Student Debt Is a Good Reason To Avoid University


Polly Benson, 18, wonders why she should saddle herself with debt when a degree does little to improve her job prospects

In my family we have a pot-pourri of successful careers, including a fashion designer, a rock musician, a helicopter pilot, a chef and a City trader. Yet not one of them went to university.

When I first told the careers adviser that, well, university might not actually appeal, the look on her face said it all. Just go, Polly, she said. You can worry about what comes next once you have a degree in your pocket.

From the age of 16, I studied the International Baccalaureate at a small, all-girls’ school and from the beginning I was comfortably under the impression that, by doing so, I might even have the upper hand to my A-level peers when it came to applying for a place at university. However, two years later, with results in hand and uni offers met, I am now wondering if this really is the right direction for me.

The norm for students of my age and attainment is to move straight from school into university in pursuit of that ticket to the future that is a degree, and, out of the eight of us doing the IB at my school, I am alone in my choice to put it off for a few years – if I go at all.

A massive amount of pressure is placed on 18-year-olds such as myself to apply for further education, particularly this year, given the fast-approaching rise in fees and, as much as anyone, I felt the strain. Of course, my school just wants what’s best for me and for me to achieve my full potential. Nevertheless, as a pupil at a conventional girls’ school, I can’t help but feel that they want me to achieve said potential in a conventional girls’ school way. In layman’s terms: finish school, get a degree, get a job, succeed at job. To stray from this line is rare, and certainly a cause for concern. Yes, I’m rather good at music but I have little to no intention of pursuing it further, and have not shown any signs of, or desire to be, the world’s next Richard Branson or Lord Sugar. As you can imagine, my school’s response wasn’t exactly one of immense elation.

I’ve done some research, and from what I can see, on average, the starting salary for a graduate is £16,000, or between £23,000 and 26,000 in a blue-chip company.

Interestingly, the starting salary for a non-graduate is the same and, generally speaking, rises each year depending on how well the employee does their job. It would seem the problem is more about getting the job in the first place. So what is the point, then? Uni is famously acknowledged for providing students with the best few years of their social lives; but other than that, will I actually miss out at all?

Theoretically, a school-leaver with enough drive and ambition could work from the bottom of a company up to the level of a newly-hired graduate, or possibly even higher, in the three years the graduate spent obtaining their degree. But the non-graduate has no student loan to repay and already has a job, whereas the graduate walks out of university searching for that one job that was snapped up three years ago by a classmate who followed a different path.

So I find it hard to understand why so many people subject themselves to the stress that is a Ucas application for a degree in a social science or humanity. I spent last week asking various companies about their views on degrees. I found that British Gas, for example, is known to encourage apprenticeships, and claims that some of its senior managers began as apprentices before progressing through the company.

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