In hindsight, maybe I shouldn’t have gone to university

Back in 2008, I was one of the thousands of young people in Scotland (and in other countries around the world) who embark on a university course every year. For many people (myself included), this just feels like the next logical step after secondary school (as it’s known here), particularly if you aspire to work in one of the more traditional professions, or if you want to work in a management-type position.

I would like to share my story as an honest account of what the university experience, and the graduate job market, are like. I hope that it can be of benefit to other people who may be contemplating going down this route.

Firstly, I would like to say that there were many aspects of the university experience I really enjoyed. For example, it was much more enjoyable than school had been — gone were the days of calling teachers ‘Mr’ and ‘Mrs’ and everyone having to wear uniform, and I had colleagues who actually wanted to be there and engaged with the material, rather than simply attending because the law mandated it.

I also joined a debating society, which helped me become a more confident person, and even met my partner while at university. This being the case, I feel that university really benefited me as a person, in a variety of ways.

However, career-wise, it was a different story. My degree was in law, and in Scotland you do a 4 year Honours degree, then a postgraduate ‘Diploma in Legal Practice’, then 2 years as a trainee solicitor.

Although I completed my degree and Diploma with good grades (an Upper Second and a ‘with Merit’), I still really struggled to find a graduate-level position in my field when I left. After around 6 months of this, I ended up taking a porter role in a hotel just as a ‘survival job’, so I could have some money coming in.

I wasn’t told by the university that the legal field was actually relatively small (in terms of the number of jobs) and that the supply of graduates vastly outstrips demand each year. Due to this, and the fact I’m a fairly shy, quiet guy, I really struggled to secure one of the highly-competitive trainee positions.

This meant I had to seek a role in another field, and this is where I felt my degree actually reduced my job prospects rather than increased them. What I found would happen was the potential employer would see ‘LLB Law’ on my CV and ask ‘why aren’t you pursuing a legal job?’.

I would then have the uphill struggle of trying to convince them that I wouldn’t be off in a few months when a better role came up (because it wasn’t going to). I’ve never had a situation where I’ve been asked this question at interview and then been offered the job.

I felt that because I couldn’t get a job in the legal field, the degree had been a bit of a fool’s errand. I remember seeing a TV programme years ago, in which Nick Hewer and Margaret Mountford followed four unemployment benefit claimants and four taxpayers.

One of the claimants was a graduate who hadn’t been able to find a job in his field. Nick asked him ‘do you feel you’ve been conned?’ because he had put in the effort to get the degree and not been rewarded with the job at the end. I can’t remember exactly what the guy’s answer was, but I completely identified with the feeling of being conned.

I’d been told by various people over many years that if I did the studying and put in the work, I wouldn’t have to do a minimum wage job. However, by the time I graduated, that was basically all that was available to me as the trainee solicitor jobs were all vastly over-subscribed. I felt that I’d held up my end of the bargain by studying and putting in the effort, but that it hadn’t paid off in the way I’d been assured it would.

Ultimately, I decided to change field completely due to the lack of success in finding a trainee solicitor role. I now have a job in a completely different field which I’m really passionate about, but it isn’t related to my degree. With all of this in mind, I feel that from a careers perspective, going to university was a complete waste of time. Maybe the fact I’m now passionate about a job in a different field means I just chose the wrong thing to begin with — guess I’ll never really know for sure.

If I was going to do it university over again, I would choose a more ‘broad brush’ degree which doesn’t limit me to one specific industry with a fairly small pool of jobs. Perhaps something management related, so it is applicable to a variety of different sectors. I also would do more research beforehand than I did the first time, in order to be sure that the degree would lead to a job at the end.

In addition, I would want to do more in the way of networking than I did when I was younger, so I would come out of university with industry connections already in place. Again, I struggle with this type of thing due to shyness and social anxiety, but if I could’ve overcome that, I would’ve been in a better position. The old saying ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ definitely rings true here.

If you want to pursue a career in the legal field, and are passionate about it, by all means go ahead. However, it is important to be realistic about one’s job prospects at the end of any degree or other course, and to consider carefully whether it is the right option.I don’t want to put anyone off a career that they want to do, just add a bit of a fresh perspective and serve as a mildly cautionary tale to counter some of the overwhelmingly positive marketing that the universities spew out every year.

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