Figures released by Ucas in February showed the number of would-be students applying for university had dropped for the third time in 15 years / Getty

Mary Curnock Cook warns middle-class parents and universities are too 'obsessed' with young people landing a career early on

Students should not bother with looking for a job until months after graduating, the outgoing head of Ucas has said.

Mary Curnock Cook warned middle-class parents and universities have become “too fixated” on careers, placing unnecessary pressure on young people to apply for jobs too soon.

Instead, students could benefit from some “down-time” by moving back home  after their final exams, she said.

Choosing to go to university is a “life-changing decision” but can be a disaster if it is not an “informed choice”, she added.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Ms Curnock Cook said going to university is a “life-changing decision” but could be disastrous if it is not an “informed choice”.

“It's about broadening your horizons,” she added, “it's too utilitarian to think you've got to go to university and then land a career straight after that. It's terribly unhelpful.

“Students may need to take some down-time after the stresses of finals and dissertations. I don't think there's any harm in doing temporary, voluntary or non-graduate work to fill the gap before finding something more permanent.

”You have plenty of time to figure out how to be successful in the workplace, so I think obsession with graduate employment within six months is unhelpful.“

The university admissions leader, who will step down from her role at the end of April, said there was a trail of thought which suggests university is a ”golden thread“ to having a career - but added that young people get the most out of their time at university when studying something which motivates them.

Responding to Ms Curnock Cook's comments, James Uffindell, founder and CEO of Bright Network careers and recruitment body said while some respite was sensible, students should not become complacent in their job hunting.

"In an ideal world, six months out is a good idea however in a competitive jobs market, students need to stay ahead of the game," he warned.

"At the moment, there isn’t time for students to take time out. They need to take the bull by the horns and use their time at university to explore their options and make connections to avoid being left behind after graduating, not wait six valuable months to get onto the careers ladder.’

Figures released by Ucas in February showed the number of would-be students applying for university had dropped for the third time in 15 years.

Around 30,000 fewer people had applied to start degree courses this autumn by January 15 - the main deadline for submitting applications.

Overall, 564,190 people applied to UK universities and colleges, down 5 per cent from the same point in 2016.

It was the third fall in applicant numbers since 2002, and the biggest since 2012 - the year that tuition fees in England were trebled to £9,000. The other drop was in 2006, when fees were raised to £3,000.

Speaking at the time, Ms Curnock Cook said: ”Despite the overall decrease, it is encouraging that the number of 18-year-old applicants remains high, and that application rates for disadvantaged groups continue to rise.

“However, we are seeing large falls for older applicants, partly because of strong young recruitment in recent years depleting the pool of potential mature applicants, and probably also reflecting increased employment, the higher minimum wage, and more apprenticeship opportunities.”

Clare Marchant, who is the currently the chief executive of Worcestershire County Council, will succeed Ms Curnock Cook in May.

Additional reporting by PA