// you’re reading...

education and career

what do you think of your higher education?

WSA adsense code -->

The city that I live in has a university. Actually, it has more than one, and I think it has a couple of university colleges as well. This means that most of the year there are students about, both in the two main student ghettos and sometimes in the city centre as well.

Now that it’s been a couple of years (oh, ok then a little more than a couple) since I graduated from university, I quite like it when the summer comes around and the student population disappears somewhat. But, it got me thinking about the value of a degree.

First of all, I think I need to give some cultural background for any non-English people. In England (and Wales, but not Scotland) a typical bachelors degree takes 3 years to complete, focuses on one or two subjects without any general education requirements (I took my last English class at the age of 16). Across the UK about 40% of 18 year olds go into higher education, and due to the way that it’s funded, the vast majority of people (traditional and mature students) study full-time and don’t take a breaks in between.

If I had to do it again, I would do it the same way. I have a maths degree, I’d wanted to study maths for a long time, and I enjoyed it. Writing proofs and carrying out rigorous analysis has scarred me for life improved me. I studied about the right amount - if I’d worked harder I wouldn’t have got better grades. I partied about the right amount, within the bounds of money, time and 9 o’clock lectures.

As it turns out, financially speaking, my degree has been useful, and was the passport to the career that I have. Without it, I wouldn’t be on anywhere near the salary that I have. I’ll be paying off the student loans for about another ten years I think, but they are pegged at inflation, so it’s not a biggie. I could have been much more frugal, but being a student also gave me the time (in the summer) to seek out new horizons. I worked as a ride attendant at a theme park, spent a summer as an exchange student worker in an American beach resort, and travelled around the world.

I strongly value education, and I’d love to go back to university at some point and do an arts/humanities degree - properly, even doing all the extra reading. But, at this point in my career, more education isn’t something I’m in a position to pursue, British universities (apart from the Open University) aren’t that well set up for flexible learning, and in any case I don’t really have the time.

I’d like to know what your experiences were or are with higher education. Did you go to uni? Have you found it useful? If you could go back would you do it differently? Do you want to resume your education? And, if you’re a student, are you enjoying it?

Similar Posts:

If you like what you're reading, why not leave a comment below, subscribe to my feed, or check out some of my best posts.


13 comments for “what do you think of your higher education?”

  1. I did an undergraduate degree in a perfectly useless subject that I was sincerely interested in, then followed it up by a professional master’s degree. I don’t regret what I studied, but if I were doing it again I would find a way to do it with less debt. I think doing some vocational training before starting university would have served me well. For example, becoming a nurse’s aide or something like that. Then I would have had a way to earn a relatively good salary (by student standards) as a part-time job and during the summers. Ideally it would be something related to my career, but back then I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career anyway. In Quebec between high school and university we have something called cegep. It is a two year program for pre-university, but a three year program for vocational (which also qualifies you for university). I think it would be a good idea to actually qualify for something before starting university. (I didn’t grow up in Q though.)

    Posted by Canadian | July 7, 2008, 1:58 pm
  2. I don’t regret going to college. I wouldn’t be working in my profession without a degree. And, on top of a good education, I made some wonderful friends at college. The only thing that I do regret is that I picked a very expensive college and chose to go into a profession that I love but that just doesn’t pay well. I may have chosen a less expensive college if, at 17, I had realized how much my loan payments would be and how little my paycheck would end up being!

    Posted by Kristen | July 7, 2008, 2:44 pm
  3. No fees in Ireland, so it was a worthwhile four years. Luckily I transferred out of architecture after a year, so dodged a bullet there. I got a well-paying career that has allowed me to live in three countries out of it, and massively enjoyed all the non-academic benefits of being a student (*hic*). Does 31 year old Emma have the same interest in the subject/career as 17 year old Emma did? Nah, but it could be worse, and if I had it back I’d definitely do a “marketable” subject again. I do occasionally think of going back for a more interesting degree or a masters, and have investigated my options. But it’s prohibitively expensive in North America and I have no real desire to pay to do the “general education” subjects you mention, so I’d do it back in Ireland.

    My husband has a maths degree too. Not only did I type up his thesis for him back in prehistoric times, he still gets me to do his mental arithmetic for him :)

    Posted by guinness416 | July 7, 2008, 2:53 pm
  4. I really enjoyed my 4 years at a (Scottish) university, my degree wasn’t particularly helpful as I realised I wasn’t a lab kind of person.
    It was, however, a good background to my masters which I took one year after uni. I am now working in a pretty interesting job related to my masters, but I’m thinking of moving away from research in a couple of years- my masters was actually reasonably broad and I would still use it if I did.
    The problem with my field is that it is becoming more popular and there are Phd’s working in research assistant posts, making it hard to find a job with a MSc and practically impossible with just a BSc.
    I’d like to go back at some point, but I’m not sure what for, my aunt has been doing Open University courses in Art History for a couple of years now, and loves it.

    Posted by Looby | July 7, 2008, 3:04 pm
  5. While I probably could have made better use of my time/experience at my undergraduate school, it has ended up providing me some incredible opportunities. So I don’t regret it. I might feel differently if I had debt though.

    My masters program has been invaluable, and I would definitely feel the same if I’d incurred debt for it. Part of its appeal is the school I went to - I have other friends with the same degree who have not had as many doors opened as I.

    I will eventually consider a doctorate. I would prefer not to have to worry about loans/debt.

    Posted by deepali | July 7, 2008, 3:54 pm
  6. @Canadian:
    Doing something vocational that would earn money would certainly be very sensible. For me I think that there was a slight fear that if I didn’t go to uni to study maths straight away I’d somehow miss out on the opportunity. Not sure why I thought like that, but I definitely did.

    I think the inability to understand the effect of having to pay back student loans is endemic amongst school leavers. The lucky few get free education, and the rest of us spend more than we could have got away with.

    I’m not sure I’ve met someone with a maths degree who can do mental arithmetic. The ability to do that must have fallen out as we all tried to stuff in more *useful* things :| .

    Being in an area that is becoming over-populated with good candidates is something that I like to keep an eye on. At the moment, my field is in demand, but I’m sure that won’t always be the case. I remember when I was little, my mum took a course in Music History and Analysis through the OU, I know that she did well at it, but found it a lot of work with multiple young kids running round. I’m not sure how well procrastination sits with distance learning either.

    Posted by plonkee | July 7, 2008, 4:07 pm
  7. I did very much enjoy my University experience, completing a 4year double degree that has certainly allowed me to have a higher income, more freelance opportunities etc. That’s not to say I will always use it, I may get to a time in my life where I’d rather have a job without such responsibility and I’ve always loved the idea of working @ a library or post office, but my degree so far has served me well. I am about 1/2 way through a Masters as well and I’d love to take an art or textiles course.
    I do, however, have 3 friends who got good degrees who have never used them. They all earn under £15000 a year have not really looked into jobs in their fields, do not need a degree to do their job etc. I have mixed feelings about that, I don’t see the point if you have no interest in working in the field of getting a degree, but I also don’t think you have to forever stay in the corporate world.
    Studies have proven that people who have been to Uni are more likely to accept life has grey areas, and that one thing it does do is “open young people’s minds” to new situations etc. That, in my opinion is a very good thing!

    Posted by Frugal Trenches | July 7, 2008, 4:59 pm
  8. p.s. oddly enough I blogged about my masters today!

    Posted by Frugal Trenches | July 7, 2008, 4:59 pm
  9. It sounds like the British undergraduate degree–with no gen-ed requirements–is similar to what you get from proprietary schools (such as University of Phoenix or DeVry) in the U.S., at exorbitant cost. Public universities have gotten the message that they can clip students royally, too, and so higher education is passing beyond the means of many young people.

    When I was college age, girls were not welcome in the hard sciences, which was what interested me. Effectively ineligible for the world-class astrophysics program at the university where I landed, I got a B.A. in French and later an M.A. and Ph.D. in English.

    By the time I finished, the urgency for college faculty whatever the discipline had passed and jobs for academics were hard to come by. My husband had established a good law practice, which he couldn’t very well abandon to follow me from one-year gig to one-year gig in search of a tenure-track position. So, I drifted into journalism, something I could have done with just a bachelor’s degree.

    I will say, though, that thanks to the hypereducation I got paid a lot more than others with the same amount of experience. Also, later in life I actually did get an academic position, which I fell into because I had an unusual combination of a doctorate plus many years of real-world experience.

    If I had it to do over again, I’d try one of these:

    * get an undergraduate degree in the humanities and then render myself unemployable with a master’s in journalism;

    * get an undergraduate degree in the humanities and then render myself employable with a master of library science; or

    * pursue the Ph.D. in a discipline where faculty are well paid, such as accountancy, business management, or engineering. Faculty in the College of Business pull down six-figure salaries with doctorates in management, not an unduly taxing course of studies.

    Posted by Funny about Money | July 8, 2008, 1:39 am
  10. I parties a lot before college, so when I got to college, I was ready to study. I studies hard and learned as much as I could at the best University that I could afford. It was a great decision and has changed my family income forever. I would do it the same way and would love to return to college someday in the future. My love for learning has is also what led my to become a blogger. Blogging is about reading and learning, then writing and teaching. It’s like getting paid to learn.

    Posted by Curt | July 8, 2008, 3:55 am
  11. I wish I had used more of my “advanced placement” credits - with those, and by taking just a few extra courses, I could have graduated in 3 years instead of 4.

    I wish I had earned my graduate degree (MBA) while working instead of giving up 2 years of earnings (most employers here will pay for it earned at night - it’s still the same degree!)

    Posted by Bill | July 10, 2008, 9:23 pm
  12. There is little I would change about my undergraduate experience. I’d probably party a little bit more and not stress about the futures as much. I got two degrees which don’t seem to work together but have worked for my jobs.

    I wasn’t in love with my graduate program and don’t really use it in my current position. When I make the next career step I think it will help though.

    Every once in a while I think about other graduate level programs or continuing education classes, but for now I think I have enough going on.

    Posted by sara l | July 11, 2008, 4:40 am

Post a comment

Proud member of the