Graduateness without a degree (21 by 21)

16 Jun

I spoke to a class of sixth formers about university this week. They, remember, will be the first group having to fund fees of up to £9,000 a year if they choose to go to university.

I told them that except for a few specific professions (like medicine), a degree is still not an absolute essential – but gaining 'graduateness' will be vital for their future success. (I told them I wanted them to go to university, but even more than this I wanted them to want to go.)

The challenge now is to articulate what I mean by graduateness. To kick this off, here's a list for discussion of '21 things to achieve by age 21' – suitable for graduates and non-graduates alike. What would you add or change?

21 by 21

21 things to have achieved by age 21


  • Have raised money for a good cause
  • Have campaigned in an election or for a cause
  • Have written to your MP
  • Have a track record of volunteering

Media literacy

  • Have had a letter published in a newspaper or have appeared on television
  • Have your own blog or personal website
  • Have a following on social media (eg 500 Facebook friends; 100 Twitter followers)
  • Can name your five favourite novels (and say why you've chosen them)
  • Can discuss and explain the day's news headlines

Entrepreneurship and independence

  • Have started your own business
  • Have gained demonstrable team-building and leadership qualities
  • Have lived independently and learned to budget
  • Have cooked a meal for six or more

Global outlook

  • Can speak a foreign language
  • Have lived abroad (not just visited on holiday)
  • Are sensitive to cultural and religious differences

Personal achievements

  • Have the expected grades and qualifications – plus something extra
  • Must have sound basic literacy (spelling) and numeracy (counting) skills
  • Endurance (eg have run a marathon; have walked 100 miles)
  • Can explain your passion for sport/fashion/celebrity/music etc
  • Have in addition to this some notable musical, artistic or sporting skill, or an unusual hobby

Am I too unambitous? I can think of some current first year students (who may be 18, 19, 20, or 21) who have already ticked off most of this list.

5 Responses to “Graduateness without a degree (21 by 21)”

  1. Ben Cotton 24/06/2011 at 10:56 am #

    In an age where 2:1 degrees are the norm, standing out as a well-rounded individual through a combination of extra-curricular achievement coupled with relevant work experience has never been more important.
    This is a fantastic list.

  2. Richard Bailey 24/06/2011 at 11:23 am #

    Ben has spotted one of my purposes in writing this: that a degree is not sufficient means of distinguishing the highly motivated from the merely competent.
    My other purpose (which I thought more controversial) is that all of the above can be achieved WITHOUT a degree – though I think it would be harder to get there outside higher education than on a degree course.

  3. Ben Cotton 28/06/2011 at 12:15 pm #

    I’m in full agreement, Richard.
    Degrees are and always will be a great way to demonstrate a certain level of academic intelligence and analytical thinking in a standardised way.
    However, achievements like those outlined above are what will make people stand out.
    With a large pool of students with 2:1 degrees, graduates should be asking themselves how can they stand out from a large crowd of seemingly equally qualified people?

  4. بنت مصر 28/06/2011 at 4:52 pm #

    Thanks your article was really interesting and it was very relevant to for answering my questions will definitely read more of your posts in the future
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  5. Peter St Onge 04/07/2011 at 12:07 am #

    Excellent post, Richard. I’d hazard you may be overly-ambitious for many young people. I blame the stultifying world of institutional education.
    Still, I would love to live in a world where typical 21-year-olds managed even half this list.

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