06 February 2015

What did you want to be when you grew up?

Do you remember your youthful visions of being a train driver, police officer, teacher or novelist – and have you ever wondered what would have happened if you'd stuck with them?

Some of our dream jobs fall by the wayside because we lack the natural talent (think top footballer or prima ballerina), others because the competition is just too intense (there aren't really that many astronaut places to go round). But others might still be in reach even now. If you're thinking of a change in career, then it's worth revisiting some of your earliest career plans – if you've still got the dedication and enthusiasm that's needed, and if you've got a financial plan to back you up.

Doctor (GP)

It's currently the most popular dream job amongst under-12s. And the NHS graduate entry programme1 means that becoming a GP could still be an option well after you leave university.

Have you got what it takes?

You'll need outstanding communication and people-skills, plus the desire to help others, put patients at ease and ability to work under pressure. And a science degree is very useful as well.

How can you make the grade?

For people who already hold a science degree, the NHS graduate entry programme reduces the usual five years in medical school to four. Then it's a two-year foundation in general training and three years specialist before you qualify as a GP, although these are salaried (starting at £22,636 and £30,002 respectively).

What can you earn?

Between £54,863 and £82,789 a year depending on experience, with practice partners taking home an average of £103,0002.


The reasons to take up teaching could fill a whiteboard. Short training time, big bursaries, fast-track schemes and opportunities – all are great incentives for stepping into the classroom, even in your fifties3.

Have you got what it takes?

You'll need energy, and bags of it. Year 8's don’t take prisoners and there'll be plenty of late nights lesson planning. You'll also need to be dab hand at communicating to an audience and brilliant at inspiring young minds.

How can you make the grade?

If you hold a degree of any sort, the best bets are a one-year postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE)4 – this costs up to £9,000 but can come with a bursary of up to £21,000 in key subjects – or the range of decent salaried learning-on-the-job schemes, such as School Direct and Teach First.

What can you earn?

Up to £37,496 a year (£45,905 in inner London). A head teacher in a secondary school or academy can make between £74,000 and £150,0005. Plus there are the school holidays as an added attraction.

Police officer

Fighting crime turns out to be a far more feasible job switch than you might think. There are obvious age and fitness considerations to starting as a bobby on the beat, but there are other options if you fancy joining the force later in life.

Have you got what it takes?

You'll need to be physically fit. Aside from that, provided you're a British citizen and over 18, there are technically no age restrictions or formal education requirements.

How can you make the grade?

To graduate as an officer, you'll need to pass a series of assessments and complete a tough two years of paid training. However managers in the private sector can fast-track into a superintendent role via a 'direct entry' programme6. Life experience is also valued for Police Community Support Officers, a job that comes with free training and flexible working and is designed to complement another career.

What can you earn?

Officers start on £25,000 with inspectors earning double that. Superintendents have a starting salary of £62,5527. Police Community Support Officers earn £16,000.


There may be no official upper age limit but unless you can confidently shuttle up staircases and haul hoses like the best of them, this is probably more of a young person's game and a challenging ladder for most to leap on to.

Have you got what it takes?

Besides being able to handle a few standard written tests and a medical, it's all about fitness, stamina and having the right attitude.

How can you make the grade?

Individual fire stations advertise when gaps arise, so it's a question of waiting for your opportunity but you'll be up against some of the fittest people in your local area. Brownie points can be won via volunteering as a station clerk or control room operator. Training lasts between 12 and 16 weeks, before a tough probationary (paid) assessment period of two years.

What can you earn?

Around £21,000, plus overtime8 to start, rising to station manager salaries of £40,109. Retained firefighters earn up to £2,800 a year9, for being on call at set times to cover emergencies.

Train driver

Train driving has a freight-load going for it: whopping pay packets, job security, great breaks, but with hundreds of applications for every job, selection is tough.

Have you got what it takes?

Being 'in the chair' of a modern train cab isn't like some misty-eyed re-run of The Railway Children; it demands extraordinary concentration, long hours alone, early starts and late finishes. You've got to have stamina and dedication, plus with the competition for places you'll need to be cool under pressure.

How can you make the grade?

Expect assessments to include psychometric tests, listening and reading comprehension, mechanical comprehension, and structured interviews. Then there are the many hundreds of hours spent training on the tracks.

What can you earn?

Between £20,000 and £30,000 a year while training then, when qualified, you can expect to take home between £35,000 and £60,000 a year10.


For every lucrative advance on a book, there are countless authors who write just for the love of it – whether they planned to or not. Making a living from writing may be tough, but this is a career you can kick-off in your spare time if you need to.

Have you got what it takes?

There's no point kidding yourself; you have to be good. Dedication is essential: write whenever you can, read voraciously, and try blogging and entering short story competitions. This might get you some prizes and profile.

How can you make the grade?

To get published you'll need an agent. Look up agencies that handle your genre and pitch them an overview of the book and the first three chapters. If they like it, they'll be in touch for the rest before trying to sell it to a publisher.

What can you earn?

The average advance for first-time novelists is £10,000, and less for non-fiction11, although Garth Risk Hallberg's debut City on Fire scooped $2m after a two-day bidding war. If all else fails there's self-publishing. It's not difficult to get an e-book formatted and on Amazon. Seven hundred digital downloads could make you around £1,90012.

Back your dream with a financial plan

The jobs of our childhood dreams tend to have certain things in common: they require a lot of dedication and time in training, they often require some investment on your part in taking on a lower salary whilst you qualify, and the competition is sometimes fierce (think doctor, train driver or novelist), which means you might not get your reward for all of that investment on your part. It's challenges such as these that put many off pursuing the jobs that they always wanted to do. But the advantage of switching to these careers later in life is that you have time to build up a fund to support you while you train – and provide a safety net if things don't work out as planned.

How Nationwide can help

If you put together a budget of your likely outgoings over the time you need to train for a dream job, then you'll be able to work out what size of savings pot you might need to build up to give that career a go. Explore options for saving and investing with Nationwide.

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