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I have a degree, now what?

I have a degree, now what?

If you don't know what career you want when you graduate, you may have more options than you think. There are jobs in law, finance, IT and management that are open to graduates from any degree background.
'A lot of valuable time at university is spent schmoozing around and drinking coffee, and finding out about other people, about who you are and what you want. It gives you three years of space.' - Al Alvarez

Even if you don’t know what the practical applications of your degree are, many graduate employers do. They recognise that in those three years you will have developed as a person. You will have matured, gained independence and learned how to manage yourself – and you'll have gained plenty of valuable transferable skills along the way.

Skills that your degree will have given you

There is no hard-and-fast rule that says that having a degree makes you a better employee. However, there are some generalisations that can be made about the kind of employability skills that graduates should have acquired during their time in university, and the personal strengths they should have had the opportunity to develop.

You should have gained a certain amount of emotional intelligence. This may be partly to do with the difference between an 18-year-old and a 21-year-old. But it may also be because you have lived with a bunch of new people from different backgrounds in an unfamiliar environment. This means that you should have a certain degree of tact and empathy. In employability terms this makes you good at communicating and a capable team player.

You should also have learned good written communication skills. Whether a lab report, an essay, a research paper or a scrapbook, you will almost certainly have had to put together written coursework for assessment. By the end of uni you will have written significant amounts of paperwork. What is more, you will have written for a specific audience, whether an examiner or a tutor. Involved here are research skills, planning and organising notes, time management, independent working and critical analysis, not to mention the ability to clearly get your ideas across in writing.

In a similar way you should have learnt how to present information and structure a persuasive argument. Most courses have some form of seminar content, even if it is only a token measure to ensure that different learning styles are covered. In these classes students are encouraged to share opinions, lead discussions and even present topics to the class. If this is the case then you should know how to present information orally and visually, as well as how to debate a topic. It should also be a good indication of how you perform under pressure.

You should also have learnt about ‘deferred gratification’ or careful investment. With the increase of student tuition fees to up to £9,000 a year and more, you will almost certainly be graduating with a significant debt. The fact that you have chosen to continue learning for three or four years instead of working suggests that you were willing to make a significant investment because you saw the potential benefits. Recruiters are aware of this commitment and see this as an ability to manage and work towards long-term goals.

Careers open to graduates from all degree backgrounds

While some employers ask candidates to have a 2.1, relatively few roles require a specific degree.

Typical areas where all degrees are considered include:

  • Management: management training schemes can be found in the public sector, for example, the health sector and in local and central government (Civil Service). Many graduate employers in the private sector also run ‘general management schemes’. Consumer goods companies, manufacturing, logistics and supply organisations, utilities firms and retail-focused organisations all look for bright, organised graduates to train in different areas of business, commercial development and supply chain management.
  • The information technology business: it’s not only for those with computing and programming backgrounds. IT services organisations and technology consultancies often recruit graduates from non-technical degrees for business analyst, consulting and commercial opportunities – these essential midfield roles are the interface between those who focus on the hardcore development work and clients and end users of technology.
  • The finance and professional services sectors: Yes, you can work in finance with an arts or humanities degree, or any other ‘-ology’ for that matter – but, you obviously need to be happy with numbers. If you want to work in the City you will need experience, enthusiasm and a high level of numeracy. But the finance sector is more than the City. It includes accountancies (large and small), financial services (retail banks, insurance, pensions, financial advisory) and professional services (firms that bring together audit, accountancy, advisory, consultancy, legal services and supply them to other organisations). As with management training, many large employers also run finance graduate schemes within their own finance departments.

Law, teaching and other careers you can train for as a graduate with any degree

There are some careers where additional training or postgraduate study will help. Conversion courses are typically postgraduate courses (masters or graduate diplomas) that facilitate the transition into a particular profession.

This course of action is essential for careers where, ultimately, you will have to ‘qualify’ professionally, for example: law, surveying and medicine (though the latter requires a bit more than a conversion course). For these careers it will be important to look at the qualification path so that you can choose the right, ‘accredited’, postgraduate course. Teaching is another example of a profession where postgraduate training is a well-established route to qualification.

For careers in surveying (building surveying or quantity surveying) you do not necessarily have to do the extra qualification before joining a firm, as some employers support graduates gaining the conversion qualification while they work.

If you are considering teaching, be aware that some providers of training for primary teaching prefer you to have a degree in a national curriculum subject, while for secondary teaching you will need a degree in the subject you wish to teach or a subject that is closely related. However, if you wish to teach in a shortage subject it is possible to undertake subject knowledge extension courses to get your subject knowledge up to scratch. There are generous, non-repayable bursaries and scholarships available to help with the costs of training in a range of subjects; the amount of money available and the list of subjects is revised each year. There are various routes to qualifying as a teacher, some of which are work-based while others are led by universities, but they all involve a significant amount of time in classrooms. The most popular qualification is the postgraduate or professional graduate certificate in teaching (PGCE).

Graduates who have not studied law at undergraduate level need to take a law conversion course before going on to further study that will prepare them to practise as a solicitor or barrister. The main law conversion course options are the common professional examination (CPE) and the graduate diploma in law (GDL, sometimes referred to as GDip). These both cover all the basics for a legal career in England and Wales and take one year of further study (or two if you’re studying part time). You can then progress to the legal practice course (LPC) if you’re looking to become a solicitor, or the Bar professional training course (BPTC) if you want to be a barrister.

Other career areas that typically have conversion course options include IT, business and finance. However, the additional layer of qualification isn’t always necessary for getting a graduate job in these areas. You will need to weigh up a couple of considerations:

  • Do you need particular specialist knowledge or technical skills to help you get into jobs you have seen advertised that interest you?
  • Would it make you feel more comfortable if you had completed some formal learning in the area before applying for jobs?

A conversion course can be seen as a statement of intent, a way to show your potential employer that you are interested in their subject. Having one under your belt can also boost your confidence when surrounded by candidates who have the ‘right’ degree.

Now explore your options

We have put together a series of guides for confused graduates seeking career ideas and options. In them we outline some key skills that are gained in each degree, and what you can do with them.

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