I've heard it all, and felt it all, before, when I was in the final few days before going to University. It was going to be, it's now a very overused phrase, "the best and most terrifying experience of my life". Well, they got that bit right at the time, but fast-forward to two and a half years later, when it's all almost over, and the cliff of 'what to do after it's all done' seems to be an even higher than the one I jumped off of in the first place.
I don't think it's just me, either. Speak to any third year university student about their plans after graduation, and the response is pretty much guaranteed to be one of three things:
- It might be the ever popular "I don't know, but I'm sure it'll all be fine", which is a slightly troubling response. Burying your head in the sand? That's not going to get anyone anywhere. But believe me, people do it.
- It could be the "I don't want to make a choice yet, so I'm applying for a Masters and that buys me a year to figure it out." If any student is thinking this, then their next words are almost certain to be something like "and if I'm still not sure when I've done that, then I guess I'll do a PhD too." Now let's be honest, uncertainty about the future is probably not the best pretense for committing to what is arguably the most challenging experiences academia has to offer.
- But, the majority of third years will say simply, "I'm moving back home, and then I guess I'm looking for a job." And when pressed about their chosen career choice and what they're going to do about it, students respond with, "well I want to work in X field, but I need a job just to get some money in before I can worry about that".
Of course, a very small minority of students know exactly what they want to do, leave, and go straight into doing it. And the rest of us look on with jealous envy.
It's the third option that's really the most disconcerting. Gone, apparently, are the days when students went to University, left again, and became fully fledged and functional members of society. Graduates are instead left feeling like they have no choice but to take a huge step backwards in their own development as people in their own right, and move back to the very place they came from before university in the first place, as if the whole three-year experience never happened. It therefore undermines the fabric of what the student experience is about - the independence, the gigantic learning curves, and the massive amounts of social development. I'm not the same person I was when I was in first-year, and it's only two years ago.
So why are graduates almost forced to move home? Because we simply cannot afford to go anywhere else. We can't stay where we are, we cannot go anywhere else, and we certainly cannot just walk into any job, anywhere, no matter the preconceptions about degrees. It's quite scary, on the edge of this precipice. Universities should therefore focus their attention slightly more on those leaving them, alongside those approaching, as the end of the year draws near. Sure, the odd Careers Fair or Postgraduate Course Fair crops up from time to time, but it seems as the end of the year approaches, the focus of institutions seems to always shift to the new batch of people on their way in the September, and the leavers are semi-abandoned as 'old news'.
So here's a few ideas. Those leaving would benefit from some direct careers advice, should students want it, on a one to one basis with their Personal Tutors, who may be able to put students in contact with employers relevant to their chosen field. This would help graduates find jobs, and wouldn't cost Universities a penny. I am certain that a series of lectures or seminars on finding jobs after graduation would be well received by Third Year students, I know I'd be there. Even a dedicated Careers Officer would be a reassuring presence for those unsure about what to do when to leave University, and if these exist, then they need to be publicised more effectively.
It's not an easy issue to sort, but that's just a couple of easy ideas that would help graduates land the jobs that they've worked so hard for during their studies. Deciding to move back in with Mum and Dad after university is something that should be a choice, not a necessity.