A former university student says better career advice at high school could help prevent students dropping out. 

Data released by the Tertiary Education Commission shows more than one in five New Zealand students drop out of university in their first year and one in three university students do not complete a bachelor’s degree.

New Zealand has one of the lowest reported higher education qualification completion rates in the OECD, significantly below Australia.

A spokesperson for The Ministry of Education says they are currently in the process of changing national testing standards and modernising careers advice in schools.

A young woman 1News spoke to - who wished to remain anonymous - withdrew from study in 2018, after only five weeks at university.

She says she felt pressure from high school career counsellors to attend university despite being unsure about what she wanted for herself career-wise.

“Whenever I would go to school career advisors, there was not a lot of conversations about the type of work you could do outside of university degrees. It was always: 'Which university do you want to go to? What kind of degrees do they offer?' 

“It was never like: ‘You could pick up a trade, you could do a certificate, you could do a course’. It was always, ‘well you're doing these subjects, so do this degree'," she said.

“It was like I was going down one tunnel and there were no exits, which was scary.”

The woman says career advisors in schools should not be telling students to study a degree simply because they’re good at one subject.

“They were looking at what subjects I was taking and saying things like, 'you have the best marks in geography, study geography'.

“Yes, but what career can I get out of it? What's the point of studying something when I'm not sure what career it will lead to or if it'll make me happy or not? I don’t feel it's wise to tell someone to study something purely because they get good marks. It has to be something they're passionate about, which means you should educate them on the careers a subject and a degree can lead to.”

Following this experience with her school career advisors, the woman says she felt even during her gap year she would eventually need to return to study.

However, when she returned, she says after all that talk of university in school, high school had failed to prepare her for the increase in workload and change in teaching style.

She says it was a lot more full-on than what was relayed to them about university life in high school.

“I feel people are sold a dream, not shown reality.

“High schools should promote different pathways to ensuring both a successful and fulfilling career. Otherwise, it may make students rush into studying something they're maybe not 100 per cent about. They may even stick through it and end up getting into a career that's not enjoyable.”

Ministry of Education director of policy Julie Keenan says, “we know there are many pathways that lead to a life of learning, meaningful work and wellbeing. Given this, modernising careers advice in schools is part of the Education Portfolio Work Programme.

“The Ministry is also in the process of strengthening NCEA by making a series of changes to improve well-being, equity, coherence, and credibility for students. These changes are designed to support ākonga to be lifelong learners and ready to transition to the world of work.”

“We know there is more work to be done to support rangatahi to navigate their ways through education, and onto higher education, training and employment.”

More stories:

“Dreams come with a price tag”: South Auckland students on picking a career path

Teaching urban Māori lost skills of how to gather kaimoana safely

We asked how a decile 1 and 10 school cope during lockdown