifting years after graduation were liberal arts majors like me, who did not have a strong plan.
    So if you have a plan, if you are interested in a postgraduate degree like law, if you are highly motivated to go into a specific career, if you have a big savings account, you can major in whatever you want. Otherwise, bear in mind that a scientific degree may save you some pain later.

    Posted by Liz | May 5, 2008, 9:09 pm
  5. It was tremendously difficult to convince my mother that a physics degree would lead to any sort of meaningful career. (Apparently, being a physicist wouldn’t count as such in her book.) She still isn’t particularly happy with my decision.

    I know people who majored in physics as undergraduates who’ve gone on to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, mathematicians, biologists, bakers, and police officers.

    Posted by E.C. | May 6, 2008, 1:53 am
  6. Some studies are almost guaranteed not to make you rich. It’s sad that still after all those years of going through university and then getting a Ph.D. people in the fields, say Physics really don’t make much compared to the amount of energy they have already put into there studies. I mean sure you could go into say umm whats it called, not theoretical physics but ummm I think computational physics.
    In that field you make money, but anything outside of it, you can’t really compare the amount of money you make to the amount of years put into your studies. Shame really.

    Posted by Save Money | May 6, 2008, 3:43 am
  7. @Liz:
    It’s true that not every job is open to every degree holder. My point was that many jobs are open to every degree holder, and many degrees have a whole host of related jobs - which people may not realise. You can make money or you can do something you love, with a classics degree. You might not be able to do both at the same time, but the same can be said of a law degree.

    Physics is a great subject to study, I can think of lots of related careers that you could pursue. I think people get to hung up on, what you study at Uni strictly defines the sort of career you can have. Yet most jobs don’t even have a vocational degree related to them.

    @Save Money:
    Interestingly, physics PhDs are sought after by City firms like Credit Suisse, and Deutsche Bank to work on financial modelling. Those jobs are extremely lucrative. Of course, if you want to stay in Physics, then not so much, but it’s not what you study, but what you choose to do with it.

    Posted by plonkee | May 6, 2008, 8:19 am
  8. I’m also a big advocate of education. However, I agree, that you can’t equate education to higher financial compensation. But on the average, it is higher, so at least one’s odds are improved.

    What I like about education is that it gives a person more options, and a better chance to do work that is interesting to you. In my book, that’s the ticket.

    Posted by Greener Pastures | May 7, 2008, 8:02 pm
  9. There is truth in what you have said. A whole lot more depends on how we manage our career.

    The right networking, the right post graduate skills, the right timing, our attitudes etc., will surpass all the time we spend on our fisrt degrees.

    Posted by fathersez | May 8, 2008, 1:54 pm
  10. I have an undergrad degree in foreign policy, and I worked in banking and finance for 3 years. Then I worked in health research, and now I’m getting a masters in public health. I’ll be spending the next couple of years doing mapping and GIS. You really can do anything with your education.

    Posted by deepali | May 8, 2008, 6:08 pm
  11. Yup. It just depends on how you want to limit yourself based on your education.

    People who’ve studied “joke” subjects have made it into IT and are making big bucks now, so it’s all about the opportunity and what you make of it.

    Am going to link this in my next round of link love… thanks!

    Posted by Fabulously Broke | May 11, 2008, 2:08 pm
  12. @Fabulously Broke:
    It definitely is all about what you do with it. One of my brothers has a self-described mickey mouse degree, but he’s now got a good and interesting job in his preferred field, because he was willing to work at it

    Posted by plonkee | May 11, 2008, 10:10 pm
  13. Computer degrees are earn good income

    Posted by Moneymonk | May 19, 2008, 10:17 pm
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