Students are the masters of procrastination. There's always something more interesting than work. As a deadline nears, vacuuming the house and cleaning the windows suddenly begin to appeal. They can be an ergophobic bunch, but there is one force that compels even expert procrastinators to work: The Fear.
The Fear is the realisation that you have left your work too late and that, unless you start actually doing something, you will fail. Panic sets in, but work begins to get done. The Fear fuels bouts of revision and all-night essay-writing sessions better than any espresso or Red Bull. Once the deadline passes, The Fear leaves and university life returns to normal. Students can get on with the important bit of university – joining a lot of societies to give the inevitable 2.1s on their CVs some sheen.
In the third year, however, The Fear does not leave. When I handed in my final coursework after Christmas, there was no relief. Instead, there was panic. I realised I had just 16 weeks of student life left; only 12 weeks until my first exam and a mere eight weeks until my dissertation was due. It seems The Fear is here to stay. In fact, it's spreading.
With just four months between the real world and me, my thoughts are turning towards jobs, or rather the lack of them. Suddenly, The Fear is telling me that I should have done more internships, or at least picked up some extra brochures at the careers fair. Last year, friends graduating with vocational degrees in things like ICT walked into jobs, even in the recession. Friends without such degrees – like me – struggled. I might fail the final and most important test of university: getting a graduate job.
It's not just the jobs market causing The Fear. There are other traumatic parts of graduation. Leaving university means the end of cheap cinema tickets and discounted bus journeys. It's full price from now on. The end of my degree also means paying council tax, which causes a slightly bigger dent in finances. Students live in a bubble where they are given special treatment. When they graduate they are just another 20-something member of the public – and probably one without a job.
The thought of the real world and the inhospitable economic climate has caused many soon-to-be graduates to become soon-to-be postgraduates. Scurrying back into the student bubble is seen as the easy option. While jobs might be hard to come by, universities are more than happy to take your cash in exchange for a shelter from reality and a few extra letters after your name. But even this choice is harder than it appears. You do an MA to improve your career trajectory – but what if you don't know which career to choose?
The Fear is justified. First years get it when they haven't prepared for an exam; third years get it when they haven't prepared for life.
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