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September 2012 will see the first group of students to start university under the new tuition fee system. With years of media controversy and baffling figures (by the way, you can read our no-nonsense Student Finance guide if you’re still confused!) we have to ask the question as to whether or not it’s worth the inevitable student debt that goes with university life.

icould talks to Miranda Isherwood, graduate recruitment consultant, to give us her views on whether to go or not to go?

The cost

The average debt will be 3 times more than a student who started before 2012, with fees now ranging from £6000 – £9000 per year. You don’t need a degree in maths to calculate that this is a hefty investment to make – usually at a tender age- with no guarantee of securing a concrete return when your student union card becomes obsolete. So why saddle yourself with such a financial burden when you could be making the most of your freedom?

The benefit

During my career as a graduate recruiter I have interviewed, recruited and counselled numerous graduates into professional careers, mostly into financial services and law. I feel a huge sense of pride when I see invitations for drinks to celebrate exam successes or promotions for the trainees I recruited. I often remember them as nervous young undergraduates coming in for their assessment days to be put through their paces.

Their experience at university played a large part in developing the skills-set they were asked to demonstrate on our assessment days. The successful ones continued to develop the skills for rewarding career.

Social life

I remember my own university experience: being dropped off by my sister at halls of residence; unpacking my posters, kettle, turntable and albums. Well, it was the dark ages before ipods! That evening, knowing no-one, I boarded a university shuttle bus and found myself at the Saturday Stomp at the Student Union – it was to become a regular fixture of my weekends. Over the course of four years the Student Union became the core of my university existence outside of my academic studies.

Skills

Within the Student Union, the opportunities to broaden my life experiences were immense. From practical skills such as photography, to politics – working for the student newspaper. Or, careers advice and counselling to socialising and sport – pool was my particular favourite. To eating – sausage, chips and beans was my regular order. Even laundry. All these pleasures were housed under one roof.

I fell into the student newspaper office, Hullfire, which opened up a world of politics, journalism, photography and sales. I emerged three years later with more skills and experience than I would have if I had stuck to my initial intention to hang around looking cool.

Independence

University life is about moving away from home, living in shared accommodation, negotiating over who will have the largest bedroom, gaining responsibility over the household finances, learning to stand up for yourself, sorting out what really matters to you, compromising over issues that don’t. Sometimes the arguments over the state of the bathroom, noisy stereos, or whose turn it is to wash up are not worth the strain on friendships.

Work experience

More and more students now are seeking to supplement their income by taking on part-time work, both during term time and over the holidays. I didn’t have to do this because I was a student before loans and tuition fees arrived. Learning to manage your time between studies, employment, the wealth of extra-curricular activities on offer and simply spending time with friends is a challenge, but juggling and prioritising are skills worth developing.

Recruiters will be looking for evidence of these kinds of skills during the recruitment process. Teamwork is a classic example; working on a group project at university will assist in the development of this skill. For instance, head forward a few years, and you could well be working in an audit team out at a client site, should accountancy be your career of choice.

On balance

I wouldn’t want to suggest that any of these transferable skills can’t be learnt and developed outside university.

University is not for everyone and with the financial aspects to take into consideration, studying for a degree is not an easy option. But when considering whether to go to university or take a different route, don’t base your decision solely on the academic grounding that forms the core of your higher education. Treated with respect, university will provide you with a skills- set that should carry you through many aspects of life, even assessment centres with an old dragon like me!

Miranda Isherwood, Graduate Recruitment Consultant

Miranda Isherwood’s career trajectory – social anthropology to graduate recruiter!

I gained a degree in Social Anthropology and a Masters in Criminology. My professional career started within a recruitment consultancy in Covent Garden. From there I moved to graduate recruitment for financial services with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and latterly Smith & Williamson, where I ran the graduate recruitment programme for four years. A subsequent move to Davies Arnold Cooper provided experience of
recruitment within a law firm.

More recently I undertook a career change – parenthood. When I am not chasing around after a small toddler, I spend time working as a graduate recruitment consultant.

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