A Degree or Work Experience?

Which option should you choose?

by Waller Jamison

Which is best - a degree or work experience? With so many young people, as well as an increasing number of mature students, entering higher education, it can be difficult to figure out which is most important.

In the UK alone, the government's goal was to have 50% of young adults going to university by 2010. But with such high numbers of students, will there be enough graduate jobs to go round?

 Or would it be more practical and useful in the long term to get some solid job experience rather than going to college?. The answer to this question will be very individual and must be based on your long term goals.

First of all, it depends which career you have in mind. Some careers require academic qualifications, whilst others accept high school students in entry level positions and in some businesses it is not difficult to progress to the top of the ladder without going to university.

So the first step is to determine whether or not you actually need a degree in order to reach your career goal.


If you can get into your chosen line of work without a degree, you need to decide if you want to experience college life and if you want to further your education, irrespective of the job prospects.

If you really enjoy studying and want the experience of university life, these are great goals in themselves. Unfortunately, the cost of higher education these days means that many students end up graduating with a huge student loan to repay, which can take the enjoyment out of three years of learning and drinking!

 Knowledge of the working environment is also becoming increasingly important to employers and it's no longer enough to have sound academic qualifications. They have to be backed up with skills gained in work, whether in a work experience placement or a summer or term-time student job.

Some of the bigger companies offer internship programs, known as graduate training schemes in the UK, but there is usually a lot of competition for places, which are often reserved for graduates of the best universities. It's important to think ahead, planning ways in which you can gain strong skills before entering the workplace.

It's no longer a case of waitressing in order to pay the rent and tuition fees, it's crucial to find a form of employment which will provide the transferable skills which employers are looking for.

For example, if you want to work in media, writing for a small newspaper or broadcasting on local radio will enhance your resume. I

f you want to gain good skills, do some background research on the job you want and discover exactly what it is you need to know. then find out where you are likely to get at least some of the main skills.

Some of the most important skills required in the work place can be gained in unusual places, for example survival skills developed during travel experience, particularly of the more adventurous sort, can be defined as problem solving skills, leadership and teamwork skills.

Volunteering is another way to develop invaluable skills. There are many opportunities to work in interesting situations, both at home and abroad, either short or long term.

You could consider spending a gap year or summer break working on a project in another country, perhaps helping the environment, teaching English or building a school. All of these activities will develop your social skills as well as skills you need for the workplace.

In order to make the best career decisions, you need to look at the big picture and plot your course from your ultimate goal back to your present situation. Learn how to change careers successfully - download a free preview to your success blueprint.

Any life experiences which enables you to build character and learn new skills will help you in your future career. And spending time abroad, whether working, travelling or learning languages will broaden your outlook on life.

An increasing number of people are taking time off before studying or asking for unpaid leave in mid-career so that they can gain a different perspective.

If you are a one of the many high school students who wish to get stuck into work straight away, careful planning is also needed and care needs to be taken with your choice of job.

But if you get it right, opting for work will give you a head start and you will be able to start earning immediately.

If you have a change of heart later on, you can still study for a distance learning qualification or attend college part-time. The choice between degree or work experience is important, and both options have positive aspects which you can exploit to your advantage.

And don't forget that no decision is irrevocable and it is always possible to change direction later. In fact, most people will move to a new career several times in their life.

This is not surprising as we are living and working much longer than our ancestors did and the longer we live, the more likely it is that we will develop new ideas, tastes and interests.

In addition, we are seeing a constant stream of innovations in all aspects of life and this has created new forms of employment which perhaps did not exist when some of us were starting out.

If you are just starting out in the labour market today, the speed of change today guarantees that you will find it is a very different place when you reach retirement age - if the concept of retirement still exists!