The pressure on 18 year olds to apply for university

The pressure on 18 year olds to apply for university when it may not suit their needs – would pursuing a trade be better? 

Recently, thousands of new students started their university careers as Freshers’ Week events took place up and down the country.  

The number of UK residents applying for a 2017 course has fallen by about 5% overall compared to last year, but this decline was largely fuelled by a drop in older students. In England the proportion of 18-year olds applying for a university place hit a record 37%, or more than a third of all 18-year olds. 

For many young people there’s an expectation that they will go on to study at university, and this might be the right choice. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills reported that graduates would earn an average of £32,500 in 2015, compared to £22,000 for non-graduates. Jobs website Adzuna also suggested that the difference in lifetime earnings between graduates and non-graduates could be as high as £500,000. Some also cite other, non-financial benefits to attending university, such as expanding cultural and social horizons. 

University is not the right choice for everyone, however, and getting a degree doesn’t guarantee higher earnings. A 2015 Sutton Trust report found that workers who had finished a level five apprenticeship actually earned an average of £52,000 more than graduates of non-elite universities over the course of their working lives. 

Graduates are now also finishing university heavily in debt. There’s pressure on the government to rethink tuition fees, but for now universities can currently charge £9,250 per year – and that’s before the average student even pays their rent or buys food. 

According to a recent survey of 2,000 new graduates, a quarter said they regretted having gone to university. Common reasons cited were the amounts of debt accrued and poor choices when it came to their course and university. Almost half said they were currently working in a job that they could have landed had they undertaken a trainee scheme or apprenticeship, instead of a degree. 

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