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Qualifications involve time, money and stress – Are they worth it?

As exam season just around the corner, Malcolm Trotter, global education and training professional, discusses the pros and cons of progressing onto higher education.

Pursuing higher education offers numerous benefits, including career prospects, personal growth opportunities and academic disciplines. However, where benefits are included, there must be some negatives. According to the latest research from The Wave Clinic, a leading mental health organisation, 71% of students feel anxious about their classes and coursework and 64% recorded having difficulty sleeping. In addition, going to university can also cause major financial strains, which can be detrimental to students and their families’ mental health.

Money, Money, Money

Studying to gain a recognised qualification comes with costs – there are financial considerations and there is a time and effort commitment. As with any investment or expenditure, you need to be confident that you will secure some value; you want to be sure that you get more than you put in.

There is evidence that university graduates earn more than non-graduates, with the most recent official statistics showing that in the UK, on average, graduates earn £11,500 per year more than non-graduates. But that doesn’t mean graduates are guaranteed higher paid positions. A third (36%) of UK graduates are in lower-level jobs that do not require a degree and therefore are lower paid. As with any investment, there are risks to mitigate, and that involves choosing a career path wisely.

What’s more is many graduates find that when it comes to securing employment after university, they are not actually well-matched to the job vacancies available or perhaps even to the careers that they have worked towards. Considering the appropriateness of studies in relation to career paths is crucial.

While university degrees offer the opportunity to specialise in specific fields, providing tailored knowledge and skills that align with desired career trajectories, the flexibility of course selection allows students to explore various disciplines, providing a well-rounded education that can be beneficial in today’s dynamic job market. Being open to flexible career goals is one way to increase a satisfactory return on your investment of time and effort.


It is estimated that one in eight higher level jobs—those considered as ‘graduate’ positions—held by younger people are actually filled by non-graduates. These non-graduates may hold recognised professional qualifications and/or offer compelling work experience and achievements.

This offers an alternative route to the degree path, but it is worth noting that whilst some training and work experience can give you a range of professional skills that other employers will find attractive, frequently the training provided by employers is focused on the specific needs and methods of that organisation and may have limited application to other employers and settings. Therefore, to enter and progress in a professional field (to a higher level), it is really important to gain qualifications that a wide range of employers recognise as being credible and relevant to the role you wish to apply for.

The bottom line is, if you want to progress your career, can you afford not to study for and gain a recognised and relevant professional qualification?

Trust in yourself and employers

I can’t stress how important it is to be confident of the acceptability and recognition by employers of the qualification you are considering studying for. In general terms, acceptable and recognised qualifications are those that are designed and awarded by the relevant professional bodies (institutes and associations of professionals in the same career field).

The National Association of Licensed Paralegals (NALP) is just one example. Its credibility is demonstrated by the fact that its qualifications are designed, assessed and awarded by legally qualified and experienced professionals in the same field. The qualifications are also Ofqual recognised, and employers can therefore rely on its curriculum (qualification content) to be relevant. This means that those who gain NALP qualifications have demonstrated genuine, professional ability in their assessed course work and any exams.

The stress factor

Do I really want to put myself through the additional stress of facing yet more exams? I found myself asking this question after I graduated. If you have had the experience of taking exams or other tests, you will most likely have found these stressful. There have been numerous scientific studies that have found evidence of the impact of the very real, felt exam stress on mental health and, tragically, spikes in suicides amongst young people around exam periods. Therefore, this is an important consideration.

Do I want to go through such further stress? How great is the additional stress likely to be? What support will I be able to call upon from my education and training provider and also my circle of fellow students, friends and family? I’ll be honest though and say that I am thankful that, since graduating, my own professional development and learning towards further qualifications was largely assessed through the completion of a research thesis and continuous assessment projects (including workplace performance). This is not uncommon; when studying for professional qualifications, it is now increasingly the case that your ability will be assessed using methods other than exams (whilst an element of some form of testing might remain).

The next steps

If you are looking to progress onto the next steps in your career, whatever and wherever that may be, I’d suggest considering investing in a relevant recognised qualification. In the long run you’ll be glad you took up the challenge, however always be sure to prioritise your physical and mental health – nothing is worth sacrificing those for, not even a job.

Images: Malcolm Trotter and Pexels.

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