We’re at the time of year that final-year students have now essentially finished and submitted their applications and are waiting for, or receiving offers; but even so they ought to have something to bear in mind going forward – though the careers programme’s attention will shortly shift to younger students. So if you’re in year 11 or 12, looking forward from GCSE or A-level, this is mostly for you, although 13s will find it useful too.
People underestimate how common dropping out of degree courses is (about one-fifth, by some measures) – usually in the first year. The result is a year of lost time, a feeling of despondency at your mistake and at the fact you now have no careers advice and support to draw on – and a massive load of extra unnecessary debt. This is why careers advisors try so hard to get people to think early, compare in depth, visit universities and apply broadly – you can’t get this decision wrong. Still, if you do choose a degree you hate, here’s some thoughts. If you’re in year 11 or 12, start planning ahead to avoid being in that situation.
And you need a degree. 41% of the UK workforce now have one, a huge leap from 26% in 2000. That increasing competition probably explains the upward pressure on university offers at all levels, the most prominent and high-profile of which is that Oxbridge now looks like A*A*A will become the normal minimum; but the same ever-higher-bar will apply to each tier below in turn, with everyone shifting up one. There are AAB minimum entry demands as far down as 40th on some league tables for 2015.
It’s not just grades; cost too might be more of a criterion than you think. Those nine-thousand fees per annum (more likely twelve to twenty if you don’t get UK home status, which is becoming more likely) need to be added to high rent costs, living costs and horrific RPI + 2% interest lifelong, so a four-year degree and Masters (very common now) might leave you over a hundred thousand pounds in debt in practice. So the different cost of living of different universities might make a surprising difference in your calculations.
Alternatively, you might just want to be where it’s at right now, regardless of cost. After all, if the UK is going to charge you international fees, why give it preference over any other country’s universities? I’d strongly encourage students to be more global and make applications across multiple countries: here’s a list of the best ten student cities in the world. Of course, British students might have to overcome their traditional xenophobic antipathy towards languages – do the reasons to value languages from this survey chime with your assessments of the interests and value of languages? An example of a private company supporting international applications is http://www.astarfuture.co.uk (though we’re not endorsing that, just advising you shop around these kind of companies.)
One traditional and in-demand subject which is actually not very international is law, due to the distinct differences in legal procedure in different jurisdictions; but even here technological advancement is sharply changing the nature of employment for graduates – so be mindful and think ahead. One important development in recent years is MOOCs (for all subjects) and students ought to be taking these now of their own volition before applying to university and referencing them on their personal statements.
Technology’s not always good, of course, despite our tendency to glamorise the new, and strong applicants to good universities must realise that some old-fashioned skills (written practice, detailed notes, systematic wider reading, silent study) are irreplaceable to at least some degree by trendier modern methods that use quizes, group work, IT-for-everything and discovery learning; there’s been a bit of a backlash here. Read carefully and be discerning (don’t take a strong position either way or jump to conclusions) but it’s worth reading this critical study by top education researchers the Sutton Trust; also, take care of this self-promoting author, but some of these points are valid. Perhaps this continued core of traditionalist practices reflects the news that private school students do better than equivalent-scoring state schools students. The Telegraph’s conclusions are heavy-handed and political but it’s an interesting read; I would argue that this is caused by the opportunities for leadership, broader curriculum, and context that enhances these students’ readiness for university as well as more traditional methods of teaching perhaps common in those contexts.
Finally, locally – good luck to our year 8s, going on work shadowing the week after next – what a great way to prepare for a future jobs market! And if you’re in year 11 or 12 and really aren’t sure about universities at all, contact our partner school JBS to request attending their careers fair on Sunday 14th December (you’ll need to get permission to miss lessons that day, of course.)