The Purpose of University

Updated: Aug 23

If you’re reading this blog, my guess would be that you're either currently at university, or have graduated sometime in the past. If you do fall under any of those categories, you might find yourself resonating with a lot of what this blog is going to cover.

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Take a moment to rewind and think about when you were fresh out of high school, and gearing up for college. Did you ask yourself the following questions?

  • Why am I going to university? What’s the underlying purpose driving this decision? 

  • Do I really want to spend the next 3-4 years of my life learning about this subject I claim to be interested in? Do I really wanna pursue this subject field as a career? 

  • Am I going to university to please my parents? Or to give a satisfactory answer to that one annoying neighbour, aunt or uncle who just won’t stop asking about my future plans because deep down, they want to compare me to their kid. 

  • If it's none of those, do I want to go to university simply get a job? Do I need that stamp of approval which comes in the form of a degree that says okay, only NOW am I eligible for a job. NOW, I’m entitled….to a job.


Our society has collectively developed this norm of going to university right after high school. While there are some people who choose to get some time off, travel, rethink and then decide; the vast majority of individuals seem to be following the norm.


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But do we really have to go to university? Do we need to choose one subject area and pursue it to be successful? More importantly, are we guaranteed a job right after we finish? Is it even right for us to think that we deserve a job right after we finish? Well, depends on who you ask.


According to recent data by the Federal Government of Australia, 71% of graduates secure a job straight out of university, while 15% remain unemployed for up to 4 years after graduating. (Robinson, 2017)

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Another report by the US Department of Education revealed that 33% of bachelor’s degree students in 2011-12 changed their degree at least once by 2014. One in ten students, changed majors twice; and STEM fields, i.e. (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) students were more likely to switch majors vs. non-stem field students. (Lederman, 2017)


As for satisfaction, the Australian Financial Review conducted a survey of around 1100 students to rate their university experience. Nearly, 50% of respondents stated that they did not believe the course they were studying was worth the money it cost; and 37% of international students felt that they had not learnt enough to be job ready. (Bolton, 2019)


As Gen Zs, we resonate more with each other than we sometimes do with our families. We know what it’s like to be a student in 2020, amidst social media, the occasional pandemic, socio-political issues, etc. So for all my fellow Gen Zs out there, if you feel that the future is hazy, your career path is uncertain, I’ve got news for you... You’re not alone.

Background:


Our guest today is someone who has been through the grind of university and has had thoughts of uncertainty regarding her career pop up every now and then. After doing some traveling and completing a handful of internships, she decided to create value out of that future uncertainty by starting her own podcast channel, where she invites industry professionals to share some insight about being in the workplace. I’d like to welcome Laura van Rens.

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/CAJwYQ9DMSU/


Originally from Canberra, Laura initially pursued a Bachelor of Environments (B-ENVS) degree at The University of Melbourne, with a plan to do architecture. Over the years, her plan changed from the B-ENVS degree, to a Bachelor of Arts (B-ARTS) with a major in psychology.


"I remember thinking to myself, that I don't really know what it is I want to do with my career, and that I'm probably not alone in that regard either. I found it hard to get up close and personal with industry experts to know what they're doing, and so I wanted to create an open platform that allowed people to explore industries and understand what corporate professionals or 'normal people' do. I wanted to interview such people to not only help me find out what I want to pursue, but to also help others explore what they can potentially do with their degree."

-Laura


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Perception vs. Reality


One of the things I've noticed during my time at university is that as we begin our final 1-2 years, the career counselling unit at the university encourages us to attend career fairs to build networks and inquire about work options. A lot of the times we think about these elusive jobs and what it would be like to work for say, one of the Big Four consulting firms, or a huge tech company. This can sometimes make it daunting to go about the application process, if the student perceives the opportunities to be somewhat unattainable.

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It's likely that a difference exists between what an industry professional employed at these jobs says, and what we hear and see when attending career fairs. Job aspects such as long work hours, challenging nature of tasks and the ability to have a healthy work-life balance are often overlooked by career fair representatives; who emphasise on the scope for growth, diversity and culture. As we move closer towards graduation, it becomes more and more important to assess these opportunities holistically, knowing that these could potentially dictate our long-term career. It took some time for me to accept that you don't have to have your shit figured out from day one, or from the moment you graduate.


"The people I mostly aim to interview are those who have had relatively unconventional paths. One of my guests for example, attempted three university courses and didn't graduate with a single one, but ended up opening a nightclub with a friend. Sharing these stories helps alleviate some of the stress associated with having to know what to do after university."

-Laura

Source: https://www.instagram.com/p/B_jIuVBjhf4/


Nothing is fixed except for death and taxes


One of the reasons why I thought of this episode was to explore what people expect out of university when they decide to join. What I've seen is that it's sort of become a societal norm to finish high school and go to university right after. I don't see a lot people taking some time to think about how they feel while studying a particular subject. The lecturer for a course I did once said that 'nothing is fixed except for death and taxes', seems appropriate to use that now! My guess would be that any university students reading this blog right now who've considered changing their degree or major would agree, that it's not a fixed path.


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"I recall one morning I had gone to campus and found out that my class had been cancelled, so I and the rest of the exchange students went up to a nearby cafe before we started studying.

That's when a friend of mine told me about this course she was applying for that had marketing, advertising and communications.

I thought it would be a great opportunity to collide the critical thinking knowledge I gained from B-ARTS with my general interest in psychology and human behaviour.

I browsed through the Uni-Melbourne website and came across the course I'm doing now. The deadline was in a week and so I applied, got in and was fortunate enough to receive the commonwealth supported place. Haven't looked back since.


I guess the takeaway from this would be that you don't necessarily need to have this pre-existing passion for something. It can be a result of a coincidental conversation with someone that pops up a subject of interest."

-Laura


I remember in year 11 and 12 when I was doing the IBDP curriculum, I was particularly attached to two subjects- Economics and Business Management; so I wanted to pursue these at university. I came to ANU and realised how there's so much more that goes on with these two subjects. Coincidentally, at the same time I was introduced to a few marketing courses such as advertising and market research. These were subject areas that resonated with me as a person, since I'm quite an extroverted individual and enjoy being able to market and sell products/services.

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"It's something we all struggle with. We have to learn to be comfortable with the fact that it's okay to change our mind. The only way to do this is to expose ourselves to new experiences and if needed, go in a different direction. I feel that's the point of life, to keep trying new things, tick what works, cross off what doesn't and keep moving forward."