We all know that university isn’t for everyone. Sometimes it’s because we just aren’t wired to learn that way, or because we’re better with our hands than our heads, or just because we’re sick of classrooms at the moment. Unfortunately, another huge contributing factor to the decision of continuing study is how damn expensive it is and we ask ourselves if it’s all really worth it.

The cost

The average cost of a university degree in Australia is $26,243, though you can expect to pay around $60,000 for a six-year degree in medicine. On top of tuition fees, you also have many necessary expenses and levies to consider, even if you’re living at home. Universities can charge students up to $298 a year for what they call a Student Services and Amenities Fee (SSAF), and a 2013 report estimates the average student spends $602 a year on textbooks. There’s also the costs that come with having to complete unpaid internships or practical placements.

While these costs are higher than the global average, the government is pretty damn useful in subsidising and helping domestic students pay off our fees. HECS-HELP loans mean that we don’t pay any interest other than tiny adjustments based on changes to the cost of living (1.5% in 2017), and we don’t have to start paying this off until we’re earning over a certain amount. Even then, repayments are only a small percentage of our total income.

By eliminating the entirety of tuition fees, at least from our short-sighted consciousness, the Australian government does make university more accessible. The difficulty then becomes finding time outside of classes for work to pay off unavoidable living expenses. Many of us end up staying with our parents throughout our degree, and this relieves a huge financial pressure. However for those of us that are required or choose to live out of home for our degree, the yearly cost of living has been calculated at $33,459. Of course, these estimates always seem to be based on individuals with much more lavish lifestyles than we’re used to, but the figure works well as a ballpark range.

It’s an investment, but is it worthwhile?

The archetype of the poor as fuck student exists for a reason though, and students all over the world throughout history are expected to be struggling financially, at least to some extent. The reason for this is that tertiary education has always been an investment, and the returns from investments like these don’t appear until years later.

Landing a job

The first and obvious benefit of getting a degree is that it helps you get a job afterwards. In times past, a university degree was your ticket to certain jobs, industries, and basically the entire higher social strata. Nowadays, a degree is still a requirement for many occupations, but 31% of Australians have one – they’re seen as a basic prerequisite rather than a unique advantage. A lot of industries are also moving away from candidates with only theoretical learning behind them- favouring those who have the experience to back it up.

A report published by the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) shows that landing a full-time gig after finishing full-time study takes an average of 4.7 years. Furthermore, only 65% of university graduates find themselves in full-time work after 4 months, compared to just 58% of Cert III or higher graduates. On the other hand, the Education At A Glance 2017 report shows that 84% of all tertiary graduates in Australia have a job, about the same as the average across all 35 OECD countries. For those that have only completed high school, employability drops to 78%, and down to a further 58% for those that did not complete high school. While these figures do paint a dismal picture of employment in young Australians across the board, it does reveal sizeable benefits of holding a degree.

So… what does it all mean?

The defining characteristic of the job market for young adults in Australia is that it’s difficult to find full-time work – for anyone. A degree no longer guarantees a job and the security it once did, and there are other ways to achieve this without university. Despite this, the stats still show that tertiary education does provide some help to your employability, and the monetary benefits of having a degree can and do accumulate. It remains a hard slog for anyone trying to get through their studies, and many of us simply can’t afford to be put through this – the benefits are not completely concrete enough, nor are they are realised fast enough.

Take time to research the specific costs of the degree you want to study, as well as the different pathways you can take to enter your desired industry.

Uni is definitely not worth it if you’re doing it just because, and you end up pursuing a job in a completely unrelated field. At the same time, the academic environment of a university does have its perks, and just making it to the end of a degree shows you have some of the grit that employers are looking for.

Basically, going to uni shouldn’t just be a ready-made decision, you’ve got to research the costs and benefits for yourself and sus out the best pathway for you.