Comment Writer Will Taylor talks about his experience with end-of-degree dread, the overwhelming fear students feel as they approach graduation
Staring blankly out of a bedroom window at Old Joe, fingers poised limply atop a laptop-keyboard; countless students will have been in my position. Many will understand immediately what I mean by end-of-degree dread – that is, the constant and unmitigated anxiety at the thought of finishing university. Regardless of personal reasoning, be it a sentimental, social, or financial issue, it seems that the majority of students feel panicked at the prospect of graduating. Having spent years in education, arguably equipping us with more knowledge than we have ever had before, why is it that students are left feeling so uneasy?
Humans are creatures of habit. I would go so far as to say that most people, whether they acknowledge it or not, live life in a fairly routine way, rarely deviating very far from their personal norm. The fact that we spend such time and energy establishing these routines means it is only natural that big changes would cause a stir. In many cases, the life of a student will completely change once they finish their degree. Days spent in lectures, seminars or labs, living with friends and peers, will be swapped for ones at work or at home, often with the added precariousness of job uncertainty or less-than-ideal family situations.
Not long ago, a friend of mine gave me John Fowles’ novel The Magus. Before the end of the second chapter, I found myself confronted with a caricature of the recent grad: drifting without aim, the protagonist comes up against the harsh reality of life outside an institution, unable to form a clear idea of what he should do next. With any luck, Fowles’ post-university blues will remain as fiction, but a small part of this, namely the protagonist’s displeasure at ‘endless pale grey lists of endless pale-grey jobs,’ rings disturbingly true.
The matter of work is as always a pressing one, and certainly not to be made light of. Of course many students have worked throughout their studies, but the pressure to find one’s niche or to start a career can be crushing for some. Even with UK job vacancies at a 20-year high, graduate unemployment continues to rise, reaching levels not seen since the post-financial crisis austerity. It goes without saying that the situation may be entirely different for international students returning to countless other countries with entirely distinct job markets. This race to find work can be particularly pressing for those doing the less-vocational arts and humanities courses, as it can be difficult to pinpoint a natural route to take after university. On the other end of the spectrum, others may find themselves with a perfectly-specialised degree they want absolutely nothing to do with. It is safe to say that the prospect of finding work is a daunting one and faced with these types of issues, lots of graduates will find themselves shoehorned into unfulfilling work out of necessity. Gone will be the days of a hefty bank transfer each term from Student Finance England, soon to be replaced by national insurance deductions and student loan repayment.
Another possible issue is that of difficult, unsupportive, or even abusive families or social environments post-study. For some, university provides a welcome anonymity and the freedom to be oneself, for example, among members of the LGBTQIA+ and particularly the trans community. It is easy to imagine that faced with the possibility of returning home long-term, the expression of an identity formed among like-minded people can prove anywhere from uncomfortable to unsafe for certain individuals.
Practicalities aside, some may experience this dread in a more emotional, abstract sense. Some may be caught up in sentimentalities, presenting themselves with questions they will likely never be able to answer: Where did the last three years go? Did I make the most of this experience? These are concerns that remain relevant even outside the context of the pandemic, something which has only exacerbated the challenges we face, completely overhauling how we learn, socialise and network.
Regardless of how we feel, it seems clear to me that all we can be expected to do is reflect constructively, although admittedly this is easier said than done. We are well within our rights to worry about the future – after all, these are uncertain and anxiety-inducing times – however, the future will soon be the present. Until then, I will be hanging on for dear life, trusting in a largely unfounded belief that everything will be okay in the end. For those who remain hitherto unconvinced, perhaps a panic masters is the answer.
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