Higher Education and Your Future

There are many ways in which a higher education qualification can help with your chosen career path. Historically, there's a clear trend that people with a higher education qualification earn more money on average over their lifetimes than those without. Also, as the nature of work shifts globally and employers requirements evolve, several researchers are becoming convinced that by 2020, at least half of the available jobs will expect some form of higher education certification as a prerequisite to even applying for the job.

Of course, this is already true for a number of more traditional professions such as law, medicine and architecture. As more cutting-edge careers start becoming 'mainstream' and developing professional bodies, they will probably also begin to require formal qualifications for you to take a leading role in the industry. This is not necessarily a negative thing, as these professional bodies are often the the force behind the evolution of specific careers to keep them relevant and in demand.

The path that you see yourself following, and your impressions of what it's going to take to truly succeed in that career in the future, are going to be critical in deciding whether you should be studying for a higher education qualification.

Higher Education and Your Chosen Career

Higher Education is seen in the job market as more than just the acquisition of knowledge relevant to your specific tasks in any job. There are a range of additional skills which almost inevitably form part of studying at a higher education level that are also valued very highly. Time management, working to deadlines, and problem-solving skills are all among these additional learnings. This perception of a “well rounded” education can play a crucial role in the decision to employ you, or even the amount of money you get offered.

This puts a lot of pressure on you to choose the type of qualification and the appropriate place to study for it. In many careers, there is more than one path to entering the profession. Some take a more hands-on, practical approach to the subject matter and equip you for a particular role in the field you've chosen, while others are more academic and theoretical and may be geared towards a more developmental role. In some cases, you'll need an additional (postgraduate) degree to be recognised as properly qualified to practice in the field. Medical specialists are a perfect example of this.

Getting this information early and accurately can save you time and give you a realistic sense of what course you want to follow. Speaking to the relevant professional body is often the best way to get this information, as they'll not only know what the current situation is; they'll also be able to advise you on likely future trends.

It might be possible, or even advisable, to take on a more vocational, practical qualification that's quicker and easier to obtain. There are a number of courses that allow you to add on to the initial qualification in stages (to 'top-up') over time, and eventually be recognised as having a higher qualification, while also having built up a solid track record of experience.

Higher Education and Changing Careers

Of course, a higher education qualification can also be used to completely shift your career path. If your interests have changed, or you're wanting to pursue a long-held ambition that you compromised on for some reason; you'll need to acquire new knowledge, and change your skill set – or at least be able to show that you've done so by having the relevant qualification. Of course, you may have acquired many of the skills and insights that you need for your new career during the course of the work you've already been doing. That may even be the reason for your desire to change.

The higher education system recognises this, and quite often your work experience will be taken into account as credits towards eligibility for a particular degree, diploma or certificate. Your age will also be taken into account; particularly in respect of your likelihood to see the workload through to graduation. In some instances, these factors can be strong enough to compensate for a complete lack of prior qualifications. If not, then almost all colleges and universities can provide you with access to an Access course.

This Access to Higher Education Diploma is designed specifically to replace A levels for people who haven't studied for a long time or have no qualifications at all. There are more than a thousand course options leading to the diploma, and usually the course content itself provides you with the basic skills required to deal with the material – in other words, you'll gain the 'foundation knowledge' needed to deal with the basics while studying the course. Many of the higher education institutions have options for you to study part-time or in the evenings. Then, once you've completed the Access diploma, you'll be free to pursue your chosen qualification at most colleges or universities.

Once again, outside advice may be extremely valuable, as choosing which type of institution to study at (or even which specific one) could have a profound effect on your future employment or earning prospects. In many cases it's possible to study at a particular place by 'distance learning'. This would be some form of correspondence course that allowed you to qualify through a particular institution even though you're unable to commute there, or can't afford the costs or time to study full time. This form of study could be a more practical choice for a number of other reasons relating to your individual circumstances, and you should consider the positive and negative aspects of all of the choices in weighing up which route to take.

Remember that if the complexities of all of these choices are creating confusion for you, help is available. In particular, the National Careers Service. They have an interactive online presence, offices for face-to-face discussion and you can call them on 0800 100 900 to discuss your options on the phone.