Degree or not to degree? That is the question

Eagerly opening an envelope to finally reveal the results of three years of university study is one of the most exciting moments for any student on the brink of launching their professional career.

Attaining a sought-after first-class degree is the ultimate prize which is said to open doors to a bright future – but is this still the case?

The latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that more than a quarter (26 per cent) of students now graduate with a first-class degree. This has risen from 18 per cent in 2012/13.

In 1990 only about eight per cent of students achieved a first. So, why is it seemingly becoming easier to attain a first-class degree? Are students getting more bang for their buck or are professors doing them a disservice by awarding first-class degrees more readily than ever before?

The government feels it is the latter and last week it was reported that constructive steps are to be brought in within universities to help tackle this so-called degree-inflation.

This is a positive step in the right direction. Students now have to work harder than ever to get noticed in an incredibly competitive graduate jobs market. And the issue of a perceived degree inflation will only make this even harder.

At REED we are passionate about helping people get into work, whether that’s with a degree or without.

We believe that before making a big decision it’s important to consider your options and here we have compiled the main challenger routes to kick start your career.


More than a million people in the UK have enrolled in apprenticeships over the last two years and they are proving an increasingly popular option due to their hands-on nature. Apprenticeships allow you to get stuck in and learn on the job without having to take on huge amounts of university debt and lock yourself into a specific degree.

Earlier this year, surveyed 18-24-year olds and we found that the most valued advantages of an apprenticeship over a university degree include a better work ethic, the ability to deal with workplace pressures and acquiring a wider range of skills.

There are 22,000 apprenticeships live at any one time across the UK – so make sure you increase your chances of being selected by making your CV and cover letter as relevant and up to date as possible, adding in any transferable skills, part-time jobs or volunteer work.

Alternative qualifications

Studying for a professional or technical qualification is another alternative to university where students can combine theory with practical skills.

This can give you the necessary qualification needed for a specific role but often for a fraction of the price of university fees and in much less time.

Many jobs such as firefighters, journalists, emergency services staff and jobs within the construction industry don’t formally require a degree, and there are often specific short courses you can take which will train you up to entry level.

Research the type of job you are interested in and then explore whether a degree really is a necessary prerequisite.

Work experience

Getting work experience is invaluable. Firstly, because it allows you to have a taste of your chosen career and decide if it is the right path for you – before you embark upon a degree or apprenticeship.

Secondly, because if it goes well and you impress the bosses, there may be options to come back and work at the company as an intern or junior member of staff.

It is also a great place for making valuable contacts who can help you on your quest for the perfect job.

They can offer advice on their career path and how they managed to get to their current role, and whether that was with – or without – a degree.

For some career paths, going to university is crucial. If you are someone that knows exactly what goals you want to pursue professionally then university may be the best option for you.

And with the spotlight on university marking, degree results should be fairer going forward and those students who work incredibly hard will be rightly rewarded for their efforts.