Are vocational degrees better than academic ones?

vocational degrees

By Pamela Head,

In my circle of friends, there’s one argument that rages constantly when the topic of university rears its ugly head: which is better; a vocational degree or an academic one?

I’m in the lucky position of having done both. I’ve got an English Literature degree and am currently studying for an MA in Journalism.

Vocational study seems fairly obvious in its list of pros. It is the type of degree most likely to lead into a job straight after university and vocational degrees are highly ranked in the league tables. They are difficult to get a place on due to the high standard they require to begin with, but are very beneficial once you’re there. If you’ve done a Medicine degree, it’s unlikely you’ll be out of work for long due to your specialist knowledge and society’s need for you.

I study journalism, so I learn all about law, politics and how to ferret out information that would make a good story and that the public needs to know. Because of the vocational nature of my course, all of my classes are geared towards my actually being able to apply what I am taught to every day situations. This is something I probably would not have, if I chose to study Law or Politics as a straight subject. In this respect, vocational study is possibly the best thing I could be doing for the profession I wish to go into.

But I would say not to discount academic study. In my study of Literature, I gained more than just the ability to recite Wordsworth as a party trick (I wandered lonely as a cloud…). I quickly learned that I had a hefty amount of reading to do each week and a lot of difficult concepts to get my head around.

I may not have learned any active skills from it, but I did learn time-keeping skills, the importance of deadlines, working in a team and the importance of doing your research and coming prepared to meetings. All of these things are not vocational, but they are hugely important in the world of work. They apply to any job and are a set of skills every working person needs.

I also had the chance to develop my knowledge of something I enjoyed – like literature. Had I chosen a straight vocational degree, I would have missed out on studying a subject I liked in the depth that degree-level provides. You’re able to discuss topics with your peers, form your own opinion and partake in something that leaves you feeling fulfilled as you’re learning for pleasure rather than for a career.

Clearly both paths have their pros, and these pros also serve as the other’s cons. If you’re struggling with which path you should go down, think carefully about the type of field you’re interested in going into and looking at a list of vocational degrees to see whether you’ve got the choice. Then think long and hard, and read around the subject you’re interested in, because you’ve got a difficult choice ahead of you. Unless you do what I did, and do both, of course.