Going studying or going working?

Maybe the biggest choice you face as a school leaver is whether to go studying or to go working. In teacher-speak, do you want to take the academic path and look for a degree or other qualification, or do you want to start work and see where it takes you?

Academic qualifications mainly come from studying at universities or polytechnics. Of course, a growing number of work (or vocational) qualifications come from a combination of studying and working at the same time. Apprenticeships are a good example of this path. Both tracks can take you to very rewarding jobs, so the choice really comes down to which path works best for you.

It is not a simple decision, so here are some thoughts about the academic versus the vocational pathways that might help you if you are trying to decide which is best for you.

 Upsides of study

  • Earning a tertiary qualification is a great sign of achievement. They’re not easy to get, but having one is proof that you are able to learn, work hard and manage your time. These are things that every employer likes to see.
  • Many jobs will need you to have a degree to even be considered for the position. These jobs are frequently on the higher-paying side, and people who hold degrees also generally earn more over their lifetimes.
  • Studying can help you to develop important skills like great written communication, working to deadlines and the ability to think critically. Having these sorts of skills is a big advantage when you move into the workplace.
  • It’s an amazing environment for expanding your mind and growing as a person. The student life is rare and unique. Some people consider it a bit of a rite-of-passage into the rest of your life.
  • It’s possible your study will take you away from home, maybe to polytech in beautiful Northland or the chilly camaraderie of university in Dunedin, not to mention the opportunity for overseas study either as part of your degree or following it. Moving out and living somewhere new can be an amazing experience, and give you that feeling of starting to make your way out into the world.

 Downsides of study

  • Studying for a degree is really expensive. You’ll most likely need to get a student loan, which can put you tens of thousands of dollars in debt before you even get a chance to start your career.
  • On top of that, there are only a few degrees that can guarantee you a job straight after you finish. Degrees like Medicine and Engineering usually have good job prospects, but that’s part of the reason these are among the hardest and most competitive courses to do. Many degrees just take you to a new starting line.
  • With more and more people choosing to go for tertiary education after high school, the number of people with the same qualification as you will probably be quite high. This means more competition for the same jobs.
  • Academic courses, especially at university, don’t always teach you the practical skills that you need to know to work in a particular industry. You might even need extra training for some roles.

Upsides of working

  • Starting work straight out of school means that you’ll be earning money as soon as possible. You’ll be avoiding the huge amount of student loan debt that usually comes with full-time study, as well as having more spare cash in your pockets.
  • You can explore an ever-growing range of training options, making it easier to figure out what you’ll like and what you’ll be able to do well.
  • You’ll develop valuable working skills like teamwork and handling pressure. These will serve you well for your entire career.
  • Apprenticeships and pre-trade training teach you exactly what you’ll need to know to do your job right, and the chances of getting hired once you’re done are really high.
  • No more homework, assignments, tests or exams. Unlike students, your free time really will be free, without all of that extra stress that comes from assessment.

 Downsides of working

  • Starting a job or a trade right out of school can potentially limit some of your career options. In a few years you may find you have trained for a job you no longer like, but changing could mean re-training and starting at the bottom again.
  • You’re heading straight into the ‘real world’, with all the adult responsibility that comes with it. You won’t have the sometimes softer transition into the adult world that you get as a student.
  • While you’re not going to have tests or assignments like at school, in a lot of ways at work you will be tested every day. If you aren’t keeping up with your boss’ standards, you might find yourself out of a job altogether.
  • Unfortunately, one thing you’ll really miss is school holidays. While you’ll still get time off here and there, regular long holidays might not be something you’ll get anymore, unlike your student friends.


Find out more about in-work training