The panic master’s phenomenon
Rebecca Bowsher looks into the panic master’s phenomenon and why students might be deciding to extend their studies.
The end of a degree brings with it the stress of friends and family asking, “so, what do you want to do now?”. It is expected that students will have a full understanding of where they want to be in a years’ time and what career they will have. This is partly why some students facing the end of their undergraduate degree want to prolong their time at university.
A master’s degree is typically advertised as an option for further study which will enhance academic learning and potentially set a student on the right course for doctoral study. However, a large number of students might be using a master’s degree to forget about the pressures that adult life will bring while enjoying the stability of university; a panic master’s is where students choose to do a master’s degree and have another year at university as they aren’t sure what to do with their future.
However, a large number of students might be using a master’s degree to forget about the pressures that adult life will bring while enjoying the stability of university
Certainly, the pressure to progress on to a graduate job that seems worthy of your peers’ admiration can be terrifying, especially in a world that is currently dominated by Covid-19. According to The Guardian, Covid-19 has led to a spike in master’s applications over the past year which adds to an existing 600,000 postgraduate students in the UK. This is not surprising with the added problems associated with Brexit and the financial difficulties associated with Covid-19. Student website The Student Room has suggested that a similar spike in students taking up master’s courses occurred in 2008 after the financial crash with master’s applications rising by 4.4% in the UK. This was partly due to the fact that the job market had a drop of 12% in the number of jobs for new graduates, according to a study by the ISE as told by The Guardian. Students in the past year have obviously anticipated that breaking into the current job market would be extremely difficult.
Attempting to gain a job after graduation is extremely stressful and tiring without the added stress of a global pandemic. Students can be applying for 20 jobs a week and not receive a single response. A friendly face is rarely offered in an interview. Instead, applicants are subject to screening by AI in video interviews where they talk to a blank screen, or they are forced to engage in lengthy online tests. These can be as simple as a questionnaire but often the tests are a test of patience rather than intellect or job suitability. These can involve memory tests by clicking coloured numbered circles or even popping coloured water balloons with a computer mouse. The graduate job market can be a frustrating place so it is inevitable that students will try to prolong staying in education.
In addition, at top universities there is often pressure from peers to have a desirable career lined up. Competition between peers over internships at prestigious companies, and even trivial matters like LinkedIn profiles, are often what is damaging to the self-esteem of students, which would impact their readiness for the graduate world.
University also provides security which is not present in the outside world as an adult. University is a bubble where students can experience the pleasures of adulthood such as social drinking with friends without the boring aspects of adult life like taxes. At university it is perfectly acceptable to forget to do your laundry and feed yourself nutritious meals — the messiness of university is how we grow as people and learn to take care of ourselves. Covid-19 took away the ability for students to learn the basic skills of adulthood.
Another reason why the panic master’s is not to be frowned upon is mental health. Students have missed out on the experiences of university such as clubbing, sport and forming friendships due to Covid-19. It is natural that students would feel like they want to make up for this with a panic master’s as Covid-19 has left people feeling lonely and frustrated with their university experience.
Government reports from the UK Household Longitudinal Study found that during each lockdown psychological distress on adults aged eighteen and over increased. The figures in 2019 worryingly stated that 20.8% of adults reported poor mental health and this rose to 29.5% in April 2020. This decreased in September 2020 to 21.3% but then sharply rose again in January 2021 to 27.1%. Clearly, lockdown had an adverse effect on mental health. Therefore, it is not surprising that young people, including students, are wanting to engage in social activities now that Covid-19 restrictions have been lifted.
However, judgement should not be passed on those students who have undertaken a panic master’s as students deserve to choose how they enrich themselves and their own future
A panic master’s degree might seem counterproductive to facing the trials and tribulations of adulthood as some would argue that the problems of being an adult need to be met head on. However, judgement should not be passed on those students who have undertaken a panic master’s as students deserve to choose how they enrich themselves and their own future. If anything, it gives students more time to think about what career would suit them and how they can best offer their talents to the outside world.