Paul Clitheroe
Paul Clitheroe

Is a uni degree worthwhile?

ACROSS the country, thousands of high school students are facing their final exams. Some will be hoping to enter university, others have their sights set on a TAFE course, and some are planning to enter the full time job market. It's a time when parents can offer valuable support.

A university degree is definitely worth aiming for. The latest Australian Graduate Survey shows around 76% of new graduates are in full time jobs within four months of finishing their degree.

The median annual starting salary for graduates in 2011 was $50,000. But when it comes to the big money it's hard to go past the starting salaries of dentistry graduates ($80,000) or optometry graduates ($70,000).

The potential to earn a decent salary - both immediately after graduation and throughout a working life, is one of the main drawcards of tertiary study. And it can compensate students for the downsides of uni life. These can involve several years scratching for cash, long hours studying and being fourth in line for the shower if you're sharing rental accommodation with fellow students.

Nonetheless the rewards are worthwhile. I've seen research that shows the average Australian graduate can earn almost $300,000 more over a working life than their mates who finish formal education with Year 12. The same study estimated that over the course of a lifetime this extra income works out to a return on investment of around 15% annually - and that's after allowing for the costs of acquiring a degree and income foregone while studying.

Not all jobs call for a degree. But I still reckon it's worth thinking about vocational education through TAFE or a private college after leaving high school. I tracked down studies that estimated around 80% of graduates who undertake vocational training are employed within six months of completing their course, and the majority felt the training was relevant to their job.

Parents can lend a hand in helping their child decide the appropriate area of study they wish to pursue. And mums and dads can also provide the benefit of experience if kids decide they want to start on a career straight away.

It's not always easy for young people to find work, and worryingly, there are plenty of crooks willing to take advantage of inexperienced school leavers.

The Tax Office recently issued a warning about bogus job ads posted on recruitment websites.  Applicants are asked to provide their tax file number and even their bank account details as part of a job application.

Once these details are provided, the job offer is withdrawn. Tax Office investigations show the advertised positions never existed - it's all part of a scam for crooks to gather personal details that can be used to lodge false tax returns or access bank accounts. Parents can help by discouraging teenagers from providing personal financial details until they've met an employer and started working for them.

That said, many online recruitment sites offer helpful tips for job seekers, and if you make a call to a recruitment agency you'll find plenty that provide hints on applying for jobs and handling interviews.

No matter whether you're thinking of uni, vocational courses or hitting the job scene straight away, I wish the class of 2012 all the best with their final exams.

Paul Clitheroe is a founding director of financial planning firm ipac, chairman of the Australian Government Financial Literacy Board and chief commentator for Money magazine. Visit www.paulsmoney.com.au for more information.



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