Are You Finishing Your Degree or is Your Degree Finishing You?

For the first two years of my degree, apart from one rouge aspiring-teacher, the consensus of having no idea what you want to do with your degree was resounding. Being a towering mountain of ignorance was, if not encouraged, at least reciprocated and expected. Four weeks into the final year of university, and it feels like I not only need to be choosing, but to have chosen, what I want to do with my life.

It feels easy to start seeing my degree as a means to an end; as a purchased product that I need to cash in on and profit from. But, having treated my degree as an end in itself for the last two years, the competitive field of post-graduation is one I feel unfit to play in. Applying to fifteen graduate schemes, finding the dream job, getting a full PhD scholarship, and knowing exactly where I’m going feels like something I missed while I was reading A Mercy and Shirley Jackson and chatting about rhizomes and haunted houses. My degree is distracting me from real life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Below are five points of consolidations on ‘I don’t know what to do’ that I have been absorbing from other people and regurgitated to my friends:

1.       Stop comparing yourself to others. This sentence barely registers to me anymore – it’s hit my brain too many times not to be satiated of all meaning. But it is good advice. You should care that your housemate is applying for graduate schemes because you care about them, but no further. Your friend might apply for a master’s degree in ecology but this doesn’t bear any weight on what you might do with your English degree. Employers compare you to other people, you don’t need to do this too.

2.       Don’t feel you need to take the straight path. There is no gold pot at the end of the escalator (although the metaphor is really more like a travelator because life doesn’t really go up) which delivered you from primary to secondary school, from sixth form to university and then the perfect job. You will find your own way there. 

3.       You don’t need to know. ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’, is a question that I have changed the answer to as many times as I’ve been asked. But just like a seminar on Romanticism, it’s okay (and normal) not to know the answer to this question. From princess to happy to midwife, my desires changed as I did. It’s easier to choose what you want to be when you are six, because no one is expecting you to apply for a job as a princess the next day. It’s unlikely that the job you choose when you’re twenty will be the job you begin at twenty-one and don’t leave until you retire. Follow a path, so that you can find other branching or adjacent paths from that. Jump around.

4.       Talk to someone (who knows what they’re talking about). Ideally, someone who has been through and out the other side of ‘I don’t know what I’ll do once I’ve graduated’. Talk to your personal tutor, staff from your department, the careers team, friends and family, and in doing so find out the different paths that you could take. Everyone has their stories.

5.       Listen to the advice you give your friends and give it to yourself. If you’re telling your course mate that they don’t need to worry or know what they want yet and that it will work out, then heed your own counsel.