Why are people so judgemental about degrees?

And, where do these judgements come from?

6th November 2018

We are all inherently judgemental; there’s no getting away from that. And if something is reinforced enough times, it tends to stick. Even the people who claim to never be swayed by the popular decision still stereotype the same way the rest of us do. They just refuse to admit it. It’s one of life’s ugly truths.

A degree, and the university it comes from, is a prime example of this. Going to a red brick ahead of a polytechnic automatically places you in the “more intelligent” category. Now, while most of us know that going to a poly does not automatically mean you can’t achieve that prestigious red brick status, some people genuinely believe it does. There could be an abundance of reasons why a Manchester Met might have been better for you than a Uni Of — not just grades — but the argument is that the higher the asking grades for a university, the more intellectually gifted you must be. Thankfully, there are people who prove this argument wrong, every year.

Where do these judgements ultimately come from? The universities themselves are probably culpable, to some degree. Look at fresher’s week: the basis for new students around the country to get ridiculously leathered, make friends for life over 2-4-1 vodka cranberries and throw insults at the uni across the river, next door or on the other side of the city. As the polys proudly scream that they’d “rather be a poly than a cunt”, their prestigious neighbours at Uni Of reply with a chorus about how they’d “rather be a cunt than unemployed”, before bellowing out follow-ups like, “Your dad works for my dad,” and, “What’s that coming over the hill? It’s unemployment! It’s unemployment!”

These are pretty funny, granted. And generally, it’s all in a light-hearted tone. But in the first few days of uni, you’re either being told you got there because you’re the best thing since sliced bread or that it doesn’t matter that you didn’t go to the “better” uni because being here is way more fun, anyway. What message does that send?

That’s not even mentioning choice of degree. When Anna Paa, 23, began studying for a degree in Media and Communications at Nottingham Trent University, she didn’t know what to expect. Now, less than two years after graduating, she works as a project manager at a creative marketing agency. From the beginning, she realised that doing a media degree (at a poly) would come with even the people closest to her questioning her subject.


‘‘I think my course was very academic, personally. I just think that there were a lot of negative opinions because not only did I go to a poly, people think that all you do in media studies is watch movies and TV shows. You don’t. It’s so much more than that. Friends and family did question me because, basically, people just don’t think you’ll get a stable job out it.”

On the UK student forum The Student Room, there is a post entitled A List of Pointless Degrees and Useful Degrees. According to this list, a “pointless” degree is anything with the word “sport” in the name, all art courses, Sociology, Psychology, Music, Geography, Media and Film Studies. English, maths and science courses all come under “useful”. One commenter argues that the list is completely arbitrary and self-righteous, while another says that we should accept that some degrees are just better than others and will go much further when you’re looking for graduate employment.

This post represents all those who make judgements about education — those who are unbearably condescending while their victims (and that’s not too strong a word) scramble to justify why they chose their degree/university. God forbid anyone ever meets the OP and has to tell them that they studied psychology at a non-Russell group uni. It is, obviously, true that some fields require you to study more “academic” subjects, but in no way does that render all the “non-academic” ones pointless. Steven Spielberg’s degree is in Film and Electronic Arts. He hasn’t done too badly, really. It’s all relative, but where would that fall on the list of useful and pointless degrees?

If you’re looking for some of the most dynamic, adaptable, cutting edge institutions in the world, you need to look beyond the established ‘elite’

Journalist Chris Parr stated in 2014 that, “If you are looking for some of the most dynamic, adaptable, cutting edge higher education institutions in the world, you need to look beyond the established ‘elite’.” Is this someone suggesting that the Oxfords and Cambridges of the world are not the be-all-and-end-all of success? This cannot be! Actually it can be — every year dynamic, adaptable, cutting edge graduates that aren’t from the top universities go into the world of work and are successful. Some don’t, and are thrown on the post-graduation scrapheap of unemployment for a while. But then so are some top university graduates. Contrary to some ill-informed beliefs, being an alumni of one of the top institutions doesn’t make someone universally employable.

Some people reading this may cry, “I went to a top-listed uni and I’m not like this! How dare you!” But, if you are one of these people, chances are that there have been times in your life when you’ve judged someone’s education background. It might have been just the once. You might not have even known you were doing it, but you probably did. Because, at the end of the day, we’re all human — and that’s how society works.

It would be nice if people could get on board with the idea that degrees like mine are important

“I know I learnt so many useful and relevant things [from my course] that helped me get where I am today, and maybe I wouldn’t be a project manager at a creative marketing agency without them,” says Paa. “I hope people’s perceptions of media degrees will continue to change. There is still a stigma attached, and people turn their nose up sometimes. But the world is becoming more digital, and it would be nice if people could get on board with the idea that degrees like mine are important.”

Keep your noses down, people.

As of last year, 14 million people in the UK are graduates from hundreds of different universities with hundreds of different degrees. Some of those 14 million people won’t have attended a Russell Group or a red brick uni. But all of their degrees have value. Somebody, somewhere, will see them as the ideal candidate for the job. Perhaps it’s about time we all become a little bit more open-minded.

6th November 2018