The best university is the university of life.

Henrique Capriles Radonski 

That may be so — we should not discount the importance of life experience when it comes to a rounded education — however, there are some career paths that require a university education and the acquisition of an undergraduate degree, if not a postgraduate one.

Chances are, if you are reading this article, you have reached that point in your school life where you have to start making some key decisions and you probably have a load of questions.

What are the pros and cons of university study versus getting a job straight out of school to start earning a living? 

Are university graduates guaranteed a job?

How much does university cost?

While we can't make that final decision for you, we can provide you with some information to help the process become a little more transparent.

Let's start by taking a look at how things have changed in Australia when it comes to the prestige of a degree.

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Is It All About The Best Degrees for the Future?

"Will all that extra study mean your school has to pay you more money?" my grandfather asked me when he heard I was studying for my Master of Education.

"No, not in the Australian education system," I said.

"Then, why are you doing it?"

How much does university cost in Australia?
That sense of achievement university graduates have is unparalleled | Source: Pixabay - ptksgc

It sounds like my grandfather was all about the money. He wasn't but he did grow up in Australia when students went to university to study for degrees that would ultimately snare them a high paying job. And if you didn't go to university (probably because you couldn't afford the fees or tuition costs), you were expected to find a job and work hard from the bottom rung, gradually making your way up the pay scale.

Today's Australia is a little different when it comes to higher education.

There is still certainly a focus on 'getting into' the best degrees for the future — that is, the job or career paths that will net people job security and the highest possible salary. However, since the Australian government, led by Gough Whitlam, abolished university fees in 1974, university enrolment is no longer only for the elite. What this means is that there are a lot more students enrolling in degrees and, ultimately, a lot more competition for jobs once everyone from the course graduates.

So, we're saying that 'yes', university study is still about finding the best degrees for our future prospects, but it is also about following a passion and achieving your goals. So, while a degree will, in many cases, increase your job prospects, students no longer expect a job to be waiting for them at the end of their studies.

And therein lies one of the 'cons' of university study — should you choose to view it that way.

Key Question: How Much Does University Cost?

As already mentioned, the Whitlam government did away with university fees in 1974, however, this does not mean that university is free in Australia.

Domestic students

For Australian students living in a Commonwealth Supported Place, the cost of an undergraduate degree ranges from $20,000–$55,000. This is the subsidised rate, with the rest covered by the government. Some degrees are fully covered by the Australian government but there are conditions. For example, a teaching degree will be paid for by the government if the student teaches in a very remote area for up to six years after she or he graduates.

It is important to note that the student portion of their university fees can be transferred into a government HECS-HELP loan to be paid back through tax once the student graduates and obtains a job. There is not unlimited money for these loans but the limit is quite high and covers the cost of most degrees.

International students

How much does university cost if you're an international student? The short answer is, considerably more, as international students are not eligible for Australian government subsidies or loans. In fact, for international students, studying in Australia is often more expensive than anywhere else in the world. (That's one of the cons, however, the pros include a wonderful teaching and learning environment and one of the best standards of living in the world for students.)

International students studying for an undergraduate bachelor degree can expect to pay $15,000–$33,000 per year, depending on the degree. A postgraduate or master degree ranges between $14,000 and $37,000 per year.

Note that, for both domestic and international students, these are the university fees only. Other costs, such as accommodation, food and course study materials, also have to be factored in.

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Going To University: The Advantages

Any further learning and education, including an undergraduate bachelor degree or postgraduate studies further down the track, is going to have some benefits, both for your career and personal life.

Here are a few of the pros of further education you may like to consider.

Improved career options and job opportunities

This is not saying that a degree guarantees a student a job after he or she graduates but that by engaging in further study, your options broaden as you develop a wider range of skills, making you eligible for other career opportunities you may not have previously considered. Some employers also prefer new graduates as they are often up to date with current programs and work skills.

What are the advantages of university study?
Finding your 'tribe' - other students who have the same passions as you - is one of the biggest pros | Source: Pixabay - naassomz

Build your network

Studying in a particular field not only sees you surrounded by other like-minded students but also connects you with potential mentors and other people in your chosen work field who can support and guide you.

The university campus (and student residences, if that's where you're living) is like its own mini student community. Even if you mix with students studying for a different degree, they can still offer support to get you through the year.

Further learning opportunities

There is a saying that you 'don't know what you don't know'. The university community, both students and staff, allows you to discover information and develop learning and life skills you had no idea existed. If you embrace and experience everything this learning community has to offer, you can open new doors to your future.

Fulfilment and a sense of achievement

Success breeds success.

Mia Hamm ~

You don't have to look far to find research supporting the mental health benefits of continued learning. Nobody is saying that universities are easy-going but if students are committed and if they work hard, the sense of accomplishment at the end of those years of study is definitely worth it. Waiting until one graduates is not necessary, either. As you move through your course, celebrating those smaller successes can help keep your momentum up.

Going To University: The Disadvantages

While the advantages of university study are clear, weighing up both the pros and cons of university is important so you can make your decision based on all the facts.

You'll go into your first job with a debt

We've already mentioned that going to university is expensive, even with the subsidies offered by the Australian government. The idea of having a loan debt after graduation can put a lot of people off as well. Of course, the HECS-HELP loan system means many students who may not have been able to afford to pay the fees upfront can still go to university but if the thought of a sizable debt, and owing money to the government, does not sit well in your mind, you may wish to reconsider.

Experience versus theory

What do employers want more — practical skills and on-the-job experience or a piece of paper that says you know all the theory? It really depends on the job you're looking at but it is certainly something to consider, especially given a bachelor degree is not your passport to immediate employment or job security.

Do I have to go to university?
Working out the pros and cons of university can be like solving a maths equation | Source: Pixabay - geralt

Overload and stress

Think about this: by the time you sit down in your first university tutorial, you'll have already been at school for 13 years. That's a lot of studying. This is not an issue for some students, but others need a break. Of course, you're keen to get started on the next stage of your life but if you are overwhelmed and stressed, you won't achieve anything. Taking the time to get out, perhaps travelling or gaining experience and skills in different areas, will be the motivation you need to continue studying? Then again, you might realise that you don't need that degree after all.

Next Steps

Now that you've considered the pros and cons of university, you might be ready to take that next step.

If you've decided to enrol in a degree, you'll need to think about which university you want to attend and which degree or course you want to enrol in.

On the other hand, you may now have decided to bypass uni in favour of starting your career or perhaps just deferring your study for a while to experience life first.

Whatever you do decide, all the best!

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Kellie

Kellie is an editor, a children's writer, blogger and a teacher. Any remaining time she has is spent on a dragon boat.