This student life: A plan for the real world

What exactly is everybody getting a degree for?; Spring term, week 5 at the Manchester Student House

THESE DAYS, everyone's got a degree. Put a non-vocational honours qualification on your CV and any prospective employer will just assume you've been living it up for three years and now you're drowning in debt. It's hardly impressive.

Which is why most of these students have taken up vocational degrees, or at least have a clear idea of what they want to do when they leave university. Dani wants to work as an environmental biologist; Ian is planning on being an air traffic controller; Robbie is interested in the City; Alistair and Dave hope to be more entrepreneurial. Only Rachael, Tasha and Rosie seem less sure of their future.

Rachael, who's studying art history, doesn't have a definite career plan in mind. Her approach is more fluid than that of some of the boys in her house. "When you're at college you can try out different things that you wouldn't necessarily have the time to do if you were working. I'm thinking of going to singing lessons with Leona, Tasha and Rosie, and I've just got a job with Pop, the student magazine, doing fashion illustration."

But she doesn't want to be an illustrator when she leaves college. "I want to find something I really am going to enjoy," she continues. "That means you can't just sit around watching TV all day."

This is a far cry from the Rachael whose plans for putting a band together were put on hold, while she sat about for four months doing nothing but watch TV.

Conversely, Ian is far more organised about his career and isn't leaving anything to chance. "I am somebody who likes to plan ahead," he says. "I'm doing geography, because it was the course most relevant to what I want to do, which is air traffic control. I reckon employers will want experience in team work and management skills."

Ian is a no-nonsense lad who can't understand wishy-washy people who make arbitrary choices for their degrees. "I'm an odd case," he says. "I've asked lots of people why they are at university and they don't know. I find it quite disconcerting." Today they've got no excuse: Ucas offers courses in everything from psychology to boxing studies.

``My management course teaches you how to market things, and how the economy works," Dave says. "We're also taught to work well in groups. I suppose I really came to college just to improve my social skills - in management, one of the most important attributes is the ability to communicate well."

So has it worked? Well, Dave has developed from a painfully shy boy from Sunderland to an extrovert of epic proportions. "I've met such a vast diversity of people," he explains. "I had a nice breakthrough in the first year, when I moved into a really cool flat with group of three lads and we all had a good laugh."

But isn't the real motivation for studying management just a basic desire to make money? "It's not the money that motivates me to do the promotions," argues Dave. "It's really all about building up experience. I used to want money so that I could have a big house and a flash car. These days, I don't think that's so important. If I had money now, I would go travelling and expand my mind. That's what it's all about - life experiences."

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