The 15TH January 2019 marks the UCAS deadline for most applications to University for entry in September 2019. It is estimated that most graduates will leave University owing on average fifty thousand pounds in student loans, which will have to be paid back once the graduate earns more than twenty-one thousand pounds.  Tuition fees are over nine thousand pounds per year for a full-time undergraduate degree. Factor into that the cost of rent, food, bills and equipment and the cost appears astronomical. You might feel that unless you are completing a vocational course such as law or medicine then it is better to follow other routes. In 2016 a report conducted by Aviva found that more than a third of graduates regret going to university, and half reckon they would have landed their current job without having to study for a degree. So, is it still worth it then to go to university? What are the benefits?

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The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills conducted a survey in 2016 about the labour market conditions for graduates and non-graduates. It found that graduates earn more on average than non-graduates. The report states that 21% of non-graduates are in high-skilled jobs. Not having a degree hasn’t been a barrier for them. However, among younger non-graduates, aged up to 30, this has fallen to 17%. It’s harder for non-graduates to get into high skill jobs than their parents – and they are increasingly likely to be concentrated in low and medium skill jobs, or not working at all.

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On the other hand, Dr Lee Elliot Major, head of educational charity The Sutton Trust, says you can expect to earn as much if not more, if you complete a higher level – level 5 apprenticeship. His report found those who did level 5 apprenticeships earned more than those with degrees from universities outside the Russell Group – which represents the top UK universities – over their lifetime.

With over a hundred and thirty institutions of higher education offering over fifty thousand different courses, it is no surprise that the employment market is saturated with graduates. Many organisations are now demanding a degree as standard, whereas it would not have been necessary in the past. Some firms, though, have begun to look beyond their traditional approach to recruitment and have started accepting non-graduates over fears many are being put off by large fees. The Government has also agreed to invest more in apprenticeships to three million by the year 2020.

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Before embarking upon any course of study it really is essential that you consider all routes, not just the academic one. Your degree may not be relevant to your chosen career. It is certainly worth looking at apprenticeships as well as the different institutions. You may choose to go to University to be nearer home and to cut the cost of living. Whatever you decide then make sure you do your research. Decisions made at 18 will impact on your working life for the next forty years. If you really cannot decide, then a gap year is a great way to take stock and to build up some financial reserves!

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I find it impossible to write this piece without sharing my own experience of University. I was one of the lucky ones in that I went to University in the days when tuition fees were paid for by the Local Authority and I also received a small maintenance grant. I worked throughout my holidays in a range of roles and so I left University owing nothing. I studied French literature and I think I would have been annoyed at paying £9000 fees a term, when I only had 6 lectures a week. I really enjoyed my course. I was fortunate to spend a year working in France as part of that degree. However, my course possibly made up only 50% of what I learned at university. I came from a very cosseted environment. I’d been in an Independent school for seven years and my experience of the World was limited. At University, I probably grew up more than I had in 18 years. I learned how to live. The beauty of being in a university environment is that you are all growing up together. If you don’t know how to do something, then there will always be someone your age to ask. You learn how to get on with other cultures and people from entirely different backgrounds to your own. You learn how to argue, how to discuss politics and important issues. It really was for me the happiest and most educational time of my life.

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