Are degrees worth the debt?

I still have a student loan. Not a big one, but it’s still there.  Prior to embarking on University 2.0, my loan was into the four-figure territory but this round of tuition fees has me back in the five figures again. Thank goodness this time around the loans are interest-free, because without it my loan would still be well into five figures.

In exchange for my student loan I have an Honours degree in Education and Politics from respected institution. And self respect and life-long friends and blah, blah, blah.

Don’t get me wrong my degree was fun to earn, and I learned a lot. But I can’t honestly say that university study prepared me for the working world. In fact I would go to say that the experiences I had outside of the lecture theatre, writing for the student magazine, being the Vice-President of the Students’ Association and organizing the odd student protest were of far more use to me in the ‘real world’ than the academic side of university the first time around.

But then I went to university not really sure what I wanted to do except escaping a life-time in west Auckland. Perhaps that was my downfall, my career objective was to escape something rather than train for something else. But it was an expensive proposition and what I am wondering now is what really was the value of that degree?

The topic came up with a discussion with my parents about the governments proposed crackdown on defaulting expat student debtors which inevitably turned into a discussion about whether it makes financial sense for young people to go to university if they aren’t training for a specific profession like law, medicine etc.

My parents pointed out that after one year of professional training my brother found a job earning more than I will as teacher even though I have 5 years of full-time study under my belt (4 year honours degree + 1 year grad diploma). His education cost far less than mine not just in terms of tuition fees but also years forgoing income. I conceded the point that I wasn’t particularly focused on what I was doing at university the first time around.

In retrospect I probably should have pulled pints in London for a few years to get the travelling out of my system and come back more focused on my academic work. But then I suppose you could say that my degree enabled me to get a job out of university, and that if I hadn’t gotten that job, I never would have hated my job, and finally gotten around to getting my diploma teaching 10 years later so everything worked out in the end.

This time around I am a lot more focused on getting done what I need to get done in order to graduate at the end of the year and find a job. But if I was dispensing advice to high school students who were thinking of going to university to avoid having to deal with the perplexing question of ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’,  I would say that perhaps university is not the place to find the answer to that question.

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4 thoughts on “Are degrees worth the debt?

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  1. I wonder if there is isn’t some value in promoting a “gap year” between school and university. Personally, I felt I lacked the life experience to get the most out of my first lot of uni study.

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  2. I absolutely agree that university is not the best place to find that answer, for a vast majority of people – I was one of them. I even did the whole “get a useful degree” thing (my law degree), but I didn’t turn that into a career either (…yet?). I’m still sitting on a student loan of almost $50,000 that I can’t afford to make any repayments on. I’ve made voluntary repayments in the past, driven by what huge interest rates were doing to it – I was absolutely determined to keep it under $50,000, it did go over a few times. I’m proud of my degrees, but university-for-the-sake-of-university was largely how I started out, and it was an expensive hobby. I would have been better off using those years getting more job experience and earning money instead of spending it. 20/20 hind-sight aye!

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