What matters more, your degree or work experience?

As graduate positions become more competitive, what is more valuable?

Work experience By Rachael Hutchings

It would be an extremely naïve to say that my degree qualification doesn’t matter at all, because that evidently isn’t true. I worked extremely hard to get onto my course, and I am safe in the knowledge that I truly have applied myself over the last three years to produce a result I am worthy of. It is clear, however, that in this day and age, job prospects and future careers and trades are becoming ever more competitive. It is a constant worry among myself and my peers that we will not be able to rely on our degree alone to secure us the careers we dream about.

This has resonated with me more than ever recently, as my time at University is rapidly coming to an end, which has left me extremely frightened and stressed out. I’m a journalism and media student, meaning that experience in relevant fields are principally essential to achieve any paid, full-time work, or one must rely on unpaid internships or the occasional opportunity to contribute in order to get their foot in the door.

The last month or so has seen me furiously scrolling through endless graduate schemes and job listings, all of which on the face of it require a lot more from me than merely a nice 2:1 and a substantial set of references. Many vacancies are only available to people with prior experience, and in my view, this is due to the vast amount of graduates there are.

Companies and organisations are battling to employ the most capable and dexterous candidates; it is a dog-eat-dog career path and having a degree nowadays just proves you are one of many. It is important that you have talents and experiences that will benefit you and help you stand out amongst a very large crowd. It is extremely lucky that at University I’ve constantly been provided with chances to develop myself in different ways. For example, my involvement with student media and my committee role on the Journalism Society, as well as holding down a part-time retail job the entire time. It’s a busy life, and I’m constantly exhausted, but it’s what is necessary.

Furthermore, a work experience opportunity is likely to provide you with a wider range of strengths than your degree. In my experience, my university course is essentially an identical affair for all involved. Aside from module choices in years two and three, assessment criteria and what it takes to actually pass and succeed in your classes are exactly the same, and this doesn’t gear you towards different paths you may find yourself following. You learn more about these niche concepts present in your modules, but broader and more general workplace skills get overlooked.

Work experience placements, volunteering, and part-time jobs alike allow you to have better access to networking, provide you with an understanding of how to delegate and prioritise responsibilities and roles and creates a more comprehensive responsiveness to the requirements of the working environment. For myself personally, I found I felt more appreciated and noticed for my participation and work.

As I mentioned before, I’m not trying to take away the hard graft and satisfaction that comes with carrying out a degree, because I am no stranger to this. I simply feel that your education is just one factor that employers are interested in, and it is wise to substantiate all aspects of yourself in order to achieve the best future results.

Degree by George Cook

Our degrees are something we are having to pay an increasing amount for, and that are under a seemingly never-ending amount of disruption-and they are also what matters the most for our future careers and opportunities. Getting a degree provides young people with a qualification that can kickstart their career and also give them a sense of independence for those who live away from home.

The difference between getting a 2:1 or a 2:2 can be the difference between a graduate job or further education as a postgraduate- a degree can literally determine your future. Furthermore, it’s something that you have spent three years of your life working towards so even if it doesn’t matter for your job, it will probably matter greatly to you personally.

You’d have invested a great deal of time, effort and money into your degree, studying hard and often being very stressed. So to argue that your degree doesn’t matter would undermine the effort you’d have invested over those years previously. Many people go to university to study something they are passionate about, and this passion translates itself into the levels of care and ownership we feel towards our education.

Whilst work experience can offer you an insight into a career you are interested in and also gain you valuable contacts, you are unlikely to get that job in the future without a good standard degree qualification. Furthermore, if this degree qualification was a first then you would be a unique individual signalling strong academic prowess in comparison to many others. And this is something that you may not achieve whilst balancing work experience alongside your degree.

Many careers require a degree in order to get a job in that field. With so many people undertaking undergraduate and now even postgraduate study, the importance of getting a first has massively increased. Even though a 2:1 alongside some work experience will put you in good stead for a future career, the academic skills you will have demonstrated by achieving a first will be more significant and extensive.

However, it should be acknowledged that some careers do require some form of previous experience. Journalism and medicine are among those that often stipulate the importance of having previous experience before applying for roles. This gives students, as prospective employees, some background and idea of what the role may entail and what it requires.

But what these professions also often require is a degree that gives you the knowledge and intelligence to excel in whatever field it may be. To be a journalist you need some understanding of how the industry works and to be able to write effectively, and to be a doctor you need to know about biology amongst a number of other things that I know little about.

Whilst you can become a journalist without a degree, it is something that will demonstrate your intelligence and ability to write, even if that degree is not related to the media industry.

Ultimately, a degree clearly demonstrates how intelligent or how hard you have worked within a given field, more so than any amount of work experience. Whilst the latter is important, a degree can open opportunities that work experience often does not.

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