During school, we are told that going to university will supposedly lead to the best job prospects. Whilst the tide is turning, with degree apprenticeships and pathways leading directly into the workplace being promoted equally, the pull towards a degree as a ‘safe’ choice currently remains the most popular with 60% of school leavers deciding to embark on another academic rollercoaster.
Yet, when you start university, you quickly realise that the degree you chose does not seamlessly lead into a well-paying job. You may have been interested in that niche medieval history module, inspired by the university’s innovative cancer research or simply excited by the fun young lecturer you met on an open day. None of these reasons are good enough to guarantee a first job; let alone one which is well-paid.
As students we are incessantly reminded of the necessity of considering what we want to do post-graduation. My weekly notification of events from CareerConnect serve as a ticking time bomb as if to say, “you’re not a student forever.” And whilst I should be grateful that the option of booking an appointment to discuss my future is so readily available, sometimes I want the luxury of being able to bury my head in the sand and scream. I’m 19, almost 20 – why do I feel such an urge to prescribe myself a future I don’t even know I’ll have the opportunity to grasp?
At the end of the day, a first-class degree without any relevant experience leads to rejection, after rejection. With firsts making up around 33% of all degrees awarded, the top grades become as valuable as putting your Year Six spelling test results on your CV. And that’s not to mention that even with experience, you aren’t guaranteed any more promise of a job offer. After all, more than four in five students and graduates believe that nepotism is a major factor in job offers.
Last year, upon entering the cataclysm that is the Freshers’ Fair, I felt so overwhelmed yet excited by the endless opportunities joining all these societies could provide. It’s a constant reminder that you can’t possibly pursue everything, but why should a choice I made at 18 have to set strict boundaries of my future? I opted for what some may degradingly call a ‘Mickey Mouse’ degree in order to be able to navigate various industries, but there’s a lingering guilt I feel when I end up prioritising commitments that will pave the way to career prospects. My degree often ends up feeling like a part-time job, when I know that shouldn’t be the case.
For those planning on entering the creative industries, you are forced to undertake unpaid – or expenses reimbursed – work experience, with the vague hope that networking will end up leading to your dream job. STEM students aren’t in a better position with the chance of securing summer lab placements a wistful hope. Those set on entering the finance sector should have started applying for spring weeks as soon as you popped out of your mum’s womb. And want to become a lawyer? Speak to your fairy godmother: in an average year there are around 30,000 students applying for only 5,500 training contracts.
With mental health conditions reported by students in 2020-21 nearly seven times as high as a decade earlier, it’s no wonder that burning the candle at both ends is exhausting. Picture this: get up at 9am to go to your lectures of the day, start planning for deadlines, eat dinner, go for drinks, end up in 256, return at 3am. Repeat. It’s a relentless and infinite cycle. And don’t get me started on the lack of a break university grants you – yes mum, I do have exams to revise for.
LinkedIn is a minefield. Obviously, if you mention you have a profile, I will demand that you connect with me. And I do love celebrating my friends’ successes. But whenever I see the token phrase “I am excited to announce” it just makes me want to cry, and often leads to a feeling of guilt that in that exact moment I am not doing anything to further my professional experience.
Let’s be honest: there is no perfect time at university. You will end up being homesick, cry to your parents on the phone, question the friends you made in your first week, regret the unfortunate time you ended up in Cargo. I want to say that university is all fun and games but, in a world where work experience is the greatest gift you can have – I’m not so sure anymore.