I went to university wanting to become a writer and finished up in limbo. I read English Literature at the University of Exeter, pursuing what I thought was a straightforward route into journalism. Little did I know that academic writing would temporarily kill my love of the printed word. Sure, there were excellent lectures I attended and great books I read, but neither made up for how stifled I felt at times.
University is a trying time for many. The leap from secondary school to higher education is steep, and brings with it the belief that you’ll better yourself and amount to great things. When you’re there, it’s loads of fun: you drink, join societies, go to parties and think the world is your oyster. You’re now probably thinking - why didn’t I just go ahead and study something arty like film or creative writing then? Why, indeed. The simple answer is that I thought I’d be better off with something traditional. You know, long-standing and well respected? How wrong I was. Because unless you study something specific like law or medicine, you’re only really setting yourself up for a life of 'transferable skills'.
When you leave, it’s like a switch goes off. No longer are you in a cosy bubble but instead having to face up to the harsh realities of real life: renting, dead end jobs and the bank of mum and dad. I graduated in 2011, a year before university fees tripled in the UK. I returned home, got a job in a pub, before later moving on to a career in recruitment. I didn’t set out to work in recruitment, it just sort of happened. I fell into sales, purely out of curiosity, without really knowing what I wanted to do long-term. I was in the wrong job. Only later on would my passion for writing resurface.
A recent report by Universities UK found that a whopping one in three graduates in the UK are mismatched to the jobs they find. The study notes many come away from university with insufficient knowledge of the industries they want to work in, and the skills needed for certain jobs.
Part of the problem, it argues, is the lack of careers advice given in higher education institutions. The other issue is the shortage of entry level jobs available and when they do pop up, thousands apply and only a select few are shortlisted.
Most of the time, employers seek people with industry experience, which, unless you’ve landed on your feet straight away, isn’t always easy to come by. This experience gap leaves graduates with only a handful of options, including internships and graduate schemes.
“Students think they'll get their dream job once qualified with a degree. But, for the vast majority of us, that’s not the case,” says Jonathan Gifford, a good friend of mine.
Joachim Bjorkmann, another old university mate, also grew up thinking that a good degree guarantees you a good job. However, even with an MSc in Management and three years of work experience, he struggled to find a job and received lots of rejections.
“Grad schemes wouldn’t take a look at me, and Deloitte scrapped my application based on my GCSE results- even though they were 13 years old,” he says.
“It’s ridiculous how competitive the job market has become, and society is at risk in the long-run because we’ve brainwashed young people into thinking that only certain careers are decent and respectable.”
With things the way they are, it’s no surprise that many reach a quarter life crisis by their mid 20s. University may open doors, but it also gives us unrealistic expectations of ourselves and the world around us. Some graduate with the false idea that companies will be queuing up to employ them. Others assume that they’ll still have loads of free time on their hands.
The reality of post-university life is this: you stop going out as much in the evening, find it harder to make new friends, and can no longer get away with pulling all-nighters. But I guess that’s just part of getting older, right?