What’s in a degree?

I recently came across this quite strong statement in a letter to the editor in The Garden:

“I see…a debt-ridden, stressful life for my daughter, with no guarantee of a job after studying English literature and language at university.”

Have you ever wondered – worried , even – what employers will think of your degree when it comes time to look for a job? I wasn’t sure the letters page of a horticultural magazine was the place to start a debate about the value of humanities degrees – but it did stimulate some thinking. Students often visit the Careers Service because they are unsure of what to do with their degrees or how potential employers will value their higher education.

Browsing the Times Top 100, TARGET jobs/GET directory, and Prospects it is hard not to notice that the vast majority of employers don’t specify a particular degree subject. An English graduate who makes a conscientious application can succeed in many occupations and sectors* (available on campus PCs only) . Many employers are as happy to consider historians, linguists, sports science and education graduates as they are those with business, economics or mathematics degrees. (For those of you studying for a teaching qualification, it probably seems obvious what employers will think of your degree. Anyone thinking of a career outside of the classroom, I’ll cover that specifically in an upcoming post.)

Blue door into walled garden

Opening the door on your degree – what will you reveal to employers?
Photo: D.Gillie, Walled garden on Lundy Island.

There are no guarantees that an English Lit graduate could become an astronaut (although as I wrote that, I thought, I bet there’s one: sure enough Sally Ride had a dual Physics and English Lit degree) and I do know of at least one English Lit graduate who has gone on to do Medicine as a Second Degree.

So, the real question to ask yourself perhaps is not what your degree can do for you but what would you really like to do with your degree?


Prospects’ Options series is a good start for identifying generic skills and knowledge you’ve gained from your degree and also to generate occupational ideas to explore further with research, work shadowing or experience, informational interviewing and other tactics:

Options with…

Sport science

Sport and recreation management


…and other subject areas.

Online career planning programmes such as Prospects’ Planner or TARGETjobs Career Report are also useful for generating ideas.


*All universities carry out a survey of their graduates six months after graduation. The data provides a useful picture of the many and varied paths that people embark on after graduation. Use the information carefully though, the degree people study is only one factor in their career decision making.

Remember too that this is a snapshot in time and not a long-term picture. After graduation people are often travelling, getting work experience, saving money, applying for jobs or further study and deciding what they want to do next.


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