Heading off to university after Year 13 is as normal to 21st century Kiwi kids as jandals and Jellytips. For many it works. But it's not the only route.

What's more, says young designer Luke Scott, a degree is the new normal and to land a really good job you may need to go above and beyond what's taught.

It was exactly this attitude that landed Scott a role at top Auckland design studio Alt Group before he'd even finished his degree at AUT's School of Art & Design.

Scott had just one paper to go when he was taken on full time, thanks to connections he had made at university through extracurricular activities. Two and a half years on, he has just finished his final paper and is still working for the design heavyweight, acting as an art director for clients including Lumojo Honey.

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Rather than sweating over doing the right work to get the grades at university Scott concentrated on doing: ("the kind of stuff that I knew was going to give me the skills I needed to get a job and to get me noticed as an emerging designer. Unfortunately these aren't always the same thing)."

In Scott's case his value add was the launch of design-based magazine Stemme whilst still at AUT along with a team of likeminded entrepreneurial design students. The magazine is still published today. Whilst Scott now has a degree, the certificate wasn't essential for getting his job and he thinks that other young people should think about how they will land a job.

If I was ever to employ someone, I wouldn't ask them how they did at uni. Anyone can sign up and do a degree that's the new standard. I'd ask them what they do while everyone else is sitting on the couch watching The Bachelor.

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"If I was ever to employ someone, I wouldn't ask them how they did at uni. Anyone can sign up and do a degree that's the new standard. I'd ask them what they do while everyone else is sitting on the couch watching The Bachelor. What you do with your precious personal time? That's the best gauge of character."

He accepts that some roles such as engineering and medicine do require you to finish your degree before joining the workforce.

Deciding what degree in the first place needs a lot more thought, says Careers New Zealand's principal career development adviser Patrick Cody. Young people really need to invest more time and energy into that decision, he says.

"Do your homework around yourself and your options. Ideally, talk to people in the industry and employers so (you) really get a sense of (your) future."

Career consultant Jennie Miller, who is vice president of the Career Development Association, says these extracurricular activities show "that you're a real person who has already built some resilience to the world even though you're only 22. It shows you can relate to people and deal with adversity," she says. Another option, says Cody is to do an internship. This often leads to full time work.

Too many young people either procrastinate or make a quick and unconsidered decision," adds Cody.

"Making an informed decision is not around default thinking and it takes time."

For some young people "rethinking university" might mean taking a gap year. The concept, which is gaining hold in New Zealand, is all about taking a year off before going to university. It can give young people the time and life experience to decide what they really want to do in life. Too many find themselves saddled with tens of thousands of dollars of student debt for a course they didn't complete or turns out to be a poor choice.

Military service in countries such as Israel and Singapore is often the equivalent of a gap year. In Cuba young people aren't admitted to university until they've worked for two years. Either way the young people have had time to grow up.

The only proviso to the gap year concept, says Miller, is that spending the year lying in bed isn't going to get the young person anywhere. They need to have a plan.

Cody adds that gap years and travel gives Kiwis a multitude of experiences in a short space of time.

"Actually having experiences is a fabulous way to develop your career maturity and it helps them formulate their identity," he says.

Another consideration for young people in selecting tertiary study, says Miller, relates to their learning style.
Her own son chose Massey University's Bachelor of Design degree over Victoria University's offering. "From his research he liked the more hands-on, compared to theoretical, approach." For another student the opposite might be true.

"Most (young people) think: "I want to go to Otago because I want to get away from Auckland," says Miller. "Or they want to go to Victoria because it's the trendy university. They should be thinking: 'what institution teaches in my style?'."

Miller adds that LinkedIn should become a young person's new best friend. "It's a mine of searchable information - especially once you've developed a great profile of your own that communicates who you are. Pro-active youngsters can set themselves apart easily."

There are many alternatives to the standard school/university/job route. One is to work on a degree part time and earn whilst learning instead of the default of going to university full time. This way you come out the other end with a degree, but you have paid your way so probably don't have too much in the way of debt if any. It may take two or three years longer to get the degree. But you have real experience under your belt and an income to boot. There are some employers, who will pay for staff members to go to university. That can be possible in the armed forces. Some employees will also pay for their staff to study part time.

Miller would like to see the social stigma around trades gone. The Swiss university system, for example, gets a stream of highly skilled workers because only around 20 per cent of school leavers take that route. The rest go on to vocational training, which prepares them for high-tech jobs, health sector roles and traditional trades, wrote New Zealand Herald journalist Fran O'Sullivan who visited Switzerland recently.

Miller often works with young people who are being forced into university by parents. Conversely she had a young man recently who wanted to go to university against parental wishes. "His mum said that his dad will have a hissy fit if he goes to university." In that case a compromise was reached that the young man go into trade with his father, but work on a business degree part time.

Too often the older generation is thinking about security, not about the person, says Cody. "Instead we should be preparing our kids to concentrate on who they are and what they like to do."

The world of work is changing. For example, says Cody, jobs these days require a greater variety of skills. "There is a greater threshold around skills development in jobs (and) employers are looking for well roundedness," he says.

One skill that is of importance is collaboration. "That's not only collaboration from a team work perspective. Now you are looking at digital collaboration as well."