Uni vs the school of life: It's about what you study

Last updated 05:00 28/02/2013

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University vs the school of life

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There is a lot of talk about the relevance of a university qualification in this day and age, but all the examples I see in reports are comparing the wrong things.

People consistently site examples of people with Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Marketing, and Bachelor of Arts or similar, working in unskilled jobs.

Obviously, university has not had the desired result for these people, and some of them may have been better off if they had gone straight into the workforce.

But the majority of university students have put some thought into what they want to get out of tertiary education and entered into a more employable career path.

I, for one, found through Government websites, that there was a shortage of professional engineers in New Zealand.

Obviously, through supply and demand, this leads to a higher rate of employment and better starting salaries.

Once at university I found the degree itself helped you to find employment by forcing you to complete 20 weeks work experience in engineering firms before you can graduate.

Teaching is another degree that includes a work placement and there is a lack of teachers in some subjects, such as maths, chemistry, physics and Maori.

Therefore, if you put some thought into where you want your degree to take you, you can have a high chance of employment when you finish.

In my class of approximately 150 engineering students, all those who actively sought employment got jobs, with most starting between $50,000 and $60,000 salaries, which increased quickly as they gained experience.

Another point thrown around a lot is the size of people's student loans, and whether they are worth it.

Once thing that seems to be neglected is that if you are proactive and select you course carefully, you can often get part of all of your course fees payed by a scholarship.

The government paid my fees for four years (about $24,000 worth), because there was the aforementioned shortage of engineers in this country.

Teaching is the same, Teach NZ pays scholarships to the tune of $40,000 over four years if you study certain subjects.

All this put together means this time next year I will be walking out of university, 23 years old, having spent one year working in farming and forestry, four years studying a BE(Hons) and one year completing a Masters of Engineering Management.

Going by previous graduates of a similar degree path, I will have very high chance of employment, and start somewhere between $60,000 and $80,000, or much more overseas. My student loan will be about $40,000.

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I could, if I were lucky, be on a similar wage if I had done a trade straight out of school, but with my university education I will advance my salary at a much quicker rate and will likely reach a higher salary at the peak of my career.

When I consider that I will be working for the next 40 years of my life, the $40,000 on my loan seems completely insignificant, that will be gone in the first six years at minimum repayments, much faster if I want it to.

University may not be the perfect option for everyone, and I have no doubt that there are people that are better suited to trades or learning on the job.

However, if you are a hardworking, intelligent person who puts some thought into there degree path, it is undeniable that tertiary education gives you a big advantage over those who opt out of further education.

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