Universities will always promise students that they will be fully employable by the end of their degree. But increasingly, it seems, the focus of the university is to get the students ‘in the door’ as opposed to really qualifying them for the working world. As a holder of a BA and an MPhil, I have learned so much since graduation that my degrees mean absolutely nothing. But my university experience does, as I will explain.
I finished my Masters almost a year ago and since then I have been quite successful working in media in London. However, virtually none of my employment success is attributable to my education history.
Don’t get me wrong – one of the first things I am always asked about in interviews is where I studied. But there’s the proof – all employers care about is whether or not I have a degree, and where I obtained it (this is important – employers much prefer to hear ‘Trinity’ over ‘IT’). I am rarely even asked what class of degree it was, and certainly, I am never asked what I did it in. On my CV, my education history takes up two lines – despite thousands of Euros and four years of hard study.
The course of interviews takes a noticeable turn after the education is glossed over. Rather, employers care about what I did in university outside of my degree – especially, my time spent writing for the student newspaper, and my other media internships and part-time jobs. My education background is largely irrelevant.
And so it should be. Of course there are jobs out there which require a university degree to train you in a skill, but what does university teach you about the working world? In many cases students spend a few months of their degrees on work placement – and many of my friends tell me that was the most eye-opening part of all their years spent studying.
For students studying Arts, like me, that wasn’t an option, and when I began getting work experience for myself I realised it more and more. One of the biggest advantages for me, in terms of getting employment after college, was being able to tell the employer that I had office experience.
You may be fully qualified for the job ahead but applying what you’ve learned is an entirely different thing. I work in media, and despite having a good few years of experience behind me, every task I undertake is a learning curve. When I graduated from UCD in 2011, I had yet to experience some of the basic tasks I carry out on a day-to-day basis: spreadsheets; email manners; expenses; presentations; pitching…not to mention learning the basic etiquette of an office environment.
These are things that can only be learned on the job. Sitting in lecture theatres listening to someone talk for an hour does not teach you how to engage in meetings, speak to strangers or interact with colleagues.
However, these things can be learned in extra-curricular activities. Even in sports, you learn to build relationships with new people, you learn tactics, and you build on your communication skills. In societies, you can learn about project management, enterprise, networking, and much more. Not only that, but by getting involved in more and more things you can make your university experience even more worthwhile.
So I suppose the best way to answer the question of whether or not university prepares you for the working world is with a yes and a no. The ‘no’ refers to your degree. The ‘yes’ refers to the fact that what you get from university is what you put in. By building up your skillset through extra-curricular activities, employers will see your potential and your suitability for the working world.