Does Your Degree Matter?

Thomas Barwick via Getty Images

We've all been there, wondering whether or not our degree is worth it, does spending three or more years at university really make you more employable than someone who has not? Does it really matter what subject you are studying?

According to research from the Office for National Statistics, 47% of recent graduates in the UK are in non-graduate jobs where a degree was not usually required as part of the job specification.

TARGETjobs found that whilst many employers require candidates to have a degree of a 2.1 or higher, less than 20% of their graduate job listings specify an area of study and even fewer require a specific degree.

Furthermore, it is true that for many career paths it is possible for graduates to take a conversion course and specialise before pursuing a job in that particular sector. Obvious examples of this include careers such as law and teaching via further study of a PGCE or a Graduate Diploma in Law (though it is important to note that you can only teach your degree subject at secondary or sixth form level). These conversions will take you to exactly the same level, if not higher, than those who studied that particular subject for their degree. This implies that your degree subject can actually be fairly irrelevant, as you always have the option to specialise later on.

Milkround, a company that advertises graduate jobs and internships and offers expert careers advice, said that employers traditionally preferred a degree related to their field, but that this was now changing.

It believe that the extra-curricular aspects of university life are now much more important. Being proactive and gaining work experience, joining a society or taking part in entrepreneurial opportunities are much more important to them than your degree subject. Indeed, even if a student is to get a 2.2 or a lower grade whilst at university, Milkround believes that they can still be just as employable as someone who got a first or a 2.1 if they are proactive and gain a decent amount of experience in the workplace.

WEXO, a company that similarly matches graduate and jobseekers with paid internships and permanent jobs, agreed that work experience can mean just as much to employers as an impressive degree. Just showing you're dedicated and have gone out there and experienced the world of work was described as "the holy grail of what employers are looking for".

However, with career paths such as civil engineering and medicine, degrees are undoubtedly essential, and with other choices they still give you a chance to hone your academic and research skills as well as experience the independence of university life but in this day and age it is work experience that cam set you apart.

Just going to a university at the top of the league tables does not necessarily make you more employable either. Though Milkround, WEXO and all thought there was a tendency for companies to sway towards the top 40 or Russell Group universities when recruiting, this has been proven otherwise.

WEXO also thought that companies are increasingly cottoning on to the "hidden talent" of many of the lower ranked universities. It suggested that companies such as IPA, which represents 300 of the leading advertisement and communications agencies in the UK, have been looking beyond the traditional Russell Group universities in recent years.

WEXO said that from an employers perspective it's more important that you've done something rather than where you've done it. Time spent working behind the counter at McDonald's managing customers and juggling orders can mean just as much as a week of work experience at Goldman Sachs and that a degree from the University of Cumbria can mean just as much as one from St Andrews.

So, yes, work hard for your degree, you'll want to get the best possible grade but make sure you're also putting yourself out there and applying for work experience, internships or any other opportunity that catches your eye. It's often said that these days it is a job in itself to find employment, but use your initiative and be proactive.