‘What are you planning on doing with your degree?’ is a dreaded question that all undergrads face, whether that be from family friends, your mates, relatives or, most dauntingly, your parents. Prior to coming to university, even I had the habit of asking students that very question. Until you yourself become a student, it’s hard to understand just how confrontational that question can be. If you’re thinking that it might be okay to ask a third year, don’t, they haven’t got a clue either.
Most people may reply with a nervous laugh and say, ‘I haven’t decided yet’, then swiftly change the conversation. I tend to have an answer prepared. As a Politics student, the Civil Service has always seemed like a sensible career choice – relatively secure, hungry for undergrad expertise, moral, with a healthy starting salary. Perfect. Unfortunately for me, when you’re Greek, any answer that isn’t accountancy or law is often met with a patronising look and an ‘oh’. Another example may be your grandmother distraughtly telling you that ‘no one likes politicians’ and that lawyers earn more money.
I’ve never particularly needed much motivation or guidance when it came to my career aspirations – I’ve always had a direction. As a [chubby] child, my dream was to become a pastry chef, this was followed by a moment of wanting to work in marketing in my early teens (despite not knowing exactly what that entailed) and since I was 15 I’ve wanted to work in the public sector. This passion for the public sector came at a time when I began to engage in local politics and social justice, and to this day I am adamant to find an employer that won’t compromise my ethics, even if it means making less money.
Of course, I understand that I am not normal. I am an overly-anxious person who craves direction, structure, and security. I also understand that there is a danger to this; by limiting my options I may be shutting myself off to additional avenues. Do I want to travel? Do I want to pursue further education? Could it be that I actually want to become an accountant or a lawyer? I honestly wouldn’t know.
As a mere second year, I haven’t quite had the need to commit to anything just yet. I am fortunate enough to be an associate of upReach, a charity which supports students from less-advantaged backgrounds to secure top graduate jobs. Through this, I have access to a range of partner employers from a range of different sectors, all of whom provide exclusive insight days and talks. There is also an upReach society at Exeter which brings the service to campus. If in doubt or need of some assurance, for us students there is also the Career Zone and loads of careers fairs, as well as those delightful websites such as ‘Rate My Placement’ and ‘Target Jobs’ to bombard you with hundreds of job listings…every single day.
As for the original question, maybe it’s okay to not know what you want to do with your life? There are many perfectly understandable reasons as to why a student doesn’t quite know what career they would like to pursue after graduating. Firstly, it’s an enormous decision and one that requires careful thought. Secondly, it’s common to become fatigued with your subject discipline during your degree, effectively placing the most obvious career options into question. Finally, why would you want to wish your time at university away? A lot of people (not including me) enjoy the spontaneity and excitement of ‘living in the moment’, and that’s completely normal.
All in all, if you have a clear idea of what you want to do with your life – that’s great, but don’t close yourself off to other options. If you don’t – that’s also fine, get as many freebees as you can from careers fairs. And if you want to put off the inevitable decision for as long as possible, there’s always a Masters!
– by Constantino Christou