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St Andrews 2.0: The Post-University Exodus of St Andrews Students to London

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at St. Andrews chapter.

Recently, upon having a conversation with a friend about post-university careers, I slipped the classic question of “So you’re moving to London in September right?”. Assumption, rather than question, is perhaps a more suitable label for that sentence as I was fully anticipating being correct. A more useful question probably would’ve been “So which part of London are you moving to next year” because lo-and-behold, I was in fact correct and a conversation ensued about the logistics of living there. That friend of mine was moving to London to pursue a graduate role, along with about 90% of everyone else I know who’s graduating this year. It’s definitely not the only option for post-university plans, but it sure as hell seems like just about everyone in St Andrews is packing their things and moving to the exact same place.

So why does everyone move to London? For starters, London just feels like a good place to start for entering the job market, considering its the number one region in the UK in terms of number of companies. Many companies place their headquarters in London, meaning that graduate schemes are most likely to run in full swing out of those locations. If you want to be with other graduates, working for big or successful companies, and live in an environment where future job possibilities are endless to grow your career further down the line, it makes sense that London is the first choice for many. On another note, London is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy as if everyone is moving there for job opportunities, it might feel like the best thing socially for you to follow suit with all your peers. Many people (fairly so) want to stay close with the friends they’ve made at university and a way to do that is simply move with them to London so you can pursue your professional future together and remain close. I’m not saying people willy-nilly chose to move to London to keep their friends, but I do think the social factor is a notable aspect. Seeing all your peers move to one location will in turn convince you of its charms, especially if all your close friends are moving to the same place. I think many can relate to the fact that it just seems like the thing to do when you graduate. And it’s not only St Andrews students who are part of this trend; Other major UK cities are facing what experts are calling a “brain drain” as one third of all graduates leave their region and move to London in the pursuit of jobs. It’s a common practice for graduates around the UK, to the extent that other large cities like Manchester and Edinburgh are suffering from the lack of people who are willing to move there after university. 

Even though I’m just a third year, the beckoning of London has not left me unaffected. I’ve accepted an internship with a London-based company during the summer and am currently trying to work out the logistics of living there. Part of me is quite excited; London is a great city, and it’s a super exciting place for a young person and there’s endless things to keep yourself occupied with. But honestly, a bigger part of me is faced with the reality of what it means to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world, even for just 2 months. I will have to spend quite literally all of my pay on accommodation alone which doesn’t account for the high transportation costs I’ll rack up from commuting everyday, food costs, and other miscellaneous things I’d want to spend money on for a good quality of life. I’m lucky enough to have my parents help me cover some of the cost of living during my stay, but it’s not at all encouraging that I’m losing money by taking a job there. London is also incredibly vast and most accommodation that’s affordable will be about a 50 minute commute every morning to my office. Any friends who are also taking internships there this summer will be scattered around all parts of the city, meaning a meet up with them could entail over 1 hour on public transport. The physical accommodation itself is its own problem, as I’m sure it won’t surprise many to know that you’re not going to get any luxurious (or even just plain nice) options on a starting salary budget. I’m excited for the opportunity and I’m genuinely enthusiastic about the work I’ll be doing, but I’m glad I’m getting this summer to live there because I think it will show me enough about cost of living, transportation, and just quality of life to put me off pursuing a graduate role there. 

And so, are there any alternatives to the big St Andrews-London exodus? I would like to think there are; larger companies will run graduate programmes in most of their locations, although perhaps at a smaller size if London is their largest office. I for a fact know the company I’ll be working for has offices in Edinburgh and Sheffield, which they make clear are potential locations for their graduate schemes (if you make the effort to ask). And as much as a majority of my fourth year friends are moving to London come September, I know a handful of people who are actively avoiding that by choosing other office locations their companies offer. I for one am definitely leaning towards this option, but I do acknowledge that for some people the option doesn’t really feel like it’s there. Whether it’s the specific field you work in, a specific programme you want to take part of, or just the fact that you really really want to live in London –  this mass movement of St Andrews students to London does happen for a reason. For whatever reason, London could be the genuinely right choice for you. I would however encourage those, for whom living there is not a necessity, to consider the other options available to them. The fact of the matter is London is expensive, it is big, and in turn quality of life is simply not great. I’m a big believer in the fact that not only do you have to work somewhere, but you’ve got to enjoy the life you are living outside of work too. I for one don’t want to spend over 2 hours commuting both ways after an 8 hour work day, come back to my teeny tiny home and feel guilty about ordering takeaway because I don’t want to spend the extra money. London can be the right choice for some, but it doesn’t have to be the automatic choice for everyone. 

Victoria Hallengren

St. Andrews '21

Victoria is a 4th year student studying International Relations and Medieval History from New York. Growing up all round the world since birth, Victoria is passionate about connecting different kinds of people through explorations of culture and community.