What skills will I gain from a degree?

  • Billy Sexton
  • Last updated 06 May 2020


Going to university and doing a degree conjures up some very stereotypical images. Perhaps a slightly more old-fashioned stereotype is the idea that students go out every night and spend the following day hungover, eating leftover takeaway and bingeing through box sets without doing much work at all.

A more recent stereotype is that students pay over £9,000 to go to university, but don’t get too much from it other than a nice photo in graduation gowns. The same stereotype suggests that students are not prepared for the world of work and leave university with no skills.

However, this is simply not the case! Whilst you may not get a graduate job that is directly related to your degree, a degree definitely develops skills that can be used in the workplace (and in life, generally!)

Practical skills

Apprenticeships develop practical, on-the-job skills, but a university degree can help develop your practical and technical skills too. It will largely depend on the course that you do at university.

For example, if you do a degree in Graphic Design, you will get lots of hands-on experience using industry-standard software, such as Adobe InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator. Similarly, if you do a degree in Mechanical Engineering, you will experience a mix of theoretical learning and practical application, which will allow you to put into practice what you learn in the lecture theatre.

Soft skills  

What happens if you do a degree such as English Literature or History? Is that really a case of paying over £9,000 just to get a nice photo at the end of it?

Answer: not at all! Degree subjects such as English Literature and History really develop students’ softer skills. Reading a range of books and articles every week to prepare for seminars? Looks like you’re developing your skills of taking on information quickly. Writing essays and preparing presentations? That’s developing your written and spoken communication skills.  

Do a placement year or internship

Annoyingly for students, they may develop a good set of practical and soft skills, but employers also want to see evidence of you using these skills in the workplace. That’s why a lot of university courses offer the opportunity to do a placement (or sandwich) year.

This involves spending a year at an organisation working in a full-time paid role, that helps you develop your skills in the workplace and gain a good chunk of experience. It’s also worth making the effort to build a good network of contacts, as this will help you with your hunt for a graduate job.

Internships are a great way to gain experience too. These offer more flexibility than a placement year as students can do them over the summer holidays and you could even do more than one internship, which allows you to get a wider experience of different companies and industries.

Extra-curricular activities

A degree will develop practical and soft skills, but a university degree doesn’t exist in isolation to student life in general. Every university will have societies and sports teams that you can join, and each of these will have a committee – a group of students that run the club or society.

Committee positions will include President, Secretary, Treasurer and Social Secretary and will provide you with leadership, organisational and financial skills that employers will look at favourably.

To summarise, going to university to do a degree is both fun and enhances your skills. There may be times when you feel like you fit the student stereotypes, but most of the time you will be developing your knowledge and skills – even if you don’t notice it at the time!

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