University or professional qualification? Adult Dilemma

In this post I will go through pros & cons of two study paths: University Degree and professional qualification.

Best education and learning quotes
Best education and learning quotes

There are several reasons that might push people to return to study. I started university at 26 as a mature student because I felt stuck in my job and I wanted to change my life.

However, university is not your only option.

In the previous post we have discussed some of the most promising subjects for future jobs in the UK. If that might interest you, you can find it here: “What to study for future jobs in the UK”.

What I mean by professional qualification is all those courses covering a single industry, sometimes a specific job role.

What I want to say though is to make sure the course is certified and industry-recognised.

Because this is a genuine way to better jobs and higher salaries, it has unfortunately attracted a lot of scams.

Please avoid courses that promise you high salaries and require few days to complete. It does not work like that!

University Degree Pros & Cons

For this article I will specifically discuss pros and cons in order to compare University Degrees with professional qualifications.

Going through these can definitely help you make a better decision. There is nothing wrong in starting a little later!

However, this implies a slightly different considerations to make. I have previously mentioned some of these points in more detail in another article.

You can find it here: “Is going to University as a mature student worth it?”.

There have been few books, four to be precise, that really played a massive role in my success. I would definitely recommend checking them out!

If you are interested in that, you can find out more about those books here. In any case, let’s now go through pros and cons of both.

University Degree Pros:

Graduate Job Market: one of the biggest pros of getting an University Degree is that it gives you access to the graduate job market at any age.

In the UK, this is one of the most developed system in the world, with a graduate employment rate among the highest.

Cross-Industry Opportunities: in many cases the graduate job market does not constrain you to your actual Degree subject.

In fact, numerous companies open their graduate schemes to applicants from all backgrounds, even if “unrelated”.

For example, a history graduate could apply for a programme in a finance and so on.

Academic Research: a Degree is the first step towards a career as an academic researcher. Therefore, if that might interest you, then you should definitely consider getting one.

Please mind that many students are not initially attracted by this field. This is an interest that many develop as they get more involved in the academic & scientific process.

Reputation & CV: Many employers have a higher consideration for people who have invested in their education compared to people who have not.

A Degree not only certifies your knowledge of a subject, but it also tells employers that you are used to time management, teamwork, dealing with stressful deadlines and so on.

Degree Alternatives: nowadays there are many different ways of obtaining a Degree. The traditional way is still the most common method.

However, the are also alternatives such as; sponsored degree, where a company pays for your education and guarantees a job on completion; technical or professional degree, which is common for certain subjects and it combines periods of studies with periods of work/practice on the field.

University Degree Cons:

Time Constraints: A Bachelor’s Degree takes on average three to four years to complete. This refers to full-time study, which does not always suit everyone. If studying part-time, it can take basically double those years.

This is a remarkable amount of time to commit to. Moreover, in order to meet the entry requirement, in some cases you might need a “foundation year” or “access year”.

This is another addition to consider.

Further Education: for some subjects a Bachelor’s Degree might not be enough to get you the job you want. You might need accreditations from other institutions.

For example, chartered statuses or further academic qualifications (e.g. Master’s Degree). Those factors will inevitably lead to a longer time and more money to invest.

Study Content & Structure: for most subjects, at least in the first and second year, the content structure is very broad.

This is designed to give you an overview of the subjects/areas rather than covering specific aspects in detail.

Sometimes you might even end up taking classes that are not related, nor beneficial, to your Degree.

Administration & Flexibility: although Universities are becoming more flexible, the academic environment is still quite bureaucratic.

An application can take months to go through all stages before receiving an offer. Student intakes usually take place at specific times of the year.

Furthermore, access to subsequent years are often conditional to number of credits achieved and so on.

Professional Qualification Pros & Cons

Nowadays these types of courses are becoming more and more popular. If you have clear ideas on what career you would like to pursue, then this might be a very good option for you.

Even more specifically, some professional qualification courses are tailored to precise job roles.

These can vary from highly technical industries; data science, financial services, IT, accounting to highly practical; property management, hospitality, business administration, manufacturing.

Professional Course Pros:

Course Length: professional courses take less time to complete compared to University Degrees. This can accelerate your process of getting the job you want.

Depending on their qualification level, they can generally take from few months to few years to complete. I would not go for anything that only lasts few days and promises you the world.

Course Focus: as opposed to a Degree where you will cover many topics at a broader level, a professional qualification course has a narrower structure.

It focuses on specific characteristics of an industry or job role. This allows you to concentrate on a precise subject and to become an expert in that area.

Flexibility: whereas this was a drawback for University Degrees, it is a pro for professional qualifications. In most cases there is not specific start dates.

Moreover, the applications process is very quick with very few (if any) entry requirements to meet. This varies according to the level of the qualification awarded on completion.

Practical Content: these courses are designed to give you access to a job or industry right after completion. In order to “ensure” that, they involve more practical learning aspects than theoretical.

This increases employability skills which are the ones that most companies look for when hiring.

Professional Qualification Cons:

Graduate Job Market: apart from rare cases, a professional course does not give you access to the graduate job market.

This limits your job opportunities as you cannot apply for such schemes without a Degree. Therefore, you need to be “sure” of what career you really like to pursue.

Industry risk: a professional course qualifies you to work in a specific industry or job role. The risk is that if that industry faces a crisis, it will be more challenging for you to find a job.

This risk is external and out of your control. Therefore, it is difficult to mitigate it.

Durability: although I disagree completely with this, there might be difference in durability between the two study paths.

A University Degree is an investment that lasts forever; it never “expires”. On the other hand, a professional qualification might require some revision/update in the future.

Change study path: if at some point you realise that you don’t like that particular industry or job anymore, there is little you can do about it.

You might lose your money, and certainly you will lose the time you invested in that qualification. Opposite to that, as University Degrees cover multiple topics, it is easier to change study path towards other subjects.

University Degree or Professional Qualification?

The pros and cons that I have discussed above are meant for comparison between a University Degree and a professional qualification.

However, there are also other variables to consider that I could not list. For example, the financial costs involved for both study paths depend on the individual University or qualification provider.

Whether to study online or on-campus, part-time or full-time, it depends on your personal circumstances. I was in the same situation, wanting to change my life but unsure of how to do it.

It is important to consider everything before making such decision, it is life-changing!

I really hope my post will help you decide between University Degree and professional qualifications.

Another method you might consider to get a degree is distance learning. In this post I have talked about online degrees, you might find it useful: “Is an online Degree worth it in the UK?”

Generally speaking, a professional qualification is best suited for people with more clear ideas on their desired career.

Consequentially, a Degree is more appropriate for people who want to leave more doors open and who are not really sure (yet) what they like.

Regardless of what you are going to choose, do not let the external environment put you off. This is the best time to study to change your future, it’s never too late!

I have talked about this topic in another article, you can find it here: “Why you should return to study now!”. Good luck on your future successful career!

“Believe you can and you are halfway there”Theodore Roosevelt