As a fourth year student, set to graduate in June, I am thrilled that my life will no longer be plagued by essays, exams or perhaps worst of all, The Dissertation. However, despite the jubilant sense of freedom my friends and I experienced upon completing our exams and throwing off the shackles of never-ending study, there remains an overriding sense of anxiety bubbling away under the surface.
The stress of essays and exams has now been replaced with the anxiety of competing in the graduate job market. How foolish we were to think the hard work was almost over when in fact it has only just begun. I recently had to comfort a friend who after a string of job interviews found herself no closer to graduate employment than when she had first started looking. She threw her net out far and wide, casting for schemes ranging from Glasgow down to London, yet pulled in a very poor catch; a mere handful of interviews and subsequent rejections. Perhaps unsurprisingly she is feeling rather deflated.
I myself have applied mostly for internships, and only two graduate jobs – one of which I’ve already been rejected for. I have also had a rejection from a low paid summer internship after reaching the shortlist stage. I have managed to secure a few work placements over the summer but am still awaiting the replies from my other applications. I remain optimistic yet at times I do fall prey to the gloomy feelings of inadequacy that come with every fresh rejection.
According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, there were 1,747,855 undergraduates in 2014/2015. This is compared to 1,541,225 in 2001. Tony Blair’s target of sending 50% of all young people to university, something which has largely been achieved with 49.3% of young people entering higher education in 2013, has arguably driven down standards and devalued degrees. Indeed, in 2013 the top UK universities were 70% more likely to give places to applicants with lower grades than in previous years.
This oversaturation in the number of graduates has resulted in an overly competitive job market. Often graduates have to endure numerous layers of assessment simply to secure low-paid (if not entirely unpaid) internships, never-mind the rigid competition that exists for full-time employment. Figures released by the Department for Education show that annual unemployment rates for young graduates rose from 4.1% in 2007 to 4.6% in 2016. Whilst such an increase may seem insignificant in statistical terms, for graduates this increase is tangible when jousting in the job market.
The boxing ring of graduate employment is daunting and the prospect of a career and job satisfaction seems a far off dream; however I do know other friends who have already secured graduate jobs. Like me, these friends will be moving to The Big Smoke, where most of the vacancies can be found. The pressure to secure well-paid graduate employment probably feels more pressing due to our imminent departure from university and indeed the likelihood is that we will find our proper place in the workforce; after all 87.3% of graduates are employed. Yet, I think graduates still have a right to feel slightly miffed when after completing 13 years of school and then 4 years (or more) of university they still have to jump through numerous hoops just to secure low paid, sometimes temporary employment.
On a brighter note, my friend with the string of interviews now has another interview so perhaps employment lies just round the corner. Opportunities are there to be found if one perseveres and rakes through the list of graduate schemes and job vacancies found across the country. We graduates will continue to soldier on, despite our anxieties and considerable student debt, and will no doubt find the right job for us – although with half of all young people now entering higher education we will undoubtedly have to fend off greater competition than the generation before.
Written by: Georgia McShane