It’s Christmas 2018 and I’m in the car, driving back to spend two weeks in my family home for the holidays. I have eight months until I graduate from my BA in philosophy, not a single job interview on the horizon and I am absolutely terrified.
I turn to my mum and say: “You know, a lot of my friends are thinking about doing postgrad courses.”
A short conversation, various scholarship applications and numerous part-time jobs later, I found myself moving to Cardiff to do a master’s in international journalism. When I paid thousands of pounds for the first tuition fee instalment, I still wasn’t sure if the course was what I really wanted to do.
Not knowing if you want to be there isn’t the ideal approach when stepping into a lecture theatre on your first day. But the feeling of disorientation that comes with finishing your undergraduate degree can be overwhelming. You’ve been strolling on the educational treadmill from primary school to the day you hand in your dissertation – you’ve always known where your feet are headed, and you’ve just got to keep walking.
Surely, staying on for another year can only be a good thing?
If completing higher education hadn’t been scary before, now might seem like the worst time to graduate from the safe cocoon of university life. With Covid-19, it’s unlikely we’ll be finding ourselves in Bali on a post-university gap year anytime soon, and many companies are fighting to stay afloat. The arms of postgraduate study, especially with some universities offering discounted fees for alumni, have never seemed so appealing.
But the truth is: after doing my master’s, I’m just as uncertain about the future as I was when standing in my graduation gown last July. The job market has managed to become even more petrifying than it was before and I am now fully aware that my MA is no guarantee of getting on that employment ladder.
Every tweet declaring “may just do a panic master’s” or similar makes me despair. Doing a master’s shouldn’t be to buy yourself more time to go out on random weekdays with nothing urgent to wake up for, nor is it a guarantee of your ideal job falling into your lap when you finish it (if you even know what that is). If you don’t genuinely want to do your course and what it leads to, you could find yourself back at square one with even more student debt and more zeroes on the end of that overdraft.
Much of my time doing postgraduate study was characterised by countless hours utilising the 24/7 accessibility of my university building, feelings of insecurity, and a newly developed dependency on caffeine. While I certainly had my fun and met some amazing people, most nights consisted of either finishing assignments or being too exhausted or too broke to socialise outside of my overpriced student accommodation. When I tell you that postgraduate education is not a breezy alternative to a job, nor is it an extension of your chilled undergrad lifestyle, I mean it.
I am not saying that postgraduate education is always a bad idea. It can be hugely fulfilling. Thankfully, nine months of intensive postgraduate education and practical training has solidified my career aspirations, rather than obliterated them. I would be lying if I said I didn’t consider dropping out during the first semester, but I was lucky that I ended up falling in love with the course and the career it leads to, despite the sleepless nights worrying about deadlines.
It was, however, a coin toss I shouldn’t have made – had I waited and decided upon doing it later, I know I would have done it for the right reasons. I wish someone had told me that not having an answer to the question, “What are you doing after university?” is fine. If you, like many of my peers, are simply scared of unemployment or ending up doing a job you don’t adore, spending thousands of pounds and considerable time and energy on postgraduate education is really not the answer.
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