Diary Of A Third Year: 'I've finished. The next day I woke up and panicked.'

By Duncan Robinson
Sunday 23 October 2011 06:33

That's that, then. On Saturday, I finished my formal education. After a three-hour exam in an evangelical church the size of an airplane hangar, I stopped being a student. Others finished their exams with blazing sunshine, I emerged from mine with rain pouring down. It was a bit of a let-down. There was no explosion of joy, confetti or champagne. Instead my seminar group simply stood in the rain, moaning about the exam paper. Those who had predicted the questions correctly had a smug look on their face, and those who had guessed wrongly (like me) glowered.

The seminar tutor suggested that we go for a meal to celebrate the fact that we had stopped being students and had become "real people". He picked up the tab. I pay £3,000 a year, but at least we get the occasional free lunch out of it. My first step into the real world thus began with a free meal.

But cold, hard reality wasn't far away. I woke up the next morning and panicked. I was 21 and what had I achieved? At 21, Wayne Rooney had played for England nearly 40 times. I'm 21 and haven't played once; all I've done is study history for three years. Zadie Smith wrote her first novel during her final year at Cambridge. All I've managed is a foray into student journalism at Sheffield. In many respects that's the scariest thing about leaving university – it's the point where potential stops being relevant. It's no use declaring that this is what you could do, or will do. Now you simply have to get out there and do it.

There's a split in my house. Two of us have finished and entered this brave new world, while the others struggle on. This means that while my housemates are slaving away at revision (or at least pretending to be), I'm downstairs in my underpants playing Scrabble on Facebook. When they are in the library, I'm playing tennis. Freedom is wonderful, but it can do funny things.

After swearing blind that I would not set foot in the library once I had finished, I found myself back there just a few days after my last exam. I was filled with a perverse desire: I wanted to read for pleasure. During revision, I forgot that such a thing existed. In a revision state of mind, books are there to tell you things and nothing more. After three months of cramming history, it's nice to look at fiction and read something that definitely didn't happen for a change.

Finishing exams does not entail a life wholly of leisure, however. CVs have to be produced along with fawning cover letters. Scholarship applications have to be made and references sought. The diplomatic minefield of gently reminding your personal tutor that the deadline for his letter of recommendation is in 30 minutes has to be navigated.

It might sound diligent to be sending off applications so soon after finishing, but really it's an insurance policy. My predicted degree classification is good, but my actual results might not be. Applying for jobs and internships now is my last chance to trade on potential. Come results day on 23 June and this option disappears too. Better make the most of it while I can.

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