‘So, what are you doing when you graduate?’ – the words that echo in everyone’s ears from the moment the fresher’s week hangover wears off. It casts its shadow over our three years as students, ready to tap us on the shoulder and remind us that the big wide world is waiting to pounce. It doesn’t matter if it’s a well-intentioned auntie around the Christmas table, your course-mate who already has a graduate scheme lined up, or the lady cutting your hair, those six words can send even the best of us into a spiral of dread and terror.
Then, when it comes, and it’s time to don your gown and toss your cap into the air, it’s easy to fall into the post-grad slum. It’s you and that little scroll against the world, and sometimes you can feel like you’re losing.
But fear not, the world of being a graduate is not as frightful as it seems and there are ways to prepare that can make life a whole lot easier.
Step 1 – THINK ABOUT YOUR OPTIONS
This is simpler for some than others. If you’ve done your degree in medicine, chances are you’re planning on going into the medical field. For others, like myself, who delved into the beautifully vague and wonderfully versatile humanities subjects, things can be a little less certain.
So, think about your options.
Options don’t just mean a long list of jobs and graduate schemes that you must apply for immediately. What you want to do after university is a personal choice. Six months after graduating from my history undergraduate degree, I have friends training to be teachers, friends at Oxford, friends who have moved abroad, friends who have gone straight into work and friends who are still working everything out. Everyone is different.
What works for you?
Will you need a further qualification to get where you want to go? If so, have a look into master’s degrees, apprenticeships and courses. Masters can be particularly helpful to get into specific industries, and it’s important to go to open days, attend talks and do your research to make sure that the course content is what you want.
These can be expensive, and it’s important to think about funding and loans while researching. If you need to take time to save, or take this qualification part-time to work alongside it, then do it, this is a marathon not a sprint. Some universities also offer a discount to those who did their undergrad with them, if you feel like sticking around for another year.
There are some brilliant websites, like Prospects.ac.uk that can set you in the right direction. You can set up meetings with careers advisors and supervisors who are there specifically to help you take the next steps. Once you graduate make sure to keep an eye on Careers Gateways from your university, they often provide jobs, volunteering and graduate schemes specifically for new graduates.
Step 2 – BE REALISTIC
I am guilty of this. So guilty. I signed up to do my master’s in international journalism and instantly pictured myself graduating, being hired by a newspaper and jetting all over the world reporting on important stories.
However, the reality is that the majority of us will have to work our way up- it’s best to manage our expectations now.
Wages may be lower than we envisioned, especially in entry level jobs and a lot of the work could be the grunt work. Now, this doesn’t mean we need to accept being treated badly, working more than any human possibly could or trying to work in unpaid roles for long stints. You need to survive and look after yourself, after all.
Nevertheless, managing expectations means applying for jobs that we have a chance of getting (I’m probably not going to be the editor of Vogue before the age of 25), and a good place to start is specifically looking for job titles that contain buzz words that suggests these are the best jobs for people entering the job market, such as ‘assistant’, ‘entry level’ or ‘graduate’.
Make sure that you don’t undersell when applying for your first jobs, you don’t need to hit every single one of the criteria, it’s fine if your experience only stretches so far. Apply anyway, who knows what they’re looking for, and maybe your education, enthusiasm and skills will be enough to get you that job.
Step 3 – KNOW THAT YOU’RE NOT ALONE
The post-grad slump can be a scary thing, it’s mentally and emotionally draining. It can be isolating when everyone heads off in their own direction and you can’t wander into the kitchen at any time of the day or night to find your friends huddled around the table.
When this happens, know that you’re not alone.
You’re not alone in being worried when you’re an undergrad and feel like you have no idea what you want to do. The chances are that your friends are feeling the same. Talk to them. Support each other. Use the facilities on campus- I found the careers advice at my university to be really helpful when I was applying for my master’s degree as they gave me endless advice on the application process and feedback on my CV. These people are here to help.
You’re not alone when you’re in the midst of the post-grad slump and the blissful days of university feel like a hazy memory. It will pass and you will find your place.
If you do feel like you’re struggling, reach out to friends, family or professionals. They’re there to help and it’s important to check in with your mental health, especially in times of upheaval.
Step 4 – GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK
As an undergrad, I had a careers lecture about how to get into industry. The central message of this talk was ‘if you are not working hard, constantly, all day, every day then you are not working hard enough, and you do not deserve to be employed’.
I cannot express how much this is a load of rubbish. Nonsense. Madness.
The job market can be big, scary and competitive and you don’t have to beat yourself up if you don’t stumble into something straight out of university…it’s not the 1960s anymore.
It’s okay if you move back in with your parents because you don’t know what you want to do next, or because you can’t afford the extortionate London rent to take that unpaid internship you were offered, or because you miss home and you need time to decompress after the intensity of your degree. It’s okay if you find yourself in the same bed you slept in when you were 13, eating Doritos and watching Gossip Girl (on Netflix) for the twentieth time at 2am, on a Wednesday. It’s okay. It really is.
Just know that things will work out, and you will find your place. In the meantime, give yourself a bloody well-deserved pat on the back – you earned yourself a degree.
Words By: Emma Jacob
Edited By: Tamikka Reid