Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Confucius makes a good point but if only it were as easy as simply choosing a job.
Unfortunately, passion for your work is often the last consideration in today's world, trailing well behind top salary, prestige, possession of necessary skills and grades, and supply and demand when it comes to employees.
Job security and a stable salary are key components many of us search for as we scroll through the university courses. We want to find and enrol in the best degrees — otherwise known as the degrees that will magically ensure our lives are as comfortable as possible following graduation.
Sadly, many of us forego our passions, ignoring the field in which we are really interested, in the search for the perfect career. It's not the careers that have changed so much but society's definition of 'perfect'.
Passion aside, let's talk about reality — the fact that not all jobs are equal when it comes to salary, promotion opportunities and employability. Some jobs require practical skills that can only be acquired on the job; other jobs require a theory base that can only be acquired through a university degree. Then, there are the jobs that you can enter without studying for a degree if you are prepared to start at the bottom, or with a degree in hand if you'd like to start higher up.
Herein lies the quandary of many students: What should I study at university or should I not even bother?
Do Uni Courses Guarantee Jobs?
The short answer to this question is no. Not anymore.
In fact, in some careers, the time taken to complete uni courses is time students could have spent at work, gaining the practical skills and knowledge that are more highly valued than the piece of paper your degree is printed on. Furthermore, there are some careers where the possession of a university degree may place you in the 'overqualified' basket.
Even for those jobs that require degrees — any medical field, education, the field of science and engineering, for example — a student has no guarantee of walking into a job once she or he graduates.
If we look at any studies done regarding the relationship between top degrees and employability in the 2020–21 financial year, it is patently clear that no degree offers a 100% chance of obtaining a job — top marks or not.
Almost anything in the field of medicine (pharmacist, nurse, doctor, vet) ranks relatively well but most are still a far cry from guaranteed employment.
The one factor in all of this, however, is the fallout from the Covid pandemic, which is seeing professional industries like education and nursing experiencing severe staff shortages, not just because staff are unwell but because they are leaving the industry in droves. Whether or not this is a good thing for new graduates is a matter of debate.
What the Research Says
Research from the 2020–21 financial year tells us that pharmacy is the most employable career field, with 96.4% of new graduates securing work in their chosen field soon after completing their course. This is closely followed by other health-related careers of rehabilitation and medicine (both in the high 80s), engineering, education and dentistry (low 80s) and vet science, law, business management and nursing rounding out the top ten 'best' degrees for getting a job.
Obtaining a job is one thing but what if the top salary is your goal? Does the research tell us something else?
Let's take a look at career and degree rankings with regard to the median starting salary for new graduates.
Dentistry and medicine
It should really come as no surprise that students who study a Bachelor of Dental Science, a Bachelor of Health Science or a Bachelor of Medical Science are in line to receive the top median salary for new graduates. What may be surprising, though, is that dentistry comes in ahead of medicine by nearly $10,000. While a top salary may be a great incentive, the journey to this salary involves a lot of study, often a double degree if not an undergraduate degree followed by a postgraduate or master degree.
Studying a Bachelor of Education puts students in line to receive the third-highest median starting salary. This may be at odds with what you know about education professionals always talking about how little they're paid — the thing is, while the starting salary is comparatively high, the incremental increase for each year of service is painfully small and ceases totally after your tenth year unless you wish to apply for a promotion, which often takes you out of the classroom and into the business and management side of education.
There are a wide range of specialisations within the field of engineering with an equally wide range of associated salaries. However, on average, students studying either a Bachelor of Engineering or a Bachelor of Engineering Science can expect an undergraduate salary of around $70,000, placing engineering in fifth place. If you want to earn more, investigate specialising in data and computer engineering.
Studying a Bachelor of Health Science not only opens up a lot of doors with a variety of career options, including promotion, education and project management but the starting salary for new graduates is not half bad either.
The Bachelor of Laws is one of the most popular uni courses, thus requiring quite a high ATAR for entry. While the starting salary is lower than one might expect, the opportunity for a steep pay climb is phenomenal.
Technology and computer systems
A Bachelor of Computer Science or a Bachelor of Information Technology opens doors to multiple careers in programming, research, business analysis and consultancy to name but a few. Like law, the salary climb is steep and fast.
Practical Advice Beyond 'What Should I Study?'
With all this information at your fingertips, the answers to your What should I study? and What are the best degrees? questions may now be a little closer, if not clearer.
The decision about what degree and what subjects to study is half the battle. Once you've narrowed down the degree you want to enrol in, or the course of study or specific subjects, there are a number of other factors you will need to take into consideration.
In the same way that some courses of study are labelled the 'best degrees' to take, there are also ranking systems for the 'best universities' — both officially and unofficially.
While the Australian National University in Canberra is the most highly ranked 'prestigious' university in Australia, in 2021 the University of Melbourne notably ranked in the world's top 30 for both academic excellence and employer reputation, as well as performing well in terms of the international students indicator.
What is more important though — attending the best university or enrolling in the best degree for your needs? What if the best university does not offer the degree you are wanting to take? Would you consider an 'also-ran' degree or university?
These are questions only you can answer but it is worth being aware of them.
Pros and cons of different courses and universities
If only it were as simple as choosing a university and picking a course to study (and then having your choice of jobs after graduation). As mentioned above, degrees open up a wide range of career options and it is important that you choose a field to specialise in.
For example, with education, you have to choose between early childhood, primary and secondary education, and you also need to choose at least two subjects to major in.
With a business management degree, you will find yourself choosing between financial or accounting majors, a marketing major, human resources major or project management and administration majors.
The list goes on.
The other thing to remember, too, is that not every university that offers, say, a Bachelor of Information Technology or Computer Science degree, will teach it the same way. And, of course, with the backlash from Covid, many universities are still running many of their courses online, which affects the delivery and content. (And just as many are back fully in-person, as well as offering hybrid options — a mix of online and in-person, determined by the teacher and student preferences.)
With all this in mind, it pays to weigh up the pros and cons of a selection of your preferred degrees and universities, as well as consider other factors, such as accommodation, travel and other expenses.
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