It’s a tough choice facing students - go to university and end up with an academic qualification but tens of thousands of pounds in debt, or opt for the job search. Jill Foster considers her options.
They say the best years of your life are spent at university. That may be so. However the amount of debt that each student accumulates when they leave is increasing every year.
This is the time when all 18 year-olds have to make crucial decisions that could affect the rest of their lives. We have finished college, finally completed our exams and are leaving, hopefully, like we have achieved everything we had set out to achieve and feeling like we can conquer the world. What next? University, job, gap year?
When going through the process of applying for university, students are constantly being told to think carefully about what universities they want to apply for, yet they’re never reminded about the reality of the amount of debt they will be in once they have graduated. Is this the path college lecturers go down to enable them to get more students into university?
This may be one of the factors why 47 per cent of students underestimate the amount of debt they will be in when they leave higher education.
In 2004 the average graduate came out of university £12,000 worth in debt. The predicted amount of debt for a graduate leaving in 2009 is between £30,000-£40,000. It’s an astonishing amount of money to pay back.
The message often heard is to go out and enjoy yourselves when you finally reach university but according to recent surveys an increasing number of students are becoming more worried about their financial state rather than concentrating on their studies. And they have every right to be worried.
Looking at the predicted debt figure for 2009, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if there was a huge drop in young adults refusing the university option because of the extortionate living and tuition costs.
There are those who have a different opinion about the financial difficulties students come out with. “Yes we’ll all be in debt at the end of it, but who cares? Everyone’s in the same boat, you only live life once,” my friends at college say.
Every time I think about it, the idea of going to university becomes less appealing.
Here’s ‘my’ scenario: I have gone straight into higher education after leaving college and have luckily got myself a part time job at the weekend which earns me £90 a week. I spend, on average each year, £4,000 on accommodation, £750 on food and £2,600 on clothes/toiletries and entertainment.
I also have to account for an extra £500 to be spent on books, photocopying and travelling to and from the university. In total I will spend £7,850 excluding tuition fees.
Over three years, the bill’s looking like £23,550 without including tuition fees. So at the end of my life-changing experience, I have got my degree, I’ve nowhere secure to live, no job and I’m at least £34,050 in debt. Great!
Before going down the route of choosing from five universities, I had a mindset of not going and was very put off by the financial difficulties I would end up in.
My career plan was to leave college, earn money over the summer while getting some work experience and then go along to many employers with my impressive CV and apply for suitable jobs.
However, the plan has taken a bit of a detour after visiting a number of universities and speaking to many different people who have experienced the life of a graduate. This may not come as headline news to anyone but they say in most cases that by having a degree you can get on the career ladder much quicker without having to start at the bottom.
I don’t disagree with this, but what about when lecturers say: “Its not good enough to just have a degree, you need to have the experience as well to make yourself stand out from everyone else”?
I understand that 20 years ago it was much easier to get a job with or without a degree because various industries weren’t as competitive as they are now. So it makes sense that a gap year is the perfect solution. But why is it still frowned upon to take a gap year?
So long as the time is used wisely, throughout the year you can earn money and get the relevant work experience that will make you stand out when you decide to go to university next year.
Which means you are more likely to get that job at the end of university than the person with just a degree. Obviously by taking a gap year it can help you financially at university (providing you have saved) but it can also put you streets ahead when studying your course in terms of having first hand experience of working in that industry. There is however one ‘black hole’ that some people seem to fall into - not wanting to go back into education, which means they are likely to get a job which might result in them starting at the bottom.
Starting at the bottom is generally the process for students who have left college and want to go straight into a full time job unless they happen to be in the right place at the right time earning a reasonable salary and progressing up the industry ladder at a nice pace.
I am not promoting university as being a ‘bad place’ or that the only life skill that you get out of it is learning how to end up in debt because it’s not. I know this because I have many friends who are at university and friends who have graduated and they have all said that they are/have had the best time of their life and found out who they really are.
Most of us are prepared to live the next three years of our lives, in a career sense, at university. Don’t get me started on whether 18 year-olds are prepared domestically because I would say 95 per cent of my friends are not. I just feel that we’re not prepared financially, most of us have never had to deal with paying for accommodation or doing the weekly shopping and we’ve certainly never had to manage any debt.
I know that university is probably the best place to learn from when it comes to financial issues because it’s the cheapest and best loan that we will ever get. However I do think we are being thrown into the deep end.
Maybe I’m just too sensible and not ‘living for the moment’ but I am living for my future.