Thursday, 3 May 2012

Super ambitious students: how valuable is a degree?

How happy them seem. Sigh... pic from

Getting an interesting, well-paid job upon graduating from uni is a rare and much-coveted occurrence these days. Actually, stories of graduates finding any jobs at all are sufficiently scarce. Pretty much everyone seems to go to uni (thank you, Tony Blair and your spiel about getting 50% of school leavers into higher education), and apparently coming out of the process merely with a degree to your name isn’t enough. More and more often, students are going crazy doing everything they can for the purpose of improving their CVs (and thus their employability), and as one of those ambitious, obsessed freaks, I can tell you it can get a bit out of hand.

One way this has manifested itself is the fact that over the past two years or so I have done a casual 11 work experience placements. Holidays are over-rated, right? And I’m not alone… I’m sure there are many of you out there juggling three jobs during term-time whilst trying to simultaneously carve your niche in the blogosphere, learn a foreign language and become a vet. So many young people are pushing themselves to the limits to improve their employability, and why do we do this to ourselves? I blame society, of course. At the end of the day, everything comes down to the notion of success that is drilled into us from a young age: all my school extra-curriculars led to being team captains, then the school council, a prefect, getting into a good university, then hopefully coming out with a good degree, which should then lead to a great job, allowing me to live in a nice house, drive a snazzy car and have pretty handbags. Then I will be happy, right? Of course I will. Because that’s the image of success.

With fees going up to a record high this year, a lot of people are understandably questioning the value of a university degree. Will having a degree really make so much of a difference to employers that it will justify the massive debt accumulated in the process? Starting in September, a four year cost will cost £36,000 – an incredible £22,500 more than it does currently. We hear plenty of stories in the press of school leavers with perhaps only a couple of A-Levels to their name earning more than graduates from top universities who studied rigorous degrees. Are apprenticeships, work placements and internships really more attractive to employers?

At uni, I’m sure no-one will argue with me when I say a lot of students do nothing. I mean literally nothing outside their course (and probably not very much of that, come to think of it), and that’s absolutely fine. But on the flipside, there are a lot of students trying to do everything, who struggle to say “no” to opportunities, and who suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out, duh.) This is all very well until you realise you’ve barely got time to do your degree work, and then that suffers accordingly. You just can’t win, can you? At uni there are just so many incredible things to do, new things to try and opportunities to seize, and with only a few precious years here, we unsurprisingly want to get involved with as much as we can. Older people never talk about their uni regrets saying “Oh, I wish I hadn’t got involved with so many activities”, do they? It’s always the other way round.

So my advice to all students is to seize this exciting time in your lives and get involved with some of the opportunities on offer. Chances are you’ll love it and so will future potential employers. But don’t try and do too much. Then you’ll fail your degree and employers definitely won’t love you. So, just get the balance right, yeah? Easy. Path to success: sorted.


  1. Brilliant, brilliant post xx

    1. Thank you very much - your comment means a lot. x

  2. I completely agree. University is as much about the experience as it is about the degree. It's about discovering who you are, what makes you tick, what you're passionate about and it's also about meeting lots of different people, particularly those you wouldn't necessarily choose to hang out with. I would sacrifice a first class degree for a first class university experience with tons of memories and tons of friends. I find that my professors are really encouraging about all the theatre and CU stuff I do because it proves that I'm not a machine and that I have GENUINE interests. Great posts. Love the blog.

    1. Well said, my friend. That's so good to hear. Thanks Ellie :) x

  3. Hi Rachel,

    I've been following your blog for a while now and I'm genuinely so impressed!
    This post sums up exactly how I feel about uni (I also go to Bristol!) and the FOMO thing made me laugh, it's definitely true - I'm sat here panicking desperately trying to sort out work experience but also planning to take a language course in the evening and write my own blog.
    I just wondered if you have any advice on how you do so much? I'm the same as you, I love to do loads of things but even when I'm trying to be organised things always get neglected (it's usually either my blog or my uni work). Do you still get good grades whilst doing everything you do?! I'm just wondering if you have some advice or do you find you also have to sacrifice things, such as going out or uni work?
    Thank you!

    1. Hello there and thank you so much for reading and for your lovely comment.
      Go for it! Definitely try and do all that if you can, but don't stress yourself out. I know, it's hard to find the balance.
      I actually wrote this post in first year, but last year (second year) I did cut back on my extra curriculars and devoted more time to my studies. Uni work is most important at the end of the day, and we have to remember that. Thankfully I have managed to get results I'm pleased with. And to be fair I don't go 'out' out that much - not a huge club girl, and with my little free time I just like to relax on the sofa with my mates. And maybe a packet of Maltesers :)
      I think the trick is to prioritise. We can't do everything, so pick what you really want to do and go for it.
      Hope that helps a bit and I hope you're enjoying Bristol :)X


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