When I was 17 and beginning to apply to university, I was sure I was doing the right thing. Seven years later, I am not so sure it was the right thing after all.
I was sold on the idea that university was the “right thing” to do. It was certainly a way out from the place I grew up and I am glad that I went to university for that. However, after graduating with respectable degree from a good university, I have become more disheartened and the feelings of inadequacy have only grown since graduating.
What I was only aware of on the periphery whilst studying was that whilst I had done well at school (I wasn’t the top student by any stretch, but I did reasonably well; and I consider myself to be reasonably intelligent) I felt as though I had got into university by a fluke. I constantly felt I wasn’t really clever enough to be there. Now that may have come down to the fact I did what the majority of students do when they are away from home for the first time: put the majority of my energies into partying and having a good time rather than actually doing my course work or course reading.
However, come second year I had something of a realisation that I should probably start taking the work more seriously (and second year counted towards my final degree which also gave me a small push in the right direction). My third year, well, that came as a shock. On the one hand I went off to America to study for a year and although I found the work and environment much more easy going than at university in the UK, the people I was there with… well, they were the smartest group of people I have ever been around. And they were all so hard working to boot. Here I was floating along doing the work I had to in order to get by (read: not get kicked out) whilst living amongst people who were working towards jobs in the Capitol, law school, an amazing internship, or if not being certain where they were going next, at least having the brains and can do spirit for it not to matter too much. (I don’t feel too bad about not having the can do spirit as it’s not terribly British.) So on to my fourth year; head in the books, days in the library and a large proportion of my time spent actually reading the course material and writing essays, as well as actually participating in lectures and seminars (probably becoming one of those people I found really annoying in my first and second year – always with something to say). I got my degree by the skin of my teeth, and realised had I applied myself to my studies in my first, second, and maybe my third year, I might have done a bit better. I still feel a bit as though I got lucky with my degree though.
So, out I went into the “real” world to look for work. And I end up in a call centre. So if I felt any feelings of inadequacy whilst at university (when I was doing something I wanted to do, and felt I should be doing), it was nothing compared to a downhill slide that came after graduation. I do not use any of the skills I learnt during my four years at university and I spend my days talking to people who believe everything should be handed to them and the situation they now find themselves in is, inevitably, everyone else’s fault. Usually mine.
Having applied for roughly 80 jobs between periods of employment (at most I have been unemployed for about 2 months since leaving university, and I know this is a small amount of time comparatively, but my good work ethic, good grades at GCSE and A Level, and my degree as well as work experience in various sectors still haven’t got me as far as they might have done, say 10-15 years ago.
So whilst my parents generation, who let’s be honest were able to walk into jobs whether they entered work after leaving school or university (which was free for them, by the way), are now in the position of the employer they have a plethora graduates applying for jobs with them. There are more qualified (and over qualified) people fighting for the few jobs that match up to their academic skills, and employers have their pick. I can’t help but feel they are demanding more and more from my generation because they can. As we know, this leads to unpaid internships (which FYI, are largely illegal) which most cannot afford, or do not have the connections to get onto.
Now I know I am lucky; I have a stable job that pays the bills and keeps me feed and warm. But I still feel as though I have failed, and all the work I did do over four years at university was a waste of time. I could have been doing this job without having gone to university and spent all that time and money.
Of all the people I know my age I can count on one hand the number of people who are doing what they wanted to do all along, or at least are on the right path. I suspect taking a leaf from their book might be the answer; do something that will narrow your focus on one career path.
So, like glutton for punishment I am actually thinking about going back to university to do a Masters. Let the second wave of disappointment and realising my short comings commence!