Should I Stay or Should I Go?

In addition to the title of this post being an excellent song by The Clash, it also fits my current state of mind rather well.  I’ve been back at university for two months now after my 13 month placement with Microsoft.  My degree takes four and a half years because I went on placement, so I’m still in third year and enter my fourth (Honours) year in January.  However, I find myself being torn between taking the Bachelors degree and hitting the job websites or sticking university out for another year to earn Honours.  I know I’m not the only student with this dilemma so I thought I’d make some cases for and against staying at university for Honours.

Why Stay?

The most obvious answer is that the Honours degree carries more prestige than a regular Bachelors degree.  University staff tell us that the extra year is worth it because it means a bigger starting salary upon graduation and gives you better job prospects.  I also haven’t seen a graduate scheme yet that doesn’t take on people with an Honours degree, so if you’re aiming to go down that route you’d find getting onto a scheme extremely difficult otherwise.  The fourth year Honours project demonstrates that a student can plan, carry out and execute a project, teaching skills that will come in extremely useful in the workplace.  It is possible to continue with Honours should a student decide to leave university, however my programme leader has advised me not to go down that route as he feels students tend to lose their momentum and interest.  I was strongly advised that if I want Honours I should stay on at university so I have all the help and support I need.

Why Go?

My first thought here is money.  It’s tough being a student, especially on the financial side of things, and after a year of enjoying a regular wage I admit that I haven’t quite adjusted to the loss of income – my student loan just doesn’t stretch as far as my salary did.  As a mature student, financial pressures figure more in my life than the average 20 something student living in halls or with their parents.  I have rent and bills to pay, a child to clothe and feed and no extra time to take on a part time job to supplement the student loan.  I’ve also worked in the past and have been advised by a few friends and colleagues that I probably wouldn’t benefit from going on a graduate scheme as I already have the skills they teach.  I know a few people who have done just fine with a regular Bachelors degree and feel that, without getting too bigheaded, my year at Microsoft speaks volumes about my professional abilities.  Although (as previously mentioned) my programme leader strongly suggests sticking around to do Honours full time, there is the option of distance learning and am confident I have the discipline needed for part time study should I want the extra letters after my name.

What to Do?

It’s a tough choice with no obvious answer.  I think that if I hadn’t gone on placement I’d probably feel more inclined to stay on for Honours; after having a taste of what it’s like to have money in the bank again I find that I really miss the regular income and the freedom of not having to worry so much should disaster happen – for example, the washing machine broke down a few months ago and the sheer luxury of being able to just pop onto a website and order a new one without having to worry about if I could afford it was utter bliss.  I also miss working and am aching to get back into the workplace.

Looking on the flip side, my career prospects could be wider with an Honours degree and would open more doors.  I may or may not be interested in opening certain doors and opportunities will always present themselves anyway if you’re moving in the right direction.  I have a growing feeling, however, that all an Honours degree offers someone like me is academic kudos and I’m not sure if I’m hungry enough for it.  I’m confident in the skills I have picked up through my time at university and in the world of work, plus I’m a firm believer in personal development so I will never stop learning.  I’m on course for a BEng with distinction, which might not be as fancy as a first or a 2:1 but it’s still something to be very proud of.

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