The Grim Realities of Graduate Life (CultNoise)

26th March 2015

Once upon a time, graduating with a degree from university seemed to be sure-fire way to start a long and prosperous career. The idea of university was sold as the place to go to further your academic curiosity and as a gateway to a solid, steady job.

If only this fairy-tale was still true.

I graduated in July last year, all fresh-faced and excited about what graduate life would bring. Throughout my final year at university, I applied for several grad schemes but didn’t land any. Still, I had high hopes due to my degree in Languages. After all, people are always popping up on the news saying that there aren’t enough multilingual people in certain industries. I was sure that it was only a matter of time before someone gave me a break so that I could prove that I was worthy of a job.

After graduation, I decided to take a sabbatical after three years of hard work. I continued applying for jobs every other day but also tried to rediscover hobbies that I hadn’t had the time to do whilst studying at university. I caught up with old friends who I had missed greatly and spent the rest of the summer and early autumn simultaneously living it up with friends and anxiously waiting on a reply about a job offer.

Months passed with no news. I kept searching for jobs and applying, but by this point I had done hundreds of applications and barely had so much as a rejection letter. Nowadays, companies don’t have the decency to reject you; they simply maintain a cold silence and apathy towards you.

Desperate not to have a gap on my CV and no experience, I did the only thing I could do whilst waiting for something better to come along: I became a temp. To be a temp, all you have to do is go to your local agency and sign up. You don’t need any qualifications other than GCSEs per se, although A Levels are always a bonus. You certainly don’t need a degree. I felt extremely awkward and out of place. The staff at the agency were lovely, but I felt overqualified. It meant that I was always first choice for bookings but a bit of a joke too. On my first day at any temping job, I repeatedly heard ‘when I saw you had a degree, I simply had to have you…by the way, why aren’t you using your degree?!’ If only the answer was so simple.

Temping is far from glamorous. You usually don’t have many rights, but that depends on the company you’re temping for. You have to be upbeat all the time, even if you feel like crying from the monotony of the work you’re doing. You don’t really get a choice in what temping gigs you get; if you say no to the agency too many times when they offer you a booking, you’ll be seen as uncooperative.

Most days, I felt demoralised and disheartened. Why did I bother spending thousands of pounds to go to university when all the jobs I can get right now don’t even require a degree? I was never enamoured by the idea of going to university and had it not been for my parents’ unyielding insistence that I go, I wouldn’t have bothered. University worsened my mental health, which I’d had problems with years before I went to study further. All the suffering that university caused seemed to be in vain. My life wasn’t any better than it would have been had I not gone. I studied Languages at university but learning languages has always been a hobby, thus I would have taught myself them anyway. My life was full of hard graft and heartache. University had been a waste of time.

The stark reality is that university means nothing nowadays. Having an undergraduate degree doesn’t have the same effect that it used to. When my elder brother went to university, he and many others of that cohort of graduates, walked straight into graduate jobs. Now? The job market is overrun with graduates. Landing a grad scheme has become the exception, not the rule. I know perhaps a handful of people who have grad schemes. Most don’t. Most are doing similar things to me, taking any job we can grab for fear of having large gaps on our CVs and later being accused by a potential employer of not utilising our time after university. It’s now becoming the norm to settle for any job that pays money, or to scrape buy on an unpaid internship. The majority of my friends that are employed have jobs that barely require A Levels, never mind a degree. A lot of my friends are studying Masters Degrees, not because they want to do a post grad, but because they can’t find a job and decided that delaying the process of job hunting by a year would be better than trying to do it now. Little do they realise that employers will now pick on their lack of work experience. Employers are never satisfied.

It seems that, regardless of where you went to university, what you studied and what grade you got, having a degree is nothing special. Employers now demand more. It is only now, having worked at a painstakingly dull job which hasn’t utilised my degree at all, I am getting job offers. My advice to anyone contemplating studying at university is this: do you actually want to study? Because a degree is only worth something if you genuinely have a passion for studying. Don’t do it because you think it will enhance your job prospects. It won’t.

(Originally Published on CultNoise Magazine – currently under reconstruction)

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