In just under three months I will have completed my degree. I’ve taken an untraditional and less than ideal approach to its completion; hopped across three different universities, had two years of intermission, and switched degrees along the way. Like most, I look forward to my graduation and no longer feeling the relief of submitting an essay turn cold with the realisation the next essay is due in two weeks. But now that I’m close to handing in my final assignment, I don’t actually feel glad about the future absence of deadlines and essay writing. Post-graduate life feels alarmingly uncertain and I fear that my sense of purpose, currently granted by my student status, may fizzle away.
When I applied for university, I didn’t have any strong desire to pursue further study, simply, it provided a timeline clearly mapped out and years planned; my time being filled and a place to be. Further education, especially in modern Britain, is an expensive commitment but buying time in the absence of any idea about where to turn next seems to be more desirable than being left without a plan. The world outside of the familiar structure of education can be unsettling, and like most change, it’s not so easy to navigate at first.
Now I’m close to finishing university, I have had to start working on a plan for beyond graduation. I attended a careers appointment after months of avoiding them, mostly because I didn’t want to acknowledge that I haven’t got much of a plan and I certainly didn’t want to vocalise that to someone else. Held over zoom, the careers advisor popped up on my screen neatly and unobtrusively dressed. I told her, tentatively, what I’d like to do once I graduate, attempting to conceal the flimsiness of my plans. Plans only held together by my imagination and fluctuating levels of motivation. I look at other people my age and their futures are smooth lines and clear steps, mine seems a tangled indecipherable mess. Foolishly, I had been reading graduate stories: streams of successes, perfect preparation and landing their perfect job months ahead of graduation. This sparkly all singing-and-dancing picture of graduation is often all many of us have to compare our own graduation to. The advisor could sense my anxiousness and relayed my fears to me: you can’t have total control over the future, there will always be uncertainty. But you can be resourceful, put together, and control all the things in reach which make the prospect of the future less daunting.
Graduating is harbours a curious mix of feelings, it’s the end to a central period of one’s life and the streamlined structure of education is cracked open into the uncertain world of work. Many graduates (myself included) are faced with a feeling of ‘what now?’. I took on board the advice that was given to me by my careers advisor and started to put together everything that may make leaving education a little less daunting.
Looking at what I can control in this pocket of time, I have researched further into the sector I would like to work in, becoming aware of the myriad of possibilities and avenues I could take. Broadening my search has opened up opportunities that I would have never considered otherwise. In modern Britain, graduates are having to jostle within an overcrowded, incredibly competitive job market. I am not naive enough to expect to just walk straight into the job I’d like, so I’ve made plan b’s; emailed little businesses and cafe’s within the area I’d like to relocate to. This means I can still take steps towards the future I hope for (even if it means taking an alternative route to get there!). Instead of fearing the uncertainty of what’s next, I have found switched my focus upon the freedom and possibility granted by my degree.
I want there to be a quick fix to erase all possibility of these unsavoury feelings and worry surfacing like a dead fish but there isn’t and I’m simply going to have to ride the wave. I’m afraid of what my life may look like post-graduation, but when I look back over my educational life, the space I felt had been carved out for me to belong in was one I had chiselled into existence myself. Through my degree, I navigated my own learning and invested my time in the topics I found interest and enjoyment in. Though graduating may mean I need to pack up my things and leave that space, I can rebuild myself a space again. I can discover new interests and passions, I can extend my learning beyond academia and connect with new people. And with time spent on other parts of my life I have come to realise that my identity has always stretched far beyond my student status.
Graduation for us who aren’t set on a graduate scheme or do not have a graduate job secured may feel at the foot of the twin forces of freedom and instability, a superabundance of potential slip-ups and wrong moves. But to all of us in this febrile period, hold close things that provide you with respite or escape and keep yourself focused on the things within your control and the things that bring you joy regardless of whether or not graduation is quite the picture you envisioned as a bright-eyed, newly enrolled undergraduate.
Words by Maddie Evans
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