…is to think about it. Scott Bryan learned the hard way that societies and activities during higher education don’t necessarily make you employable: but work experience and internships do. And the sooner you start thinking about your career, the better.
Got your results? Tick. Decided what student halls you’ll spend a year of your life in purely because of what people you have never met have said about it on Facebook or Twitter? Tick. Applied for student finance without a care in the world (consisting of signing a financial document that involves a loan or a big number like £10,000,000,000,000,000), when usually you get angry because you were overcharged by about 67p because they didn’t account for the 3-2 offer on apricots in Morrisons? Tick.
With uni only week away you’ve also probably read those ‘student guides’ in those newspapers at great length haven’t you? You know, the ones that were released on A Level Results Day. Articles consisting of journalists reminiscing and bringing up stereotypical references to how those first few weeks at University will be “a complete and alcoholic blur but something that you will never forget”. Right next to ‘quick student’ recipes to convince you that you can still eat five types of vegetables a day for 25p a day and you won’t die, recipes that you will either cut and out and keep in good faith but you will soon lose, or will use once for dinner costing you £34.51 for absolutely no reason whatsoever.
(Speaking of recipes, you know that Jamie’s 15 Minute Meals that your mother gave you to take with you to Uni? It does take about 15 minutes to cook those meals, but it will take you about 45 minutes to source all of the ingredients at the supermarket).
The older you get, the more you realise that these student guides are essentially the same, year-in year-out. Student finance “isn’t it expensive?” here’s how to make friends “oh my it was an alcoholic blur” here’s some student fashion that you will never be able to afford “Why not save money and live with your parents?” But there’s one thing that I feel these guides tend to leave out. No, it isn’t a guide to when you can ring your bank and ask for an extension to your student overdraft. No it’s a big thing, a lesson that I’ve learnt the hard way – and it has nothing to do with finance, food, or having a part time job. The lesson is this:
From the moment that you start university, you need to work towards what you’ll be doing afterwards
Now this is boring advice, isn’t it? After all, those years when you’re getting your degree are supposed to open the door of experimentation, where you try everything, supposedly sleep with everything, and hope that life will be like Skins (when it was good) apart from the bits where everyone’s depressed or dies. You’ll get round to sorting out your next steps once you’re in third year, crying into your books at the library, doing all nighters and throwing yourself at someone during Prom because fuck it you’ll never see them again. You’ve got three years and a degree to get through. Why do you already need to think about what will happen next?
When I started at University, I joined the student newspaper. I then became infatuated with the student radio station, so I joined the station, had a show, turned up at meetings where each week somebody takes minutes, three people argue and you get to be all business-y and shout “ANY OTHER BUSINESS?” afterwards. I then, loving student media to bits, decided to join another student newspaper, this time a newspaper website, and attended all of their meetings and started to write contributions all over their website.
After that, I decided to join a political group and join their committee and attend all of those meetings. I then quit that and joined another political group that was more or less the same as the other one but you got to wear purple t-shirts at summer events. I wanted to have all of those fancy titles underneath my name. I wanted to go to every single social that they ever held. And most of all, I wanted to do as much as I could, thinking that all of this experience would look flashy on my CV. “Doing six societies full-on must be much better than one” I thought.
But did I apply for any internships while I was at university? No. Did I apply for any graduate schemes whilst I was at university? No. Did I do any work experience during the summer holidays? Nope. Did I have any idea about whether I wanted to go into radio, or newspapers, or publishing, or politics until I moved back in with my parents three years later? I did not.
I assumed that my life would all be served up on a platter, that all I needed to do was splash the fancy titles and responsibilities I had on a CV along with my degree and that would be that. I was wrong. For you see, recruiters didn’t really care. Even though the society I had joined was award-winning, even though the radio station and the newspapers had industry recognition, even though I had a good degree, even though I went to a million, billion meetings, it was small fry against another criterion that they were looking for… work experience.
So what happened? I wasted a year, doing all the work experience that I should have done during the summers that I had off; a year commuting from my parents’ house to London in various National Express coaches just to be on the same level as other graduates. I swear I spent the whole of the autumn of 2010 and spring of 2011 stuck on a coach somewhere stuck halfway up the M27. I mean, don’t get me wrong… these societies were great fun, and I made great mates. But I could actually be a lot further on in my career right now if I’d done a little bit less and strategised a little bit more.
Of course, you might not want to be involved in societies at all, or be sane enough to only do one, so I will leave you with my other biggest regret from those years. I just wish I’d known that… diluting crap white wine with squash makes it taste a lot better and is a lot cheaper than forking out for posher wine. I wasted £££££££££
Want more advice about going to uni? We’ve got it – all organised on this lovely “University” tag page for you. And you might like Scott’s other brilliant articles: