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My Dilemma [University, or an alternate route?]

Discussion in 'Employment & Jobs' started by Mr Cook, Jan 3, 2013.

  1. Mr Cook

    Mr Cook New Member

    I’ll give you guys a short summary of my short education/career so far before posing my dilemma to you;

    I live in the UK(Scotland) quite near Glasgow, and from school I ended up with [2A’s/3B’s/1C] at Higher level and [3C’s] at Advanced Higher level over my 5th and 6th year.

    These grades were enough to secure my place in a Computing Science course at the University of Glasgow, which I attended for a year. In the course, there were a lot of un-related subjects I had to choose, such as Physics and Entrepreneurship, and after the year I decided I really didn’t like the university either, so I dropped out. I was too late to apply to another university for 2012/2013, so I applied initially to places for a temporary 1-year job doing anything. But I found an Apprenticeship company called QA who were linked with companies looking for apprentices, and I found myself with an interview for South Lanarkshire Council, as an Apprentice Business Systems Engineer, I aced the interview, and I’m currently working through my 9-month apprenticeship [Oct ’12 – Jul ‘13]

    I was and still am delighted I found a temporary job which still involved working in IT, and it’s a fantastic opportunity, QA are also putting all their apprentices through 2x 2-week training courses and the exams for both the 70-680 Microsoft Certification, and the ICND1 Cisco Certification, which is absolutely fantastic, I’d never heard of the certification route before, but it seems cool.

    Anyway, before I bore you for too long, the job is going okay, I’m dealing with all of the tasks competently, however it is quite mundane at times, and as I’m moving around the different business teams, there are some good experiences, and some bad experiences.

    My dilemma is as follows:

    On one hand I have been accepted into Strathclyde University for Computing Science for the 2013/2014 entry (Strathclyde is almost as good as Glasgow, but with better student feedback and is apparently a much more sociable, understanding university)

    I would really like to go for the university lifestyle, and to get a degree would be amazing, however (being in Scotland its not so bad, we get free tuition fees) I would still rack up some debt, probably £10-15k after the degree, and I would also be getting a part-time job non-IT related most likely.

    However, on the other hand, there are internal trainee vacancies up for grabs in South Lanarkshire Council, the starting pay is £17k a year, and the council pays for me to go through 2 years of college, and then I have the option of doing 2 years of uni (all whilst working) to still complete my degree, but I would also have 4-5 years of experience in IT.

    However, working full-time and studying for a degree seems like it would be absolutely murder, I’m still only 19, and working full-time alone is taking it out of me. It seems like an all or nothing gamble, inside the council, there doesn’t seem to be many career prospects, so I’m not considering staying long-term, I want the experience and the degree, which would hopefully guarantee me a good job when I finish the degree, and put me ahead of other applicants.

    I would really appreciate some help with this decision, if anyone needs more information then just ask,

    I’m torn between a degree, and 10-15k of debt;


    A degree, experience, and cash in pocket, but with the risk of being in a mundane job for five years, and putting in well in the region of 60-70 hours of work a week (40 for full-time job) (20-30 for degree) – with the risk of burning out or missing my chance to go to university to study.

    Haha, its not an easy one! Thanks to all who help out =D
  2. SimonD
    Honorary Member

    SimonD Terabyte Poster

    Sorry I can't advise on the Uni life style as I never went to uni (in fact I didn't even go to college). What I would say is that in my experience it's on the job experience that's more beneficial and of benefit than just someone with a degree.

    As yourself this, who would you hire? a fresh uni leaver with a degree or someone with 5years experience and the degree (and the same age)?

    Also worth pointing out that the older you get the more hours you tend to find yourself working, 40 hours a week at the moment is a god send, wait until you're doing 50 - 60 hour weeks and still have to look after the family.

    I know for a fact that doing work full time and a degree (in this instance it was an MBA) is definitely achievable (it's my wife who did this for 2 years, every week\end) and whilst it's hard it also actually means you still have money in your pocket at the end of the month (you never have to time to really socialise) and have gained the qualification whilst maintaining a full time job.

    Yes you may only be 19 but imagine the leg up you would have over your peers when they were leaving Uni and you had 5 years real world experience over them?
    Certifications: CNA | CNE | CCNA | MCP | MCP+I | MCSE NT4 | MCSA 2003 | Security+ | MCSA:S 2003 | MCSE:S 2003 | MCTS:SCCM 2007 | MCTS:Win 7 | MCITP:EDA7 | MCITP:SA | MCITP:EA | MCTS:Hyper-V | VCP 4 | ITIL v3 Foundation | VCP 5 DCV | VCP 5 Cloud | VCP6 NV | VCP6 DCV | VCAP 5.5 DCA
    WIP: VCP6-CMA, VCAP-DCD and Linux + (and possibly VCIX-NV).
    Bluerinse likes this.
  3. Gav

    Gav Kilobyte Poster

    I'm also 19, and I opted to go down the IT route, rather than pursue further / higher education. I can tell you that, in this country at least, not having a degree will not hurt you in the IT industry, unless you want to work in the Financial sector (even there, it's not impossible).

    I've been working since I was 17, and I'm now in a fairly senior infrastructure role in a very exciting workplace. However, despite the fact that I now earn much more than any graduate would going into IT, I would have definitely done A-Levels and gone to University if I had the chance to go back. There are two reasons:

    1. I miss academia. I could have, should have, and ought to have pursued a Degree. I had every intention of studying Computer Science, but I didn't. Whilst I have a very stimulating job, I would liked to have studying computing at a more scientific level.

    2. The experience. All my friends are in University a I am not. As you're in the same boat as me, I don't really think I need to elaborate on this one...

    In your position, I'd go to University, and study for Microsoft / Cisco certifications at the same time, whilst taking any and every opportunity to get paid / unpaid IT work experience. In my opinion, £15,000 of debt (particularly with the ridiculously flexible terms students tend to get) is almost insignificant and won't massively impact you in the long term. The same rules don't apply further down the line if you have other people to support, but you don't, so go for it.

    Hope this helps.

    dmarsh likes this.
  4. dmarsh

    dmarsh Terabyte Poster

    You should be able to keep the debt under 10k if you are sensible, which given the circumstances is great value for a degree these days.

    If you are academic at all and interested in the subjects then definitely go to uni but try to get experience where you can and a few certs etc.

    Here are the uni rankings for computer science :-

    Computer Science - Scotland - Top UK University Subject Tables and Rankings 2013 - Complete University Guide

    I'd check the courses out carefully next time to be sure its what you want.

    Edinburgh is supposed to be decent for computer science.

    You can have a great career either way in IT.

    However council jobs tend to be as dull as ditch-water and studying and working full-time is a LOT of work.
    Last edited: Jan 3, 2013
  5. Sparky
    Highly Decorated Member Award

    Sparky Zettabyte Poster Moderator

    Strathclyde is a great University – a degree from Strathclyde will be a degree worth putting on your CV.

    I’ll be honest with you – there is no correct answer here, everyone will have their own opinion based on their own work\education experiences.

    Personally I would go for the degree if I were you. Why? Because if you make the most of it you will have degree that will hopefully benefit your job search when looking for your first IT job and potential job searches in the future. The degree will not expire etc. and will always be relevant on your CV.

    When you apply for some jobs your CV will be on the desk of the HR manager before it even gets to the IT Manager. They will be looking for basic things such as a degree, industry certs and whatever relevant experience you have.

    A degree and certs are easy to spot for HR folk – either you have them or you don’t. Experience needs someone with an IT background to assess – it may say 5 years’ experience but in reality it may only be one helpdesk role. It’s fair to say that in a helpdesk role after 12 months you have maxed out that kinda role. Therefore certs\degree can help your CV get past the initial screening phase of CVs as they tick the right boxes for the HR peeps.

    Another reason for Uni? It’s actually good fun, you get to meet new people and some of these people you will stay in touch with for years as drinking buddies and also on a professional level. Some of the guys I graduated with have moved into software\web development so it’s handy for me to contact them if I need an opinion on something I don’t know about.

    As for the council job you are doing – that is great to get some experience but as you said the tasks can be mundane. I have done some consultancy work for councils have noticed that some of the senior technical positions are actually filled by contractors. The in-house guys are in separate departments – not sure if that is the case at South Lanarkshire or not but it may be worth checking that out as you might not be able to progress to certain job roles that you may be interested in later on.

    Anyways – turning into a rant now. Let us know how you get on mate :)
    Certifications: MSc MCSE MCSA:M MCSA:S MCITP:EA MCTS(x5) Security+ Network+ A+
    WIP: Office 365, Server 2016, CEH
    Arroryn likes this.
  6. wagnerk
    Highly Decorated Member Award

    wagnerk aka kitkatninja Moderator

    You could also do what alot of us here have done - work full time and study for your degree part-time. You don't have the full Uni life and the degree will take longer, but you get your qualification without the debt.

    I did my degree at my local university and currently doing my post-grad (aiming for my Masters) with the OU.
    Certifications: CITP, PGDip, BSc, HNC, LCGI, PTLLS, MCT, MCITP, MCTS, MCSE, MCSA:M, MCSA, MCDST, MCP, MTA, MCAS, MOS (Master), A+, N+, S+, ACA, VCA, etc... & 2nd Degree Black Belt
    WIP: MSc in Tech Management
  7. Mr Cook

    Mr Cook New Member

    Thanks for a lot of insightful advice guys, very impressed with the standard and quality of feedback on here =D

    To be honest, based on your advice as well, I am leaning towards the full-time university option. I simply feel at this point in my life that I physically couldn't put in 70 + hours of work a week continuously for the next 4-5 years, if anyone has any personal experiences of working full-time and studying a degree, could you give a figure on roughly how many hours a week you have to actually put in studying? I just pulled out 30 hours a week as a ballpark figure, although I'm sure in Uni last year, they told us that on top of all our classes, we were expected to study for 40 hours a week, but that may just have been in their personal opinion.

    I also feel that I’m in the same boat as a lot of you were, a lot of my friends are in their 2nd or 3rd year of uni, my girlfriend is currently in 3rd year at Strathclyde also (although she’ll almost be finished by the time I arrive) – and last year I did enjoy the university lifestyle. And although I’ll start uni after them, I really do like the idea of an everlasting degree in Computing Science, and I would like to give myself the best chance possible at achieving that.

    That being said, I would be earning a £17k wage if I accepted the working option, which equates to a net gain over the 4-5 years, with maybe £20k + of savings, instead of £10-15k debt after my university degree.

    Also, I believe that the degree offered by the council may be at a lesser quality of university, I’d have to look into that, as I would much rather have a degree from Strathclyde than somewhere like the West of Scotland Uni (although it is local, and no offence meant to anyone who’s studied there)

    I also believe that having done this 9-month placement will also stand me in good stead experience-wise, as a lot of new graduates will have absolutely zero experience, and at least this is something IT related. I would also try my best to either A) Get a part-time job in an IT-related field and/or B) During my later years at university, try and get an internship/work experience in a reputable IT company to add to my experience, and I should hopefully be in a good position to get a job out of that.

    Does anyone know the starting salary for new graduates with a Computing Sci (Hons) from a uni like Strathclyde? I know salaries will vary, but just a ballpark figure would be nice.

    Thanks guys, would love to hear from some more perspectives, but leaning towards full-time university at the moment =D
  8. dmarsh

    dmarsh Terabyte Poster

    Normally part time courses are double the duration of full-time courses, so 5-6 years, sometimes longer if you apply for breaks / extensions on flexible modular courses.

    Workload is normally 10-16 hours per week part time. Full-time uni varies a lot, typically you have around 20 hours direct tuition and another 20 hours of self learning per week.

    You also have to factor in extra time around homework submission times and exams.

    Most people enjoy the first two years of their degrees and have time to party and don't enjoy the third year much as they are too busy.

    If you are very organized and don't want much of a social life you could get a degree part time and work, its still likely to take 5 years.

    Depends on the part of the country and your degree what you can expect to earn.

    Its possible to earn 25-50k as a computer science graduate, people on 50k will most like have top masters or Phds though.

    You will lose ~40k net earnings while at university (not university costs, lost earnings), and it will most likely take 10+ years to break even.

    However this probably sounds a bigger deal than it is, I'd still go if you are academically minded and live in Scotland, the cost of university education is only going up and in future graduates will be a rarer commodity.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2013
  9. Mr Cook

    Mr Cook New Member

    Thanks DMarsh, my total net loss after uni would hopefully be around £10-15k, as in Scotland we get free tuition fees, so with a part-time job I would hopefully only need maybe a £3k loan p/year + basic bursaries.

    You’ve hit upon one of my fears, which is that if I failed at the part-time option, I would maybe not be able to afford going to uni in the future, as the tuition fees will only stay free for a limited number of years under pressure from recessions and such, I really do feel for those (in mostly Northern England) who are paying £9k tuition fees a year, its absolutely ludicrous.

    It’s a good thing that it is only 15-20 additional hours p/week for part-time, but I think doing this for six years even would be very, very tough, plus I would have to go through the college route, so HNC/HND/2nd half of a degree if I was going down the part-time route.

    I am academically minded, as well as hands-on, I enjoy both learning styles, so I think I’m going to give full-time university one more go, as by doing this it means by the time I’m 23 I can be fully graduated, with (hopefully minimal debt), instead of 25-26 and went through a really really tough six years. Although the additional money would be nice, I don’t think that full-time work + part-time classes + studying + making time for family + girlfriend is feasible over a five-six year period.

    Thanks for the rough figures on earning potential, I definitely know that this job has minimal career opportunities, so it basically comes down to the following:

    Graduate at 23 with [£15k debt] and an Honours degree from [Strathclyde] and 9 months IT experience, with good memories and a semi-relaxed schedule.

    Graduate at 26 with [£25k savings] and (either a standard, or a lower-class Honours) degree from [West of Scotland] with six years IT experience, and being bored to tears for six years, juggling 60 hours a week with social responsibilities.

    I think the full-time working, and part-time studying is more of a “put all your eggs in one basket” approach, everything hinges on my ability to keep my life in order, and somehow get an Honours degree whilst working full-time and keeping a (its not really that much of a social life, I’m not a party animal) relatively balanced social life,

    Unfortunately, I don’t feel I could handle that at this age, most of my annual leave would be based around exams and study periods, and I feel I would be completely drained after the first two years of doing this. The rewards are great, but I think I’m going to stick with the “safer” option, turn down the job opportunity here, go to university full-time, get a part-time income [Either a 12-20 hours p/week job, or I forgot to mention this earlier, but I’ve on/off bought and sold Yugioh Trading Cards online for a couple years now and I can make about £30-40 a week from that for minimal effort, and I have lots of ways to manage my own living costs]

    But anyway, I’ve rambled on again, I think I’ll take the “safer” option, and give myself the absolute best chance of getting a good degree from a good university, and propel my IT career from there, I may even possibly do some certifications over the long summers we uni students get =D

    Thanks for all your help guys, its been very helpful to me =D
  10. soundian

    soundian Gigabyte Poster

    I imagine the job with the council would probably be day release for the college courses so maybe not as much time as you think might be required for extra studying.

    Once you had an HND you would probably manage to get into the third year of a Uni course and ditch the work. You'd be in less debt and HND level stuff shouldn't take up too much of your time if your learning on the job as well.
    Certifications: A+, N+,MCDST,MCTS(680), MCP(270, 271, 272), ITILv3F, CCENT
    WIP: Knuckling down at my new job
  11. dmarsh

    dmarsh Terabyte Poster

    I was quoting a loss of earnings, not tuition and living costs.

    To get a true return on investment you have to fully cost out both paths.

    On one path you have virtually zero earnings for 3 years vs 20k x 3 = 60k gross or around 40k net if working for council.

    However like I said, its more a lifestyle choice than a financial decision and Scottish degrees are still good value.

    The 'safest and cheapest' route probably is what soundian outlines, but its pretty tough to fit it all in this route and is good chance you'll jack it in which would mean you have a job and some money but no degree.
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2013

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