Case study: should I finish my degree?


Martin is taking a year out from an applied science degree at a Russell group university to work in industry. He came to us very undecided about his path after graduation and wondering whether he should finish his degree at all.

The following is our notes on what was discussed and the results that followed.

Lessons learned

  • We discovered there is fairly strong academic evidence for high financial returns from doing a degree.
  • Career capital, earnings potential and keeping your options open have been highly relevant factors for assessing entry level jobs for most students who have come to us so far, who don’t already have several strong options on the table.
  • We want to prepare an overview of the options in finance, since lots of people have asked us about this.

The research

First meeting

In our first meeting, we went over Martin’s current options after graduation, including: corporate jobs in marketing/sales/product development/management, (science) entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, research into his degree subject, accountancy, law, consulting and finance. We discussed how each of these might have an impact either directly or through earning to give.

Martin had experience in marketing and wanted to rule it out as not a fit. He also ruled out law and accountancy.

We determined some key criteria:

  1. How useful is the career capital? In particular how good is it for going into social entrepreneurship or high earning roles?
  2. How much does it keep your options open?
  3. How satisfying is it? In particular, does it offer high autonomy and space to innovate?
  4. Earnings potential

We realised Martin needed to find out more about these jobs, so we recommended he speak to more people, and introduced him to someone working in finance – a sector he didn’t have good access to already.

We also discussed how he wasn’t enjoying his degree and the pros and cons of continuing.

Research report

After the first meeting, we prepared a report containing the following:

  1. We shared the results of research we carried out for Martin into the returns of doing a degree and our general position on whether you should do a degree, which is fairly strongly in favor.
  2. If he doesn’t finish, we raised two options: (i) aiming to get a job at a small, fast growing company or (ii) learning to program.
  3. We gave our impressions of the pros and cons of: taking a corporate job in a fast growing small company, starting a startup, doing a Masters at a prestigious university, finance, consultancy, and working at a large prestigious company.
  4. Lacking an idea and co-founder for a startup, we thought the small company option could be particularly good based on his criteria, and because if it’s in an innovative industry it could help with going into entrepreneurship.
  5. We suggested Martin learn more about finance and decide whether it might be a fit. Applying for internships could also be useful data.
  6. We shared the results of our upcoming research on how to become an entrepreneur and suggested Entrepreneur First as an option.
  7. We suggested learning about negotiation.

Second meeting

In the second meeting, we got updated on Martin’s situation, discussed the report and several further questions including:

  1. What are the options and salaries in finance?
  2. How good is finance and consulting for going into startups?
  3. How useful are Masters degrees? Is there a UK/US difference?
  4. How prestigious is my degree? Would it be better to switch to biochemistry?

Based on this, how did Martin update his plans?…

Summary of the results of the case study

Their plans before starting:

  • Very undecided between a wide range of options
  • Seriously considering not finishing degree

Questions they asked us:

  • Which job might suit me after graduating?
  • Should I finish my degree?

What we did with them:

See above

How many hours did we spend?: 18h

Information they gained:

  • Our impressions of the pros and cons of each job.
  • The arguments in favor of earning to give.
  • Martin was surprised at how useful we thought it was to learn to program.
  • Basic information about finance careers.
  • Our thoughts on what matters in degree choice, applied to his situation.

Plan changes:

  • Decided to finish his degree.
  • Plans to spend 2 months learning about finance part-time.
  • More in favor of finance and consulting.
  • More in favor of earning to give.

Plans going forward:

  • If find an idea and co-founder, start a startup.
  • Otherwise aim to work for several years in a good company, then go into entrepreneurship, or apply to Entrepreneur First.
  • Or, consider going into finance or consulting, perhaps by doing a Masters first.

In their own words:

Luckily I was introduced to Ben and we had a chat about what I hope to achieve in life. After our first Skype I definitely discovered that philanthropy is a good option for me, and stopped thinking negatively about high earning (previously associated with greed).

Over the course of time Ben prepared answers to my asked questions and perhaps, most importantly, guided me to ask myself new questions I haven’t really considered before.

Ben clearly destroyed several myths I had about several industries, reviving them in my eyes.

As a result I now have pin pointed several options for my career development (huge progress, since before my options were summarised by ‘this and that and no idea what’). Would definitely recommend 80,000 hours to anyone completely lost in themselves.