University degrees are essential for certain careers and can provide an amazing life experience for young people and mature learners. However, they can be a pretty big commitment. They may require moving away from home, spending 3 years in a new city and studying full time. Student fees are always rising too, turning many people away from traditional degrees.
For some people, the allure of University doesn’t just lie in gaining an education, but the personal experience. University often represents young people’s first taste of freedom and independence, they have a chance to experience life away from home, make new friends, and live away from family. It’s seen as a rite of passage – a progression into adulthood, gaining a recognised education that will inform your future career choice.
However, the world is changing. Increasingly, people are switching careers, looking to move up the ladder in their field, or returning to work after long absences. It’s no longer the norm to simply remain in one job your whole life. For a lot of these people, the commitment of a 3-year degree is not available to them. A vocational qualification is a far better option for many. It’s also a lot cheaper in many cases.
Studying when it suits you
University feels like a natural progression after 13 years of schooling. It’s a similar setup – sharing classes with other students, specialised professors, and learning in class. This means being available to attend lectures in-person. This means committing a lot of your time, which many people don’t have. Some mature learners choose to take up University degrees, but for those with family and work commitments, this is simply not possible.
Such commitments no longer mean that you have to forgo gaining a new qualification. The digital world has made so many things easier. With online webinars, you can gain all the benefits of attending a lecture in person even as a distance learner. You can remain in constant contact with tutors, even ones that live in different parts of the world. You can even do research of your own.
Your learning can be totally tailored to you, lectures can be recorded and stored online to be visited whenever you want. Similarly, tasks and assessments can be completed online. This is a great option for people who would not have time to attend classes. The vast majority of people have access to the Internet and these days a lot of what we do is done online.
Vocational studying, ie. studying for a specific job rather than gaining a general degree, also feels a far more practical option for many people. There are many reasons for taking up a degree but some prefer to choose their qualification for the career they have in mind. This can make things easier when applying for jobs and bringing your skills to the workplace. Employers in certain industries may favour a qualification over a degree, looking for staff who are skilled for the job they have.
Tutors in online courses usually have far more practical industry knowledge than many university professors. They often come to teaching after many years of work, ensuring they can pass on practical knowledge to their learners. Professors with a mostly academic background, rather than specific vocational experience usually teach university degrees. This can be ideal for gaining a wide-ranging knowledge of a specific field, or if you are unsure of your career path, but if you wish to gain skills and train for a particular career, it might not be for you.
Perhaps the biggest reason people forgo University education is the cost. At one point it was free to study, but costs have risen in recent years to around £9,000 a year. While grants, loans, and financial support are available for many students, the prospect of spending that much can be off-putting. Opting for a job-oriented course can cost only around £450 and £5,000 for the entire course.
Ultimately, how you choose to study depends on what is suitable for you. If you are looking to gain knowledge in your chosen field before selecting a career and you can commit to three years of in-class study, then a university degree might be the best option for you. If you want to study in your own time and improve your skills in a specific role, then a qualification gained from a vocational course may be far more suitable.