What will studying mean for my future and career?

If you choose the right university for you, your time as a student is likely to be enjoyable and fulfilling. But, at the end of it, then what?

Will your choice of what to study and where to study it help your career? Certain courses lead to particular careers more than others, but almost any degree from almost any university will – on average – improve your prospects when compared with not having studied to university level. Some universities, however, have a better record than others of setting students up for paid employment. It’s really tough to make reliable comparisons, though. Not least, because the biggest factor when it comes to you getting a job is… you: who you are, your qualifications, skills and employability, and what it is that you want to do in life. However, research suggests that universities can do some things to help beyond the quality of their teaching. So – if maximising your career prospects is important to you – you may want to consider how well your chosen university does at the things that might make a difference:

Work-related learning: some universities work hard to weave experience of the working world into their courses. This may involve placements (for instance, spending a year during your programme working in industry) or real-world projects that you work on during your studies.

Links with industry: it’s easier to deliver meaningful work-related learning if your university and academic department have good links with businesses either in the region, internationally or in the industry that you want to work in.

Accreditation: for many careers, you need to have professional qualifications. Your study programme needs to be ‘accredited’ by a recognised body. Some of these bodies can only accredit qualifications in one country or in certain parts of the world (such as the EU). If your career is likely to need particular qualifications (e.g. medicine, engineering, accountancy, architecture, etc), then make sure the accreditation of your course will be relevant to the parts of the world where you want to end up working.

Skills: your qualifications matter when you’re trying to get a job, but so does your wider set of skills – things like the ability to work as part of a team, communication skills or showing initiative. Extra-curricular activities give you the chance to develop these skills and to show off your achievements. Universities that offer these opportunities may not be doing it directly to help your career, but it’s a handy result.

Social capital: your employability is partly down to your social capital – the way you’re seen by other people. Developing good contacts helps. Some universities are better than others at helping you establish networks with their past graduates, industry leaders, local employers and even fellow students.

Reputation: the university’s reputation also rubs off on your social capital, but reputation is impossible to measure and may not be based on anything real. The research on this is divided, but often the famous universities that you think would pretty much be a passport to a good career do not in fact show any particular advantage to their students over others with similar grades who’ve studied at other comparable universities. Over the years, though, they may see advantages, but as these universities are so selective in the first place, it’s still hard to unpick what added value the university has given the student.

How 51 can help

There are so many variables involved, 51 can only help so much with this issue. Also, there’s no reliable and comparable data about the different employment rates from different universities globally. (There might be for the individual country where you want to study, so do research further.) So, rather than giving you misleading information that you’d have to interpret according to you own personal circumstances, 51 has included a few bits of data that are reliable and which might help set you up for a career. For instance, when you compare universities through our online tool for example, among the measures you can view are several measures of the contact time that students have with working environments and how satisfied the students are with work-related elements of their studies. Under the measures of ‘knowledge transfer’ and ‘regional engagement’ you can also see how different universities perform on their links with industry. Employability is down to much more than that, but it’s a start. The key thing is that the standard and suitability of the overall education you get will be a big factor in your career success.

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