Navigating the fork in your career path

Did I pick the right degree subject? Will I be able to get a job when I’m done? What if I had studied something else? These are questions that most students will ask themselves at one stage or another. When choosing a subject to study, people often have to choose between their passion and their career prospects.

It can already be quite daunting narrowing down subject choices in order to go to university. Choosing what subject to study can seem like a pivotal point in determining a future career, which can lead to the decision between an academic subject and a vocational one. Vocational degrees, or degrees with prescribed jobs, can seem like the safer option, given the clear avenue for employment after graduation.

Students can sometimes feel that they may not have made the right choice in terms of their future career, particularly if their degree does not lead down a predefined route. Humanities students often fall prey to this; if you don’t want to become an academic then it can be worrying to choose what to do for a career instead.

An advantage to studying a degree with a pre-established career path is that there is no pressure to decide what you are going to do, potentially for the rest of your life. Students doing a degree in medicine, for example, already know that they are going to be a doctor when they graduate, and all that remains to decide is what kind. In a subject such as history the path is not so clear, which can cause stress when trying to come to a conclusion on a field of work.

In Scotland the structure of degrees is flexible, and even when you have chosen your main degree subject, outside subjects are available throughout the first and second year. A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh said: “The Careers Service sees some students who choose to pursue their subsidiary subject, but anecdotal evidence suggests this is driven less by career motivation than intellectual interest. Students at Edinburgh really value the breadth of study offered by a flexible degree structure and don’t see this as career-limiting.”

They went on to say: “Unless students have a clear vocational path in mind, the subject choice is not always critical, as a significant proportion of graduate roles are open to applicants from any discipline. We would always encourage students to pursue subjects that interest, engage and motivate them as this is more likely to yield a good result. Many graduate schemes operate a 2:1 threshold, so it’s wise to consider where lies the best chance of success.”

Graduate employment levels are relatively high; according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 92.1 per cent of graduates were employed or involved in further study six months after graduating in 2012-13. This is regardless of subject studied, and shows that employers value degrees of all kinds. Some students might question whether their course lacks employability value, but in reality the percentage difference in employment rate between the highest (medicine) and the lowest (humanities) subject is only 11 per cent.

Although it can be stressful to think about future career prospects when studying, employability can be improved by being actively involved both in and outside of your degree subject. For most job options there is a society at the University relating to it in some way, and if there isn’t, seeking out opportunities outside of the University is always a good idea and shows employers your levels of motivation. Ultimately it comes down individual preference, but if you enjoy what you do, and put the effort in, employers are likely to notice, and this will put you in good stead for any job.

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The Student Newspaper 2016