Graduating after covid: time for a pause
Print Comment Editor Kate Hall reflects on how COVID-19 has impacted our university experience and what it means for those graduating this year.
The Class of 2022 will be remembered in years to come as one which faced challenges at every corner. The few months of first year that we had were marred by strikes, second year was reduced to sitting alone in a room at a desk thanks to our good friend COVID-19, and third year for many has felt like a strange adjustment period rather than an approach to the finish line.
Personally, graduating is not igniting the feelings of excitement it probably should, and I know many feel the same. Seeing first years now, as things begin to look somewhat normal again, it’s hard not to feel envious of what’s ahead of them — a chance at a normal degree.
But we don’t have time machines, and as they say hindsight is a fine thing. The bumpy road we travelled to get here is merely a testament to the resilience of this cohort, and we should be proud of ourselves. That said, having accepted this fact many can’t help but feel a sense of dread about going out into the world either. Crisis seems to be a word in dangerously frequent use; the cost of living is at an all-time-high and the graduate employment market often seems more a case of ‘who you know’ rather than ‘what you know’.
The bumpy road we travelled to get here is merely a testament to the resilience of this cohort
A report in July 2021 by AGCAS and the University of Southampton found that “most graduates have been made to think differently about their future (79.4 per cent), have become less confident about their future employment prospects (72.6 per cent), and faced greater challenges finding employment than they expected (71.9 per cent)”. Statistics such as these are certainly not motivating, however perhaps it is worth asking the question: is it valuable to ‘think differently’ about our futures? Despite still working remotely throughout, many referred to the pandemic as a moment of pause. Though an undoubtedly difficult time, the lack of distractions certainly made many of us sit and meditate upon the present. I think it’s imperative that, as the world reverts to its mad-rush state constantly focused on where we’re heading, we also take time to consider where we are and what we think now.
While some are all set to enter their careers with postgraduate plans in place, there are some of us who are not yet sure where we’re going. Personally, I plan to take a year out working a waitressing job for a few months in order to save up some money to fund the typical ‘gap yah’ trip to southeast Asia. Cliché though it may be, my hope is that during this time I can do some serious reflection and process the last few years in order to position myself better to embark upon finding my place in the world. I’ve seen the world filtered through a screen for far too long and it’s taking its toll. I feel, especially given how I feel the last three years have aged me, it’s now or never in terms of going to see the world for myself.
Seeing first years now, it’s hard not to feel envious of what’s ahead of them — a chance at a normal degree
I have to acknowledge that the position I am in to take this route is easier for me than others. Though I plan to fund the trip independently, while saving I will be living with my parents rent-free, a huge privilege I know many do not have. Yet, I truly believe it will leave me more enriched and cost less than a ‘panic masters’, a route many in my position have opted for without a clear idea of what will come afterwards. Fees and funding for postgraduate routes are far more restrictive, with no distinct maintenance loan available for living costs during study. Weighing up the costs as I write this article, I certainly stand by my decision to travel over doing a masters. I intend to over-budget for my trip, yet it’s looking as though it will still cost under half of the price of postgraduate tuition fees alone.
As is often ironically said, the only thing clear about the world is that it is one of mutability. Change is rapid and frequent, and for that reason we must be open-minded and ready for our lives to take unexpected turns. We’ve collectively experienced this throughout our degrees and must take what we’ve learned out into the world. Above all, we should not give into pressures and find ourselves rushing into a career, only to find down the line it’s a bad fit. Though I know it’s not suitable for some, I for one will be looking forward to taking some time to pause before joining the rat race.