Leaving university but don't know what to do with your life? You're not alone...


Alex Binley
Tuesday 06 May 2014 12:29 BST

May is potentially the best month of the year: summer stretches before you, there are two bank holidays, and five Saturdays this year.

If, however, you happen to be a student, May is awful. If you’re coming to the end of your degree, May is even worse than awful. In this one month (and potentially some of June) your life reaches a level of stress you never thought possible. While the rest of the world basks in the first days of summer you are shut away in your room or the library, pulling your hair out over exams/dissertations/assignments/deadlines. It's made even worse by the sheer panic that in a few short weeks the rest of your life lies ahead of you, and the only thing you have planned for the rest of your life is Christmas Day.

From GCSEs to A-levels and then degrees, the lives of students are mapped out in achievable goals and short time frames. But as the end of term looms large on the horizon, so too does the rest of their life which they assume should be mapped out.

“I’ve got the ‘what am I going to do with my life?’ feeling,” worries Jess Boyle, 21, who is weeks away from completing her degree at Queen Mary, University of London. “I have absolutely no plans for after university. I did a degree in Economics, but I really don’t want to go into anything economics related. I’m not sure what I want to do.”

If this echoes your position then the aptly named website What the fuck should I do with my life? may provide some inspiration.

The site poses answers to the user such as “you should join Yeshe De Buddhist community”, or more realistic options such as “you should make crafts”. Options to these statements are either “hell no!” or “okay!”. “Hell no!” will take you to the next suggestion, while opting for “okay!” will provide you with solid information on how to go about achieving your hare-brained new goal. In the case of the crafts suggestion, the user is linked through to Etsy, an online market-place for buying and selling crafts.

While the more bizarre suggestions (and they exist in abundance) make for light entertainment, some are genuinely helpful: “you should teach English abroad” is a route that many recent graduates take, for instance.

The website was created by Andrea Nakhla four years ago. Aged 21, she was debating whether or not to take the college place she had deferred after traveling to Mexico and then working for Invisible Children, a charity which aims to end the atrocities committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army in the Central African Republic, when she saw a Facebook post from a friend asking “any ideas on what I should do with my life?”.

Looking for somewhere to practice her graphic design skills, Nakhla decided to create the website, using the suggestions of friends as the options to chose from.

Based in Los Angeles, the website is an American creation. As a result many of the links lead to American websites, but with the help of Google, a British alternative is not hard to find.

Undoubtedly the careers advice offered by universities is more helpful to students - with talks on careers, information on jobs, interview preparation, and the chance to talk to careers advisors - than something on the lines of “you should be a body-snatcher”, which does at least come with a link to a Vice article about a man who is one.

However, university careers services are a provision that many students do not capitalise on. A recent survey by I-grad found that only 24 per cent of students used the careers service at their university.

“It’s up to the students to take the initiative, but the majority only start thinking about careers as their degrees are coming to an end, at the same time as they’re worrying about their final exams,” explains William Stadlen, managing director at Holland Park Tuition, a private tuition company which offers careers advice to graduates. It is this sudden realisation of having left careers planning too late, he explains, that leaves many soon to be graduates wondering about their next steps.

As informative as the site is, it is unlikely to replace careers advisers at universities, or be taken seriously by the majority. “I found the ideas interesting, particularly the one about moving back home with your parents,” said Edd Webster, 22, a second-year chemistry student. “But in all seriousness I’d rather make my own decisions than have a website come up with them for me, particularly when they’re potentially life-changing.”

However, Nakhla says that she has received hundreds of emails from fans of the website, people who really have answered “okay!” wholeheartedly to some of the suggestions.

“I've submitted an application to the Peace Corps, I've signed up for couch surfing, and my best friend and I are leaving for Slab City at the end of the month. Thank you for showing me that there are things to do, and somehow you've inspired me,” says one user.

But for the graduates who know exactly what they want to do with their lives the website provides another useful function and student favourite: procrastination.

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