For the undecided soul, picking a course to go on and study after school can feel like an overwhelmingly difficult decision with seemingly no right answer. You weigh up the pros and cons of just about everything you could see yourself doing and get nowhere. I feel your pain, I really do. Nowadays it seems like more and more people are abandoning what they’ve spent years honing an interest in, in favour of something that is ‘sensible’ or considered a ‘real subject’. Pointing no fingers here but this is definitely a prevalent view among some people.
I’m here to tell you that you can in fact go and do what you want to and that there is actually a good deal of logic involved in doing so. Here’s why.
It seems the foremost thing on everyone’s mind and particularly on those soon-to-be cash strapped students minds is money. The attempt to decide on a course can largely be thought of as a battle between head and heart. You feel inspired when you paint, but you think about it and decide that you’d probably be a lot less inspired when your canvas is an old bit of cardboard and your studio is that bit of pavement that you now call home. So you decide that inspiration can take a backseat to security, affluence and just a bit of mundanity. You go and study business instead.
What those who think like that don’t realise is that this isn’t always the case. Many people think that the biggest thing they’ll take away from University is a wealth of knowledge on a subject and the skills to put that knowledge to use. While that is true, the really important thing you’ll take away is the recognition your degree brings. It seems obvious, but the fact that you have a degree is what will ultimately decide your future. Doesn’t matter what subject it’s in. This is because often times all an employer wants to know is that you have a degree. Now that’s what they should tell you in schools and universities.
The fact that you have been able to obtain a degree shows a level of intellectual capacity that no-one else can prove they have. That’s essentially what a degree is: proof that you’re clever and hardworking. Not an affirmation that you are now an artist, a scientist or a businessman for example.
Think of it as an immediate status boost. That is what employers want, some kind of pre-ordained assurance that you know how to handle yourself in the world of hard work.
If you apply for a job with the civil service for instance, they don’t care whether your degree is in History, Mathematics or computer science. They just care that you’ve demonstrated the ability to learn and learn to a very high standard. What you’ll find then is that a whole host of professional options open up to you, as long as you have that degree. You can still get a high paying job if you’re willing to compromise a bit.
This a term you’ll hear bandied around by everyone and their dog and that’s because it is one of the key things to understand about University and higher education in general. On top of learning about your subject, the real benefit to studying at University is that you start to develop a whole host of transferable skills that apply to any number of jobs.
Fortunately for you, absolutely any course will equip you with an arsenal of skills that are incredibly generally applicable.
These kinds of skills include learning to synthesize information that is given to you, learning to form a coherent response or argument, learning how to present (whether that be verbal, written or visual) and learning to identify the useful information out of stacks of rubbish. All of these things you can learn by studying Philosophy for instance but will equip you to go on and become anything from a journalist, to a critic to a financial analyst.
Foremost though, is that you learn how to learn. This is easily one of the most valuable skills that anyone in any profession can pick up and coincidentally it is one that every subject you can do in College or University will teach you. What I’m talking about is that throughout the years of drudgery, you become very adept at picking up new ideas, concepts and skills because you’ll be doing it every week. This stands you in great stead for the world of employment.
Let’s say you apply for a job and you’re three quarters of the perfect candidate, an employer might think “Well, they’ve been to University and learned this and that, and have skills x and y, chances are they are capable of picking up that last remaining quarter that they don’t quite have yet, and fairly easily”. That’s exactly the impression you’ll create. Being able to pick up any skill with a bit of effort is far more valuable than having one master skill and being completely rigid in your ways and being unwilling or unable to learn new things.
Instilling that kind of flexible ethic is arguably what University is best at.
So don’t fear that because you studied Philosophy, the pressure is on you to go and solve an existential crisis or two because if you take a step back and look at what you’re capable of more broadly, you suddenly begin to see a myriad of potential jobs that would suit you and will be willing to accommodate your set of skills.
If it hadn’t already occurred to you, summoning the willpower to study is hard. Yet it is essential to doing well with any course. When the lure of the pub beckons, the only thing that will keep you at that desk during exam period is if studying your subject involves doing something that you actually wouldn’t mind doing anyway.
If your idea of fun means sitting down on a Saturday to find out how some guy convinced some other guy not to do something, on the other side of the world, a thousand years ago, do History. If you actually quite enjoy staring at an inaccessible wall of numbers and letters, to the point you begin to wonder if you’ve somehow entered The Matrix, do Computer Science.
The point here is obvious but true nonetheless. If you actually enjoy what you’re doing it becomes easy to do fairly well, because you’ll have automatically put the time in when exams roll round.
Crucially, this means you get a better grade in the long run and turn out more employable. If you love books do English Literature, because believe it or not, you’re a damn sight more employable as an enthusiastic, 2/1 bearing Eng Lit grad, than a begrudging Law grad with a 3rd. Grade counts for more than subject matter and you’re more likely to achieve that if you do something you love.
What’s more, where better than on a course you love to meet like minded people who will not only go on to become some of your closest friends but will provide you with a web of contacts in a field that you have a lot of interest in. With the paramount importance of networking for future success, this is an invaluable environment to be in.
So what have we learned? We’ve learned that University really doesn’t have to be the place where dreams go to di
Dolan is a recent Business studies graduate and wannabe startup entrepreneur. His adventures in the commercial world make him a good source of advice.
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