That cap and gown just cost me four thousand pounds

Young people have got it bad, and the situation doesn’t look like it's getting any better

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The Independent Online

Today the BBC asked if young people had ever had it so bad.

Are my generation struggling now more than ever to get a job, find a place to live and escape debt? As a young person I thought I’d be in a decent position to provide a response.

My answer starts on Wednesday the 23 of January. It’s been snowing for weeks and the outside world is one no sane human would wish to enter without several extra layers of thermal clothing. I, however, will be going out there with a suit on accompanied by a ridiculous looking, and highly impractical, cap and gown. Why? Because this day is the day I graduate from my Masters degree.

I decided to do an MA about half way through the final year
of my degree. Like many students I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career after graduation. I’d made several enquiries to local companies about getting some work experience but the answer was always the same:

‘Thank you for getting in touch. We are not currently recruiting but will keep your name on file for future reference.’

I couldn’t blame them for saying no. After all, what good is a graduate copywriter who can write a few puns and rhymes to most companies when they have hundreds, if not thousands, of other potential recruits all with degrees and all with something else to offer? They can take their pick.

It was then that I realised I had to do more. The idea that a degree was enough to make you stand out above the rest of the crowd was now a lie. I’d been sold a false promise way back in sixth form college, one that may have led to some of the best experiences of my life but had also left me out of work, out of pocket and out of ideas.

I was in a position that thousands of graduates find themselves in every year. The excitement and emotion surrounding the graduation ceremony suddenly evaporates as the dull light of reality shines in and lights up the fact that that we have no money, no real work experience and the same two letters after our names that seemingly everyone else applying for the jobs we want can boast.  Surely an MA would help me stand out?

Unfortunately it isn’t that simple. The MA has simply doubled the amount of letters at the end of my name and made my bank even more unhappy with me. There are jobs out there, the landscape isn’t completely barren, but those jobs expect me to be in a healthy enough financial position to be able to afford to move there to work. They expect me to pay for the deposit on a flat, fork out for that first month’s rent or at the very least buy a season ticket for the train there every day. That just isn’t possible. The graduate overdraft will stretch no more.

Five hours after my ceremony was over I was sitting in the job centre. I wasn’t alone, there were other former students sat around me all wondering where it went wrong. They don’t really care about the letters after your name there, the system is rigid. They just want to know if you’d be willing to work in retail. Believe me, I would be, but my CV is meaningless there. I worked hard throughout my education to get to somewhere completely different leaving me with a niche resume that won’t find the right pile if ever I have to work somewhere else.

So how can this problem be fixed? How can graduates like me turn our £26,000 worth of debt into something positive and ever hope to be in a successful position because of it? The BBC article cites an example from The Financial Times; that a person in their 80’s has a higher standard of living than someone in their 20’s, despite the fact that the younger generation on average have more qualifications, something they did to make their living standard better. It seems not to have worked.

Our degrees can sit proudly on our walls, our parents’ photo albums can be full of glossy photos of us wearing badly fitted caps in front of our university logos, but ultimately that’s the same situation in a lot of homes. Now, more than ever, you have to do something extra to get ahead of the game.

It’s a difficult pill to swallow, especially when we lack the funds to afford the prescription.