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Where do we go from here? A third year’s perspective

As graduation looms closer, Abi Ramsay reflects on a unique university experience and the future.

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Image Credit: Joshua Hoehne

As I am sure the third-years reading this can attest, for the last three years I have had the privilege of calling the city of York and the University campus a home away from home. From the Goodricke accommodation in first year to my residency in Tang Hall for the last two years, York has provided me with a home, albeit 193 miles away from my ‘other’ one. When I started University in September 2019 as a fresher, I knew that for the next three years I would alternate between York and Bristol, with a respective ten weeks and four weeks at each address. Now that I approach my upcoming graduation, it leaves the questions which I am sure every third year has been pondering: where do we go from here?

The naivety of my eighteen-year-old self prevails from that first paragraph. Although I was ready for the ten-week-stint at university, the four-hour train journey home, followed by a month of living out of my suitcase before I did it all again, I wasn’t quite ready for what first-year actually had to offer. Our first term was cut short by two weeks worth of staff strikes, the second term was peppered with worry about the emerging Covid-19, and finally, third term didn’t happen at all. Not quite the freshers experience any of us had planned.

The long Covid-19 summer meant that all the progress that had been made at University felt like a dream. Newly formed friendships moved to Zoom, teaching became optional, and the friends from sixth-form that I had said goodbye to a mere five months previously rekindled their strength as we figured out what exactly Boris was telling us we were allowed to do. Of course, we all managed to keep ourselves entertained whilst the lockdown continued, whether that be through baking, walking, TikTok dances, couch to 5K and WWII biopics (speaking from my own family’s experiences), but it did mean that, going into second year, I still felt like that scared fresher from the year before. Although I moved back to York for my second year, and did both the November and January lockdown with my housemates, the teaching was online, so it still felt as though I was detached from that ‘university' experience that had been advertised by so many before.

However, the experience was saved by the people I shared it with. Joining Nouse and actively increasing my involvement within the society meant friendships were still able to form, even if we weren’t allowed to meet. Although online classes were unprecedented, the tutor support and advice was invaluable, cementing and creating areas of English Literature that I was fascinated by. Tinder provided the university scandals, house karaoke became the new clubbing, and adopting exercise regimes was imperative if you wanted to meet with friends outside your social bubble.

This slightly mismatched second year, swiftly moved into a ‘normal’ third-year experience – although I am sure it is the first time since the University opened its doors in 1963 that third-year students have been just as clueless as to the whereabouts of their classrooms as the freshers. Clubs reopened, lectures and seminars went back to full capacity in person, and societies restarted in their full form. However, the uncertain times surrounding the last three years does mean that although graduation is looming, it doesn’t feel as though it is something that should be happening so soon.

And, it seems like graduation may not necessarily be ready for us. Recent graduate unemployment statistics show that it has risen from 5 percent in 2017 to 12 percent in 2020, with the rates from 2021 yet to be announced. The average age of the global working population has also changed since the early 2000s, with the number of 50 to 64 year-olds in employment increasing, whilst the number of 16 to 24 year-olds has decreased.

However, these statistics don’t specifically mean that young adults are struggling to get work, rather finding activities to do after graduation before getting a full-time job. Youth travel has become one of the fastest-growing segments of international tourism, with 40 percent of Gen Z saying they put aside money for world travelling, and 60 percent admitting to having travel FOMO when they see others their age exploring the world, according to a survey done by Klarna.

Recent university graduates have also used social media to become influential figures for different types of employment. Jack Edwards, who calls himself “youtube’s resident librarian” had been growing his online presence since 2016, releasing book reviews and other such videos on Youtube. In May 2020, he gained his English Literature degree from Durham University and since then has been opening up about his career journey, following a move to London and work in the publishing industry as a research assistant. His vocalisation about English Literature, and the possible paths a degree in English can pursue has influenced many young people, as well as showed the possibilities following graduation. He has also inspired travelling after your degree, in a recent solo move to Paris.

Grace Beverley, a 2019 graduate from the University of Oxford, has also used her social media account to highlight the possibilities of post-graduate success. After completing a Bachelor’sdegree in music at St. Peter’s College, Beverley hasgone on to create her own fitness brands TALA and Shreddy, earning millions by the age of 25. Of course, there is a fine line in these two cases at highlighting the possibilities of post-graduate success, and inciting existentialism into our third-year brains. Both Edwards and Beverley have come from privileged backgrounds, with Beverley herself saying in an interview with Steve Barlett for podcast The Diary of A CEO, “It is important to prefix this [being a successful businesswoman] with the fact that – yes I am a woman in business – I’m also white, able-bodied, privately educated, and I went to Oxford”.

However, although privileged, both instances show how after graduation, the world truly is our oyster. Edwards did English and now lives in France – Beverley studied music and now owns a fitness brand. And, although we find ourselves graduating from university into a world that has evolved in ways we couldn’t imagine three years ago, the experiences that are still to be made after graduation are exciting.

It is no longer common for a person to choose one career path when they leave university and to stick with it until retirement (unless of course, that degree is medicine or something similar). Now, the average person will have around 12 jobs between the ages of 18 to 50; a number which is probably much higher for a person’s entire lifetime. That makes the endless applications to jobs, grad schemes and master’s courses more palatable; even if you hate your first choice, you still have the ability to change your mind and find something more suitable.

Part of the reason life after graduation may seem so nerve-wracking is because it is the first time in our lives where we are not doing something as a collective. Since the start of education at age four, (or even younger if you went to nursery), we have had a cohort of people who have been in the same position as us; whether that be the transition to secondary school, GCSEs, A-Levels, or starting university. However, we have now reached the age where, when we ask the question “where do we go from here?”, there are an infinite different numberof answers and possibilities.

Some people may be staying in York, whilst others move back home with their parents. Some might be moving in with partners, whilst others live with housemates. Some have been offered training contracts, graduate jobs, or places on a master’s course, whilst others are going to take a break before planning their next steps. Friends may decide to travel the world for the next few months, or have a clear plan of how their future is going to pan out. All of the individual possibilities are what make graduation and the imminent future such a surreal experience.

Due to the different paths we will all be taking after we leave, it is understandable that there is a sense of loss surrounding graduation. It is the last time that everyone will be in York, and potentially the last time you go to Salvos, hear Jason Reilly’s ad-libs, and seem to recognise everyone in there. However, it is also an exciting period of our lives. Each New Year’s Eve up until this point, it has been easy to see where we will be with our education or job prospects by the end of the year. As I thought about this on December 31 2021, it was the first time there was a cloud of uncertainty surrounding where I would be on December 31 2022. It is very easy to say that our time at University wasn’t exactly how we planned it. But, it is also reassuring to look at influential figures like Beverley and Edwards to see that life hasn’t panned out the way they planned it either, and that we won’t know what success we are capable of until it happens.

Even though unemployment soars, travel opportunities increase, and many graduate jobs are providing more opportunities to work abroad as the working world becomes a product of globalisation. So, gaining a degree at York during a pandemic has certainly been unique, and even a valuable experience. University. You really can’t get an experience like it.

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