Bethany Ferguson addresses that well known 'final year fear' that many students face. The pressures placed on students are more intense than ever; not least because of the need to pay back that looming student debt. Bethany shows how allowing more time for graduates to select their chosen path could both improve the economy and the mental health of young people.
As thousands of students enjoy their last few weeks of summer before their final year of university begins, reality is beginning to set in. Suddenly, we realise that this is the last carefree summer of our lives. We start to regret those holidays we went on, the days we wasted in front of the TV watching back to back episodes of Real Housewives, the lack of preparation we made for that looming dissertation and, perhaps most overwhelmingly, we wish we had been more proactive in procuring those elusive work experience placements.
All of these feelings contribute to ‘final year fear’, when all of a sudden, the importance of final year makes its presence felt. It begins to dawn on us that this year, procrastination is not an option. Those night long library sessions frantically writing that essay you’ve put off for weeks are long gone. Missing those 9am tutorials suddenly does not seem such a good idea as it was in first and second year. The days of being involved in every society committee are over, as is your first year self who went out every night of the week.
But it seems the pressure of achieving that 2:1 is not all we have to think about. We also start to turn our attention to… (deep breath)… the world outside of university - that terrifying thing called real life where we have to become actual adults and get actual jobs.
If I had a pound for every time someone has asked me in the past few months: ‘So, what are your plans after uni?’ I would already be in my super yacht sailing around the Maldives. But the truth is many of us, in fact, most of us, still do not know how to answer that question. For a lot of graduates, even after three to four years of study, that yellow brick road to employment hasn’t materialised quite yet. However, we still find ourselves frantically making those LinkedIn profiles and scrolling through endless job websites.
After a few months and no useful contacts to draw upon, panic sets in. All of your friends have got that summer internship, secured that graduate scheme, or gone travelling around the world. Meanwhile, you feel completely lost. In the end, out of sheer desperation, you pick that job which sounded vaguely like something you could do and hope for the best. However, with research from the London School of Business and Finance suggesting that 47% of Brits want to change careers, this does not seem like the best approach.
But why is it that new graduates feel so compelled to jump straight into work without having any clear direction? The answer: because society tells us to do so. For some reason, anyone who makes the decision to take some time out after uni in an effort to figure out their chosen career path is looked down upon, maybe even seen as a failure. We are told that after three to four years of study we really should have it all worked out, time is ticking etc etc. But with student suicides at an all-time high in the UK and mental health issues affecting young people more than ever before, it is clear that this pressure is beginning to take its toll.
Of course, many students do not have the luxury of choosing their first job purely for its employment value. For many, the burden of sky-rocketing student debt is an unavoidable juggernaut which can only be combatted through immediate employment. As a result, many become stuck in jobs which fulfil none of their personal or professional criteria except keeping those financial worries at bay, creating a viscous circle of disappointment and dissatisfaction.
If student debt could be brought under control, fewer graduates would be forced to rush into jobs which do not make them happy. Consequently, if more young people have the opportunity to start their career positively, in jobs which they enjoy, the benefits would surely be undeniable. Studies have shown that happy employees are up to 20% more productive than unhappy employees. If this is considered purely from a business point of view, it therefore makes simple economic sense to ensure young people have job satisfaction. But, far more importantly, with suicide shown to be the leading cause of young deaths in the UK, it is clear that there is much more at stake than just a successful economy.
Research has shown that graduates who are able to take time off after fulltime education often decide that their chosen degree is no longer the career which they wish to pursue. This aligns with the evidence which shows that most people ‘fall into’ their line of work, with many now working in jobs they would never have considered at the outset of their career. It seems, more often than not, finding your ideal job happens in the most randomly perfect way - undoubtedly with a few sizeable bumps in the road. In order to deal with this rocky path to adulthood we need to better equip our graduates to deal with the inevitable challenges which the world of employment entails.
But, instead of admonishing young people for what they decide to do after education, or creating such financially constraining conditions which force graduates into unhappy employment, it is vital that more is done to support our youth at this crucial time of their lives.
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