University can provide us with the training, knowledge and experiences we need to achieve our career goals. Elliot shares his ideas on making the most out of your time at university so you can hit the ground running after graduation.
According to this, 37% percent of graduates regret university – and 49% feel a degree was unnecessary for their career.
Given the time and money we’re putting into studies – not ideal. So in today’s article, I want to outline tactics to avoid university regret.
Why do people regret university?
Biggest quoted reason? Money.
- Graduates average £156 per month after payments – with grim estimates that 80% of graduates won’t repay the loans in their lifetime.
- Related note – most 25-33 year olds have a quarter life crisis, during which career goals tend to change. Meaning that by your 30’s, there’s a pretty high chance your work won’t be related to your degree.
See the solution yet?
We need to find a way to make your undergraduate degree worth the money.
And luckily, the above points give us some clues about how:
- Relative to costs – it seems a Bachelor’s on its own isn’t typically enough to earn back significantly. Meaning: you need to use university to gain career skills outside your degree in the shortest possible time; and to give yourself a sharp edge for competitive job markets.
- People find serious career goals only after a certain amount of experience (which, on average – apparently happens AFTER university). Meaning; we need to use university to maximise our life/work experiences in a way that helps us form realistic ideas of what we want to (and can) do.
So – without further ado:
How to make an undergraduate degree worth the money
Based on the above (and personal experience), this is a potential 5-step strategy to set you up with a massive edge in post-study life, that will stave off the circumstances for university regret.
- Collect experience
The underlying question when we go to university – how do you want to make your money?
The problem? As freshers, most of us don’t have great ideas on what we enjoy, what we’re really good at (or want to be good at) – and how that really translates into career.
That’s pretty normal. But waiting until after uni to figure it out risks the above-mentioned sense that we’ve wasted 3 years and nearly £30,000 – and also puts us years behind those who’ve already started working.
So – you need to compress that post-uni ‘figuring out stage’ into your time here, at university. Which is simpler than it sounds – you just need to get enough experience to start developing grounded ideas of what you want to do.
This process will help with that:
- Find a part-time job (start with Campus Jobs– which focuses on roles that fit around study). At this stage, just pick something you like the look of. If you’re indecisive, just pick randomly (speak to the careers team for free help with applications).
- Outside work, keep trying new things. Outside your comfort zone, you’ll get a better sense of your capabilities and interests. I don’t naturally gravitate to new experiences – so for a while, I took on a ‘yes-man’ policy; whenever I had activity opportunities (be it travel, social, societies, hobbies – there’s a lot of these going at university) – if it’s not going to cause harm, say ‘yes’ and give it a try.
- After a month or so, start picturing yourself doing this job for the rest of your life. Sound good? If not– why? What exactly turns you off a life-time of that job? Write down that answer, and what you’d prefer instead (even as simple as ‘not restocking all day’). Now, go out and find a new job that fulfills this new goal.
- Repeat the process as many times as you need to – until you start coming up with something that excites you, for a specific reason. Write down this ‘something’ and the ‘reason’.
Congratulations – you now have a career direction!
- Research roles
Now you’ve a direction – you need a specific role to plan for. The goal is to get a feel for what’s out there, and find something that positively answers the following:
- Is this role interesting to me?
- Do I want to be good at this?
- Do I like the earning potential?
- For those successful in this field– do I like the lifestyle?
- Are there opportunities for this where I’m located? If not – where are they?
- How competitive are these kinds of roles/what’s the demand like?
This is where university resources can start coming into play:
- The ‘What careers can you have?’ section of your degree introduction page is a possible starting point, often with suggested fields and companies (g.)
- Make your interest known – speak to tutors, student support centres, and the careers team. Say you’re after career development, but having trouble finding specific roles you’re interested in – if nothing else, they can point you to job databases, and to contacts with relevant experience.
- (A note on student support centres– this is valuable spot to find resources inside your own department. For example; did you know Literature and Language has a career preparation scheme, with introductory courses to the publishing industry, digital marketing, translation, and even British Sign Language?)
- Outside class– ask around. Talk to friends and acquaintances about what they do, and browse the occasional career website. The National Careers Service website have job descriptions, salary info, necessary skills, and typical pathways to (and from) these roles (payscale.com is great too – but US-based).
Be patient, and keep researching – don’t stop at something you’re lukewarm about.
Once something really catches your eye though, you’re ready for the next phase.
- Master the skills
So, you’ve got a career direction, and an attractive role to aim at. Great start – but the next step is what will pay really big dividends.
Find at least three, current job applications for your chosen role on a job application website – and copy-paste the job description/requirements section into a Document.
This is now the list of skills you need to be good at in order to get the job.
It takes work – but getting good at a skill isn’t complicated:
- Practice – lots. Understand that you’ll suck at first– there’s no way around this – this is how you start. If you can get paid, start there – paychecks are great motivators. If you feel embarrassed, or discouraged – channel it into the next part…
- Analyse mistakes –quick and easy way to do this? Ask, ‘what are the people – who are doing better than me – doing differently?’ Figure out exactly what that difference is; write it down; and copy them.
- Keep practicing –seems obvious. But it’s the step many (including myself) fail at, after getting discouraged by a lack of results. Push past this. Just chip away, replacing each mistake with good habits – and eventually, you WILL get the results. Anytime I’ve dramatically improved at anything has been preceded by a period where I felt like I’d plateaued. But this only happens when you’re persistent, practicing consistently and often.
- Optional – teach. It’s an extra step –but really checks gaps in your knowledge. Verbally explaining a concept REALLY tests your understanding. You don’t need to teach formally, either– offer to explain the concept to friends, who think the skill sounds interesting. Or if you’re web-savvy – make a beginner’s wiki, and get some friends to review it.
- Get a mentor
At this point – you’re miles ahead of the typical graduate. You have a direction; translated this into a job role; and you’re well on the way to becoming the ideal candidate by mastering the skills.
However, there are more issues and requirements along the way – all of which are different for every career, role, company, and location.
A mentor is someone who’s been down the same road you’re on, and helps guide your progress – finding one willing to guide you will help avoid the hidden pitfalls, and you’ll progress FAR faster for it.
Finding mentors can be difficult. Thankfully, the THRIVE Mentoring Scheme matches Reading students to working professionals, and includes training sessions on how to most effectively use the mentor-mentee relationship. Plus, it’s a free service requiring minimal time – I fully recommend it.
Eligible students must be in their penultimate year of study – if you’re not eligible, you’ll just have to do some legwork on your own. Speak to your department head, Student Support Centre, and personal tutor – ask if they know of anyone who could advise you on the role you’re trying to get to. Look through university staff lists, and use society connections too – and remember that mentors are generally most drawn to capable, independent individuals who will implement their advice seriously.
- Market yourself
Even as the perfect candidate for the job (which you’re well on your way to becoming) – you won’t get it if you’re not an attractive employment option on paper, and in interviews.
This could be an entire article itself – but overarchingly, your CV and cover letter should work together to create an interesting narrative (typically illustrating a promising self-starter), rather than just listing skills.
I’d recommend asking your mentor for feedback on this– both in terms of CV and cover letter writing. If you’ve never written either–start here.
University can be powerful– where else is there such a high concentration of mentoring, advice and free programs, all geared to helping you achieve whatever you want?
But university only offers the opportunities – nothing more. Taking actual advantage of them – that’s all you.
Don’t – and you might leave university, wondering with everyone else why you accumulated 30k debt (plus interest), over 3 years.
Do it right – and you’ll leave with a head-start in the first steps to becoming whoever you want –professionally, and personally.
I’d say that’s worth the work.