Were you one of those children who’s parents constantly told you that you had to have a third level degree to get a foot into the workplace? That the only point of the leaving certificate was to get you a seat in a college lecture hall? But are you also one of those people who haven’t the faintest idea what course you want to do?

Well guys, this post is for you!

First off, let’s start with clearing up some rumors. 

1 ) How important is a third level (Level 7 or 8) degree? 

Here we have a lovely chart from some research done in Sweden during 2015 comparing the average wages for people with different levels education. You can find figures for Ireland here, but it’s not as easy to understand since it works off based percentages.  I won’t care about the figures much (I don’t know if these before or after tax etc) the important take-home message here is that getting a third level degree will most likely improve your earning by anything between 20% and 50%. Naturally, this depends on the field of your career, you can’t be a doctor without a degree but having a degree in the world of acting might not make a huge difference to your wages.

2 ) Should everyone get a degree then? 

In short, the answer is no. In Ireland, we have something called a “degree fear,” the idea that we should push everyone straight from the leaving certificate into a third level degree. Surprisingly we’ve actually been pretty good at this. Here’s your random fact of the day, for those between the ages 18 and 45, Ireland has the highest percentage of third level educated people in Europe. Almost 15% higher than the European average.

Unfortunately, this probably isn’t something we should be proud of😞.  Ireland has built it’s third level education system to take in huge numbers of students, stuff them full of information and send them out into the workplace with no hope of a career. Class sizes are growing and educational standards are dropping.

3)  Does a third level guarantee me a lovely job, a nice house and a great partner?

Not a hope in hell, unfortunately. Ireland’s education system and Irish people are finally starting to understand that our idea of third level education is not working. Despite the highest level of education in Europe, the quality of our education is quite low. We have serious unemployment, emigration and some of the highest levels of course drop out worldwide.

In 2014 the National Student Survey showed that 44% of students were unhappy with their current college courses and would apply differently if they were filling out their CAO forms again.  – Irish Times Whats a better way to consider third level education?

Simply, the purpose of primary education is that you can function as human being in the world. The purpose of second level education is you have the skills to work. The purpose of third level education is to give you more skills/knowledge to work in a very specialized field. Unlike our parent’s generation, we will not leave university and spend the rest of our lives in one company doing the same job day in day out. In fact, most of us will probably spend time doing jobs that haven’t been considered yet.

The general trend within the western world is to move toward broader degrees and accepting that training someone at the age of 21 in a highly specialized area is not a good investment in our fast moving world.  More and more we see third level institutions are offering broader courses, or the ability to take additional modules outside of your college such as UCD horizon program. In Scandinavia, they have introduced a pan educational system. You select up to 50% of your university models yourself, and you can select models from any university in the country. So if you’re studying in UCC, but NUI Galway has a really good module in nuclear theory, you just sign up to that and take it there.

We also see this change in education with the rise of online courses (Which I suggest you look into). It’s becoming more and more common for people to upskill in a specific area using an online course. There’s no reason why you can’t do these in second level education and get a taste for what skills you’d like to learn in the future. Check out large digital platforms free training like Facebook bluebook and Google’s digital garage.<<<<<

What does this mean for you? Firstly, it means that you shouldn’t worry about getting that ideal career as an engineer, a nuclear scientist or a software developer. Any employer that’s worth there weight in salt doesn’t give a damn what’s written on your fancy bit of Latin paper you get at graduation. They care what you can actually do. Each year hundreds of computer science student graduate who have scraped passed grades and can’t actually apply what they’ve learnt. There are also arts’ students who have taken a few computer science models and worked hard and ended up just as employable. One of my best friends dropped out of NUI Galway in first year, took up a internship and taught him to code. Five years later he’s working part time on 50,000 grand a year and doing a degree in his spare time.

Note: Despite this some career require accredited courses, medicine , psychology, certain types of engineering, law etc. To work in these areas you must have an approved degree.

Instead of choosing a career, try choosing skills. Pick your degree based on what you enjoying doing and what you want to improve that. Four years specializing in a set of skills you hate is a horrible idea.  Also consider the time after your leaving cert and before you start a full time job as a period of your life. This is the time when yes maybe you want to go to college, but also when you travel, explore and develop as a person. Don’t rush and bottle yourself into something just because that’s the way our population dose it.

What are the benefits of university studies?

In general, it’s easier to find a job if you have a university degree. You can also have other benefits in areas such as salary and personal development.


About the author

Fionn Delahunty
Fionn Delahunty

Ex NUIG Rover society member, current member of the national Rover program team. Currently living in Sweden 🇸🇪

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