Graduate Vs Apprentice Part 2 – University Graduate Opinions


Welcome back to the (hopefully) much anticipated Graduate Vs Apprentice part two! If you haven’t read part one then hold on, have a read of it here first. This week I’ll be looking at some graduate opinions on their university degrees and how they feel they have helped or hindered them. For the purpose for confidentiality I have changed all names of people who have very kindly shared their experiences and opinions on this topic with me.

In this article I will be sharing some of the pros and cons of university in several areas of consideration. These are; personal improvements, transferable skills learnt, employability, and financial aspects. I will be including my own views on this as well as others. I appreciate I have experience university and not apprenticeships so I will keep this in mind when sharing these opinions and remain as impartial in this debate as possible.

So, Is University right for you?

University isn’t all about coursework, employability and social aspects, it also teaches a lot of life skills. Every person I have asked opinions of has indicated this.

I think for myself personally, the biggest personal improvement I made when I went to University was just simply ‘growing up’. I was thrown into the world of complete independence, having to fend for myself. Moving to university taught me invaluable life skills such as how to survive on a budget, renting a house, organizing uni work, and balancing a job, lectures and simply looking after myself. When I look at my experience as a whole I feel like it has made me a very well developed person.

Not only this, but it has given me a lot of important academic and intellectual skills. I feel my writing skills have greatly improved due to the hours and hours of academic reading and critical thinking I had to do over the course of three years. Emma agrees with me on this point. She states that these reading and writing skills are just generally ‘handy skills to have’ and can benefit one in daily life and also employment.

Others have said similar things to this. Kate states that

‘being surrounded by an intellectual environment made my critical thinking improve, and this aids me in daily life. For example, I feel I can critique current events and consider important debates. I actually think that critical thinking skills are THE most important thing that a graduate population gives to society’.

These are skills she feels she would not have been able to attain without studying at university. Furthermore, Kate states ‘I definitely feel that university made me engage with very difficult concepts and consequently it has improved my thinking and problem solving skills immeasurably’.

The down side to all of this? Stress. I quote Kate here when I say ‘So, so much stress. First stress about the university work and then the financial worries’. Overall, the whole process is just a lot of different things getting thrown at you all at once. However, managing this stress and getting through this can prepare you for other stressful life experience whether it be during or outside of work.

Transferable skills

These personal skills I just spoken about are of course transferable to daily life and employment. But let us now look at specific skills that one can apply to the workplace. Emma states that while at university she ‘learnt a vast array of skills that are transferable to multiple jobs and life situations’.

Furthermore, Jade states that ‘university gives you the opportunity for independent learning’. She feels that this can really benefit people when going into a job as they are capable of working on their own and not heavily reliant on training or colleagues.

For me, university taught me how to time manage very effectively. For the simple reason that if I didn’t I’d either fail or starve. I constantly had multiple projects ongoing at the same time and these varied in task. On the one side there was the written tasks like exams and revision, and essays and on the other hand there were presentations, portfolios and the addition to every music students life of daily instrumental practice. There was a fine balance to this and students have to make sure they spend enough time on each task and not too much on one to get everything completed in time and to a high standard.


There are many mixed opinions about the benefit of a university degree to an employer or a person looking for employment. I will try to best summarise the arguments and put forward a few different opinions.

Jess states ‘I guess it depends what degree you do. If we’d all got degrees in accounting or business management there would be a lot more job prospects’. I agree with this statement completely in some cases such as becoming a doctor or accountant. However graduates are finding more and more difficulty in walking out of university and straight into a job. It seems to me that these days a lot of employers require work experience. Some will even favour this over a degree. (I will go into this in more detail in part 3 of this series). It also does depend on what industry you would like to get into. Some creative industries will employ graduates based on them having done a non-specialised/specific or creative degree.

Furthermore, Graduates find themselves pigeon holed when they hold specific degrees. Their options of careers, limited by their degree. While a specific degree for the chosen field you would like to go in to is very advantageous, for those who are unsure what they would want to do next, a degree that is a little more varied, general or creative may actually be beneficial.

Lucy’s opinion further supports these thoughts. She states

‘the main thing I found that in the field of jobs I was going for was they wanted a degree which was fine as I had one, but they also wanted experience of the software in the workplace – which is something university does not prepare you for’.

Of course some universities are different to others. Many provide excellent support and connections for students to go into employment. However, Lucy found that at her university ‘no one pushed us to get any work experience so it made getting a job more difficult.’ In addition, very little funding is available for graduates wishing to further their education to have a better chance of employability.

Kate states ‘I went into an entry level job anyway and I am being trained on the job. Actually besides having strengthened my brain, having a degree helps me in no way at all. I am being taught everything I need to know in my job role anyway’. She feels that she could have done this straight after school. However, She also recognizes the personal benefits gained by university. She thinks ‘maybe I’m better at the job because of it.’ However, I think it depends on exactly what job you would like to go into. Lucy states that ‘overall it did make me more employable and allowed me to jump some stages that would have taken longer if I worked my way up.’

Emma has an interesting view that draws a middle opinion in terms of how university helps towards jobs. She states that ‘my degree didn’t really get me my job’.

‘It was more what I did myself at university that got me a job, along with qualities that I honed there: dedication, professionalism, and the like’.

In addition to this, she raises a similar point to Lucy. University doesn’t prepare you for the specific areas of expertise that you need for certain roles. She states ‘my area of jobs also need experience and expertise. It doesn’t count if you have just come from university. They want a degree and experience, but how do you get that experience if you can’t get the job in the first place?’. This is a good point that I will be exploring in more detail in the next article. There will be thoughts such as ‘You are three years behind some people when it comes to a career’.

Too many graduates come out of university and assume that they are just going to walk straight into a job. Many also set their standard too high when looking and applying for jobs. They assuming they’re going to be on a high flying wage without having any employment experience. (Bar the part time and summer jobs they’ve had during and between university years). Emma recognises this saying having a degree ‘doesn’t make you as employable as you think you are’. On this view point, Jade states that not only is this the opinion of graduates. It also seems to be the opinion of friends, family. She states there seems to be ‘unspoken expectations and pressures to get a job in your field’.

Financial Aspects

Lets have a brief look over the financial aspects of doing a degree. I’m sure I’m not alone in saying I was constantly broke and worried about money. I, like many others, had to maintain a part time job while studying and take full-time positions in holidays. In addition to this, my student loan didn’t even cover my rent, let alone food, bills and travel. It took me a grand total of 12 months to get out of my overdraft. My student load interest is accruing at an alarming rate (roughly £180 per month). It is definitely not showing any signs of being paid off…ever. Kate, having gone to university in London states that

‘at my last count, my London degree cost me approximately £59,000 including student loans, scholarships, money from my family and holiday job wages.’

This colossal debt is enough to put anyone off. Emma states that ‘the limited money you have (if any) when you leave means it can take at least a year to feel settled financially after university.’

However, although the student debt sounds terrifying, I don’t even think about my student debt. The small amount you do pay back is unnoticeable. Furthermore, although the debt increases, anything left unpaid after 30 years automatically gets wiped out. Student debt isn’t counted as a proper loan. It doesn’t affect considerations when getting a mortgage or anything involving credit. Therefore, it’s not as awful as it sounds! It’s not all bad though. This situation has taught me a lot about money management. Overdrafts were key to my existence and I had to constantly monitor what I was spending. I feel this is a mindset I’m now never going to get out of which I feel is actually a very good thing.

Final Thoughts

After reviewing the financial atrocities of university I feel I need to finish on a positive note. I strongly feel university was the best experience of my life. While university has its downsides, I feel that it has many positive notes. Emma states that ‘there are a wealth of opportunities to just try different things such as volunteering, doing projects, becoming part of societies’. This therefore helps you grow as a person and step outside your comfort zone. In addition, Jess adds that

‘putting so much time and effort into doing something you love gives you a sense of personal fulfillment and self worth’.

This is something I definitely felt at university. It has given me a sense of achievement and pride in myself. It was a huge life change and a big challenge. To come out of that with a first class degree and stacks of general life experience is extremely fulfilling. In addition to helping with employability, Emma believes that the ‘experience of independence also helps.’ She recognises that university gave her opportunities to see where she wanted to direct her career. It did help her get a job, but for her, development of ‘personality and experience are just as important’.

Related Dovetail Blogs:
It’s graduation time – kick start your career!
Graduate Vs Apprentice

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