Retaining sense of self in choosing a degree (by Sam Coten)

Sam is a recent high school graduate from Perth, Western Australia, who will commence a combined Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Science (Psychology) degree in 2016.

I’m 17; a child. I’m not old enough to order a drink in a bar or vote for my local MP. I can’t go clubbing, and I don’t make anywhere near enough money to pay tax. But right now, I’m being asked to make an adult decision; a decision that could dictate how much super I’ll have in fifty years time (and let’s be blunt, how many kids my age even know what superannuation is?) This life-directing decision could lead me to a career in London, at the United Nations or to the courthouses of rural Western Australia. At just 17 years of age, I along with every other high school leaver need to decide which university I’m going to wear a HECS debt for. It’s an indisputably huge decision to make, and I’m sure it provokes the anxieties of any high school leaver: future lawyer or otherwise.

Considering my personal circumstances, this decision probably isn’t as drastic as I’ve made it out to be. I know what I want to do with my life. The only problem is a question of where. Every lawyer I know has told me the same thing when it comes to choosing a university: ‘where you go doesn’t make a difference.’ Partners, associates and even HR personnel at mid-tier and top-tier levels of practice have all told me I’ll be fine wherever I study. And more than anything else, I want to believe that they’re right. But I can’t help but listen to the naysayers out there that continue to preach the distinguishing importance of attending an Australian Group of Eight university.

The bigger question that’s been on my mind is one of status: should I be choosing the most widely renowned university on offer, even though they don’t offer the exact degree combination that I want? I’d be naive to say yes. A friend of mine once told me that no Western Australian Premier had studied law at the law school I’m planning to enrol at (an argument so irrelevant that I haven’t even bothered to verify it). “Fortunately,” I told her, “I don’t plan on becoming Premier.” Even if I did, I doubt many people would care where I studied law. I want to know what the industry thinks: does a magistrate really turn their chin up at the sight of a lawyer that studied at an alternative university? Do partners really discard any job applications that don’t come from Go8 universities? I can’t think of anything worse that working for a firm as pretentious as that.

So I’m trusting my gut; building the foundations of my future on my instincts – and I’m cool with that. Because in 5 years time, I want to have more to rely on than the name of the university I graduated from; I want to work for a firm that hires me, not my degree.

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