How to help my child choose a degree subject

 Edited transcript of the video above.

A quick introduction from me, my name is Annette Minihan. You’ll hear from my accent that I’m not originally British grew up in the south of Ireland, but I’ve been in the UK for about 23 years.

I’ve done a number of roles, primarily I was a recruiter in-house with a number of large organisations, building and restructuring their exams globally and then more recently I’m a career coach. I work for London Business School helping people decide what to do with regards to career options and choices for the future.

A mixing gathering for being a recruiter the person who hires to the person who advises students on what steps to take to get to where they want to go next.

Fantastic, I think what is so relevant is that because your career stands recruitment as well as career guidance you have a really strong overview if you like, in terms of universities and how they affect people’s careers.

As we come into this autumn, we’re going to have a whole cohort of Year 13s applying to university, they will be umming and erring as to what degree subject they should be doing. What are your views on that?

I think university and making that transition is a really interesting time in life it’s probably the first time that you’ve left home. You have a whole new group of friends; you’re figuring out who you are, and you know what you want to do. What the world might hold, and choice of degree is important but sometimes maybe not as important as you think when you’re making that first choice.

And that’s basically from my old age. My nephew is debating what he’s potentially going to do longer term and that choice of going to university or not is really important. I think the cost of university is a big factor but equally if you don’t know what you want to do next, do you actually want to go? Maybe explore a little bit more you know, give yourself choices, give yourself options, it’s really interesting.

I think for certain professions then we’re saying that you do need to follow a particular degree course

Yeah, so gosh anything medical really. Doctors, even nurses today, veterinary degrees on the medical side, in particular. You don’t need to do law at university to become a lawyer or barrister, sometimes it’s helpful, but you don’t need it.

I think the key to success as much as possible is trying to do a little bit of research in advance, so the key is actually knowing as much about yourself as an individual which I know is quite tough to do when you’re or 16 or 17. And actually understand a little bit about how that world of work will basically play out for you which again is really difficult.

So, there’s a really interesting study that came out a couple of years ago from Deloitte’s HR report they do each year. They mentioned something along the lines of in the next 10 years there’s going to be a whole host of new jobs that come on the market that have never existed before. So, it’s really hard now to predict what the world of work is going to look like in the future particularly in 10, 20, 30 years’ time.

My best tip or advice at this stage is trying to basically give yourself choices as much as you possibly can, based on who you are as an individual, what’s interesting to you and also how you naturally work and engage with the world.

I think for parents in order for parents to help their children I think it’s really important that if once they’ve looked at a particular degree course because fundamentally it’s the degree course that’s going to be the most important decision they make, it’s then to look at the modules within that degree course.

Whether you’re doing a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts for the same subject can make a massive difference in terms of for instance how much mathematics there might be in that particular course.

Other things that parents might be interested in helping with I think are obviously once the once you’ve chosen the degree course then have a look at the universities that are operating that degree.

You might also be interested in location, so your child might be more comfortable staying at home or might need to stay closer to home for whatever reason, or they may be very keen to fly the nest and go as far away to the other end of the country. I think those are all different elements.

I think it is and I think it’s like from somebody like my personal experience was I went to university, and I moved to a place that was four hours from home. For me personally there was lots of freedom to basically discover a little bit about who I was, and you know how I was going to interact with the world.

I think the sort of growth that you get at university isn’t just the academic side, there is lots of personal insights and growth which is great. Sometimes having a little bit of freedom and a little bit of a sense of adventure to explore, not just the academic side, but the personal side is really important. Longer term you know we’re basically providing this advice to hopefully help guide people on how to build a career, how to earn a living for the longer term.

Ironically and I’m not sure whether you would agree but you know a lot of what basically makes people successful in life when they choose a profession actually isn’t the academic subjects. It’s the ability to interact with the world to work with others and intangible skills that make such a difference.

One thing that’s undervalued perhaps and isn’t very much spoken about is actually the group of people that you build relationships with. Using that awful phrase ‘networking’ but the people who you interact with the university very often will actually stay with you and be part of your community for the next or years sometimes maybe even longer. The relationships that you build while living in halls maybe that first year are very important and can have a vast impact on your career and professional choice longer term.

Obviously depending upon the demand for students with different degree courses there is an enormous pay gap from people studying one course to another. If you’re going into banking as a sector, you can be paid extraordinarily well, or even indeed even better than some of the tech firms nowadays the Apples and Googles of this world. Does that have an impact in terms of what degree they do?

I think the most important thing is to actually do and study a subject that really fascinates you and that you really you think you’re going to enjoy. The key to success is to be able, and I was a recruiter for years screening CVs like you wouldn’t believe, but the key to success is to show achievement. To ideally study a subject where you’re actually going to come out with top marks, and it doesn’t matter you know what those marks are depending on the different countries and nationalities but what you basically are looking to do for a longer-term professional perspective is show that you can achieve good grades. So that employers will say that’s an indication that if you come join us and we give you a difficult challenge you’ll potentially be able to work your way through it.  

What would you say to parents if they’re trying to help their child and they don’t know what to do? Their child, you know they’re adults, they’re able to vote and to drink but they don’t know what to study. What would you say to them?

Talk to lots of people you know there’s some fantastic resources online, as we know. Just keep your options open as much as you possibly can, and if you follow your passions and something that you enjoy doing, you’ll do it better. You’re under less stress, have a greater chance of being a success. Having a curiosity and a growth mindset is really important. When you’re advising your son or daughter about degree courses, you should talk to people you know, maybe people who do something slightly different to what you do yourself. If you’re an accountant talk to somebody who’s in marketing, or who’s maybe working in IT, just to get some ideas of what other professions are out there. Ask them what their lives are like and what their careers are like and also when they’re hiring young talent into their teams, what they look for.

Okay, that’s really interesting and also keep the degree course as broad as possible I guess or don’t choose a course that’s going to narrow down your options.

Yeah, if you’re not sure what you want to do now if you absolutely know that you want to basically become the next Steve Jobs and that it is your passion. Well then of course you’re going to do computer science

Yes okay, good point. There’s one other point that I would make as well on this and as an employer I think it’s increasingly valuable to choose a degree course that has some form of work experience within it such as a sandwich course or placement year. I think it makes you much more employable if you’ve got something that you can bring.

Oh absolutely, well you know I’m a passionate believer about real life experience. Of having something to bring to the table. Everybody needs to be able to have a story or two to talk about, so I passionately say you should as a parent encourage your children to work to gain experiences. Even if it’s just as a barista in Costa Coffee, they will learn so much.

Explore and experiment as much as possible, do lots of different things because you just never quite know what’s going to trigger an idea of the career that you might want to go into. When your child goes for interviews, they will be asked ‘what you have done before’. So, academics are brilliant they’re fantastic, but you need work experience too. Whether it’s a work experience from a sandwich course or whether it’s internship, or even just a Saturday job.

Yes, I think that’s and it’s that experience because no matter what degree course you do even. If you say you want to become a lawyer and you end up working for a law firm, you could specialize as a lawyer, but you might move into general management within that law firm. It depends what skill sets that you build on and acquire during your tenure there as well.

It is and also it depends on you know and again distributes back to the project you and I did a number of years ago how connected you stay to reality. So, encourage your kids to basically know the price of milk you know to basically know how the world is working so that they can actually contribute and make a difference for the future.