Student choices: Graduates: two stories of successs

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The Independent Culture
Helen Burridge, 23, is a trainee chartered accountant

"I did A-levels in physics, maths and economics, getting a B in physics and As in the other two, and wanted to carry on doing the subjects I preferred at A-level. So I went on to do a three-year degree in mathematical economics at Birmingham University, graduating with a 2:1 in 1996.

"I didn't really know what career I wanted when I was at college, but everyone around me was applying for accountancy. It seemed like a secure job, with good money, so I decided to go for that too. After applying to lots of firms, I got an interview with one of the Big Six, and was offered a job.

"When I'm at work, I'm generally out at a client's offices, in a team of about two or three, looking at their accounts and checking what they've done. But five months of my first and second years were spent out of the office studying for chartered accountancy exams. I've got one more set of exams to do next year, and then I'll be qualified.

"I wouldn't have got this job without a degree; at least, it's rare for somebody to get in here without one. If you only got A-levels, you'd probably be doing something just at admin level.

"Once I've finished all my exams, I think I'll be fine for the future, and for getting other jobs. And the salary is good: after one and a half years I'm on pounds 21,000, plus overtime. Next year it'll go up to pounds 24,000- pounds 25,000, and when I qualify, it'll go up to pounds 28,000-pounds 30,000."

Mark Huckerby, 24, is a strategic planner at advertising agency FCB

"I got A-levels in English, sociology, history and politics, B grades in all of them. After that, I did American studies at Nottingham University. It was a three-year course, with four months spent in America, and I graduated with a 2:1 in 1996.

"Advertising was something that a lot of people in the American Studies department were bandying around as a good career: it seemed wide-ranging, and involved looking at culture, trends, politics, art and design. So I sent off 16 or 17 applications, and ended up having a series of interviews with FCB.

"I started there in September 1996, and it really was a case of going in at the deep end, working for clients such as Kimberly-Clark and SC Johnson. My job is looking at trends and talking to consumers to find out how they use our clients' products.

"There's no way you could do this job without a degree, really. You could perhaps come up through a secretarial route, or by looking around for a work experience placement, but obviously that's an incredibly time-consuming way. And the degree helps you inn your day-to-day work, in that it structures your thinking, and helps you to argue and debate things.

I'm currently on a salary of pounds 20,000, and within five years I could be earning as much as pounds 35,000-pounds 40,000. Advertising is all about ideas, so there's really no limit to what you can do."