Karen Lomas
May 24, 2019

Do you have to go to university?

Do you have to go to university

I’m going to address another hot topic; the question of whether you have to go to university. A lot of year 12s ask me this question.

Short story – I didn’t go to university straight from school, but pretty much most of my year group did so. I can also tell you that one of my friends, who did not go to university and has never done so, is one of the most successful of us all in terms of career-life, job satisfaction and also most likely in terms of earnings over her career life, by far. If that hasn’t made you sit up and listen, I’m not sure what will!

Higher Education

So many people in developed and developing countries in the 21st century strongly believe in university education. As this graphic demonstrates, higher or post-secondary education participation is growing worldwide and is predicted to continue to increase. The general rule of thumb, accepted by many, is that the higher your level of qualification achievement, the more likely you will be employable and the higher your earnings potential. But my example of the school friend challenges this assumption. Hard work, commitment and loving what you do can provide you with the same outcome.

Another excellent example of this is the story of a 25 year old young man from Bayside, in Victoria who left his prestigious independent boys’ school, in year 10, worked in kitchens around the world and already owns the well-known restaurant, Atlas Dining, in Windsor. He most likely doesn’t have any education loans to pay off and he is already doing well enough in the hospitality industry to have gained prestige industry accolades. So I guess the question we all have to ask ourselves is, what does career success mean to me, and therefore what must I do to achieve it?

The statistics

Meanwhile, what isn’t clear from the above graphic is the types of study pathways that make up the numbers. By this, I mean that post-secondary education, that delivered typically to young adults and adults from age 17 or 18 (or years 11 and 12), is made up of a range of different courses delivered at both universities and other tertiary institutions, commonly referred to as TAFEs, Technical Colleges and Polytechnics. However, what used to distinguish a university is that this was where a student went to study for bachelor and graduate degree programs over 3 to 6 years. Many TAFEs and Polytechnics now also delivers degrees, as well as delivering the Certificates and Diplomas, so a student can finish year 12 and complete 6 months to one year certificate training course, but go no further than that. That is not what we would consider being a “university education”, however, these numbers would be included in “higher education” statistics.

So, if the question was, should I go on from school to higher education at Certificate IV level, I might well say a firm, yes. Why? Because if during your school years you have not learned a practical or professional skill, and have not been able to enter the workforce to learn as a trainee while you are 16 or 17 years of age, your prospects will be narrow. On the other hand, if you completed some certificate training, either in school – what’s called Vocational Education and Training in school (VETis) – or through a local training institution during years 11 and 12, I may say that you don’t necessarily need to study any further. It really depends.

What if you already have good job skills?

If you have developed good skills during your teens, for example in retail, or hospitality, and have a well articulated resume, working after year 12 can be a good alternative to university, even if it is only for a”Gap year”.  Moreover, if you can gain a traineeship or apprenticeship with a business that will take care of your skills development, you will be well placed to develop real business attributes that other employers will be impressed by.

An example of this can be seen in the case of my client, Claire, who wrote great applications and got in front of a recruiter even though she did not have a relevant higher education qualification, let alone the specified 3 year bachelor degree qualification. Claire went on to secure the position. So, in short, you do not have to go to university if you bring something else to the discussion. After all, getting a job is about telling an employer why you are right for it, and if you tick 20 boxes but the degree isn’t one of them, it may not be an issue.

What are recruiters looking for?

In very recent years some companies have been stating that they do not recruit graduates (someone with a 3-4 year bachelor degree) but are instead taking students straight from year 12. Some are now introducing “blind” recruiting processes so that they cannot give preference to students from prestigious schools and universities. Equally, some companies, such as Ernst & Young (EY) are actively recruiting students directly from high schools.

Consider the situation of a young person who is already parenting, supporting other family members and contributing to household expenses. We have complex responsibilities at age 17+ – essentially, going to university depends on your circumstances. If you need to work it is perhaps better that you gain experience and maybe re-engage in formal education and training later. Indeed, life-long learning means not just what you study in your teens, but also what you do to “up-skill” in later life that can provide career success and job satisfaction.

The case for a university degree

By what is you are quietly keen to go to university but nobody else seems to think it’s a good idea or “normal” for someone in your neighbourhood? Some of us were, or are at schools that do not typically see their students heading in the direction of university study.

Maybe your parents did not go to university and so do not appreciate what benefits further education can bring. I say, don’t let these factors put you off. If you love to study and are doing really well, a degree course might be super enjoyable for you and it will also most likely bring new friendships and amazing experiences. Not only that but some universities are keen to open their doors to students from schools that are ordinarily under-represented in terms of student numbers heading to university. There are also scholarships, special supports and incentives for certain groups to encourage participation. These include scholarships for indigenous students and programs to encourage girls into engineering. For those who have been disadvantaged in some way, there is special consideration given by many universities. You can research these schemes through the state admissions centres, such as VTAC in Victoria, and UAC in ACT and NSW.

It is difficult to know what should come next after completing year 12. In fact, when you’re a teenager at school you’re so busy studying and enjoying life that it’s hard to find the time to think about the future.

What jobs are out there anyway? Won’t they be different in 10 years? Both are good questions that I can address at another time, but it’s true to say that there are almost too many choices and it’s hard to navigate. Applying to university or any higher education courses is a complicated process and can be daunting. I can help you (or your child in year 10, year 11 or year 12, and even beyond) to make up your mind about going to university.

You can contact me through my website form to talk to me about university compared to other types of education.




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