Two thirds of high school graduates in the UK feel that their parents and teachers pushed them into higher education, according to a recent study.
These findings are not surprising – any young person these days has heard the same message again and again.
“Going to university is so important. You need to have a degree. It doesn’t matter so much what you study, as long as you have one!”
However, the world is changing. This might have been better advice when your parents were young, it’s not necessarily the case anymore. I believe that in many cases, pursuing higher education is not the best option.
Instead, why not consider a Working Holiday instead of going to University? There are several work abroad programs and working holiday visas available, making it easier than ever to get out there.
Read on for some of the main reasons why a working holiday might be a better choice for you than pursuing a university degree.
Disclaimer: I feel like I should clarify that I am not saying working abroad is always better than going to university, or that it will be a better choice for everyone. I’m simply challenging the assumption that higher education is always the best bet for every young person. Going to college or university might be the best route for you – but it’s not your only option.
You’ll Be Earning Rather Than Going Into Debt
Unless you win the lottery, get a scholarship or are the child of millionaires, there’s a good chance that you might need to go into debt to complete your higher education. This is a major decision to take on a financial burden that will affect you for many years.
You’re likely to be paying off this debt for many years, so make sure it’s something you’re at least pretty sure about.
However, if you’re 18 years old and you’re not sure what you want to do for your career – don’t make the mistake of paying a university thousands per semester while you figure it out.
Instead, take a year and go find out what type of work you do and don’t enjoy. Do you like to work on your own or with a team? Do you thrive in a high pressure environment or do you find it stressful? Does working outdoors make you happy, or would you rather be in a more polished, professional setting?
Seek out people in the fields you are interested in and talk to them about what their career path was. Can you imagine yourself taking a similar path?
Once you have a clearer picture of the type of work you want to do, you can find out which qualifications you need and go to college, university or vocational training with a purpose. (Rather than just going for the sake of it.) Or, you might realize that you don’t need a degree to do what you want to do with your life.
You’ll Learn by Doing
Of course, there are some careers where an education is essential. For example, you would never want to be operated on by a surgeon who just “learned by doing” and picked it up from trial and error. However, in many situations you’ll learn a lot more just by jumping in and going for it.
I learned more about being a successful freelance writer simply by getting out there, making mistakes and trying things than I ever could have at University. To figure out how to get started, I read online guides, listened to podcasts and followed other writers on social media.
When I came across something I didn’t know how to do, I searched for the answer online. Over the years, I kept growing my skills and developing my craft.
There’s a lot you can learn in a classroom, but there’s also valuable learning to be had when you get out there and just do it.
You’ll Make Great Connections
Another really cool benefits of a working holiday is the great connections you’ll make around the world. After all, it’s quite true that a success career is about who you know, rather than what you know.
When you’re abroad, you can spend your time going to meet ups and events and seeking out people who are doing what you want to do. By getting to know people in your chosen field, you’ll learn a lot and make connections that will help you achieve your goals.
Of course, you could do this at university too. However, sometimes being in another country makes this sort of thing easier. If you’re already the odd one out because you’re from somewhere different, you naturally become more interesting. People will want to get to know you because you stand out – in a good way.
You’ll Get Perspective On Your Own Culture
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
You never really realize how strange your own culture is, until you see it from a different perspective.
Growing up in Canada, I didn’t think about the culture I was living in – much in the same way a fish doesn’t think about the water it’s swimming in. It was just “normal.”
When I left Canada and travelled to other countries, I was able to contrast my culture with theirs. I realized that many things were different – the humour, the social etiquette, what’s considered “rude” or “acceptable”, etc. This allowed me to step back and look at Canadian culture for what it is and have a deeper apprecation of it (including both its flaws and good points.)
This is a very important perspective to gain at any stage in your life, but especially when you are young. It will stop you from falling into the trap of thinking that the way things are done in your country is the “best” or “only” way to live. This is one of the most valuable things that happens when you go on a working holiday instead of going to university.
You Can Learn Another Language
Speaking another language will be a huge asset, opening more possibilities not only for your career but for your life in general. And there’s no better way to master another language than to immerse yourself in it for a while.
Learning a language will help you to get better jobs in a wider array of locations. But it’s much more than that. It will allow you to have conversations with locals during your travels and open you up to more experiences.
It Might Even Make You Smarter
According to an article in Time Magazine, research has found a link between working abroad and creative thinking. Among students enrolled in an international MBA program, those who were open and adaptive to foreign cultures became better at making connections between disparate ideas.
They had better problem solving skills and displayed more creativity. They were also found to be more likely to start new businesses, create their own products and be promoted.
Could it simply be that the type of person more inclined to work or study abroad is more likely to already be a complex and creative thinker? The creators of the story anticipated this and they gave creating thinking tests to students from three groups – those who had studied abroad, those who were planning to and those who had not studied abroad and didn’t plan to.
The students who had studied abroad performed better than the other two groups, even the ones who planned to study abroad.
So, working or studying in another country for a while might actually make you a better and more creative and complex thinker.
Your Career Might Not Require You to Go to University
Consider the fact that the your dream job might not require a degree.
Of course, you’ll need to get a degree if your goal is to become a doctor, a lawer, an engineer, etc. However, if you are seeking a career in the creative fields, qualifications become less relevant.
As I wrote in this article:
“Your shiny framed piece of paper doesn’t mean as much as your hard work and talent. Imagine you are looking to hire a musician to play at your wedding. Two artists audition… do you choose the one who has the music degree – or do you choose the one who was a better performer?
When it comes to the creative arts, I believe that “the proof is in the pudding”. If someone is buying a painting, do they check up on the CV of the artist to see whether they have an art degree? When an editor is reading over a manuscript do you think it matters where the writer went to school? No, they make their decision based on the quality of the finished product.”
Many people are probably telling you that you “need a degree” and that “any degree is better than no degree.” I want you to know that formal education isn’t always necessary.
I make a full time living as a freelance writer and it’s not because of my university education, it’s because of my hard work and the hours I spent building up my writing portfolio. (You can read the story of how I got started here.)
So, think about your path in life and ask yourself if you really need to go to university at all. Maybe you’d be better off teaching yourself a skill you can market. Or even working as an apprentice, or starting your own business. There’s more than one path to success.
You Can Follow Your Travel Dreams While You’re Young
You’ve probably seen the Pixar movie Up – or at least the legendary first 8 minutes of it.
(If you can watch that montage without crying, there just might be an empty void where your heart should be. I just rewatched it now and tears are streaming down my face.)
The heartbreaking thing is that Carl and Ellie always dreamed of seeing the world. But, life kept getting in the way. By the time Carl finally decided to make it happen, it was too late.
Now, I know it’s not always easy to travel. It’s expensive and difficult and takes a lot of hard work and planning. However, your early 20s is one of the best opportunities in your life you’ll have to make it happen. You have relatively few responsibilities and commitments, you’re able to work hard and sleep anywhere, you’re young, healthy and free.
If you dream of traveling, don’t make it something that you “will do someday.” Someday is not always guaranteed.
Is a Working Holiday Right For You? Forge Your Own Path
I think the most important point I’m trying to make with this article is that you don’t need to go to University or College right away after high school because you think you should. It can be the right start to your career path, but it’s not the only path.
You could travel and work abroad for a year and then decide to enroll in school later. Or, you might decide that you want to study in a different country. You might even decide a degree isn’t necessary for what you want to do with your life.
Either way, it’s your life!
Please share your stories in the comments below.