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university graduates, jobs and prestige

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Ok, so there’s a recession on at the minute, which means that there are fewer jobs and higher unemployment than in a boom time. I’m sitting watching the news and there’s a fairly long piece about people graduating from university, particularly newer and less prestigious universities, finding it difficult to get exciting graduate jobs.

Is there supposed to be some kind of surprise about this?

graduate destinations

Around 300,000 people graduate each year and there are apparently about 30,000 vacancies in major companies’ graduate training schemes. Which means that 90% of graduates don’t take these sorts of jobs. On the other hand, a year or so ago I read some research that said that within 2 years of graduating well over 95% of graduates had found suitable employment.

People have never mostly taken jobs marketed directly at graduates when leaving university. One of my brother’s (who has a degree from a redbrick university) has worked since leaving university for an organisation with an official graduate training scheme. He wasn’t on it though, and neither were most of the people in the place. Starting on the graduate scheme would have given him a bit of a head start, but after a few years it doesn’t seem to make too much difference.

no one cares about your degree

I’m not sure whether I’m the only person that’s noticed this phenomenon. A few years after you got your qualifications, fine distinctions don’t matter so much. I have GCSEs, A-Levels and a degree. Several years after finishing university, no one cares whether I got a first, or a third, or whether my A-Level results were AABB or BCDD. The work that I’ve done in my job is much more important.

There’s often an argument that some subjects are more useful than others. It’s certainly true that some degrees lead more obviously into specific careers but that doesn’t mean that other subjects are worthless. If you do an unusual degree (golf course management, say) then it might give you a nice hook at the interview - of course your overall application needs to sell your suitability for a job, but it’s good to have something that makes you memorable.

is study worth it?

Is it worth getting a degree? Probably. Graduates earn more than non-graduates on average. Study improves your mind, you can develop transferable skills as well as specific knowledge. Of course your always going to get out what you put in, but there are plenty of ways to put in.

Is it important to do a traditional subject at an older university? I don’t think so. I think it’s important to study something you are interested in, preferably with half an eye on whether you would enjoy the sorts of jobs that it tends to lead to. I think it’s important to go to the university with the *best fit* which is a combination of location, cost, prestige, and other intangible factors. When I was at school, I wouldn’t have considered a *new university* but I certainly wouldn’t discriminate against an applicant from one, because I have learned that it’s not all that important.

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7 comments for “university graduates, jobs and prestige”

  1. Maybe the UK is different, but the Irish graduates aren’t just not getting “exciting (?) graduate jobs” - they’re not getting ANY jobs. One friend of the family with a decent degree from UCD just got laid off from her sandwich making job and can’t find anything else. That’s brutal. At least the Irish grads don’t have loans, I guess. I agree that the degree and study/results don’t matter after a couple of years, but they do in getting your foot in some door or other, and my heart goes out to the grads not able to do that at the moment. They can’t ALL go to Australia.

    Posted by guinness416 | March 1, 2009, 6:59 pm
  2. @guinness416:
    I think that the situation might be a bit better in the UK, but I’m not sure. Graduates do fair worse in a recession than people with experience, and you’re right about needing to get your foot in the door - it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have “Oxford University” on your certificate, but I don’t think having “University of Nowheresville” makes you unemployable.

    I distinctly remember the same problem being written about in the recession of the early 90s since which time the number of people graduating each year in the UK has doubled. I wonder what happened to those people? They’d be in their late 30s now I guess.

    Posted by plonkee | March 1, 2009, 9:16 pm
  3. I quite admire people who don’t go down the university route and get out in the “real world” - I went to a good (private) school, I was expected to go to uni, even though I wasn’t too sure why I was going and what my intended degree (French & Business Studies) would lead to job-wise.

    I don’t think my degree has really given me much of an advantage (mind you, I don’t live & work in a graduate hotbed like London), and 9 years after graduating, I can’t see it helping me much in the future.

    Posted by Rob Lewis | March 12, 2009, 2:14 pm
  4. @Rob:
    I think it’s hard to do what’s not expected. In your (and my) circumstances that would be *not going to uni*. For other people, it would be *going to uni*. I’m probably biased because I work in a primarily graduate industry - some people started without one, but have then studied through the Open University or been sponsored by an employer - this means that a degree is expected, and I wouldn’t have my current opportunities without one. A degree should give you an education, but that won’t necessarily translate into a better job.

    Posted by plonkee | March 12, 2009, 5:30 pm
  5. now everyone can have a gap year!

    graduate programs are an excellent way to start your career, but there is so much they dont teach you about how things work.

    I wish i found this site when i was starting out:
    Graduate Programs

    it would have saved me from making so many mistakes.
    I hope you find it useful.

    Posted by jab | March 13, 2009, 7:40 pm
  6. it certainly wouldn’t hurt to have “Oxford University” on your certificate, but I don’t think having “University of Nowheresville” makes you unemployable.

    Posted by Home for Sale | August 16, 2010, 11:04 am

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