University consists of sex, drunken nakedness and wasted seminars. Sometimes, you learn things. Sometimes, you learn how to look like you’re learning things. You spend three years of your life in further education knowing how much you hated the previous fourteen years of schooling – tears, tantrums and thoughts of setting the labs on fire with that trusty old Bunsen burner. However, you go to university knowing it will all be different. There’s freedom everywhere. It’s dancing around in the air and seeping into your nostrils. It’s sat in your lungs as you breathe in and out the rules and rule breaking of living at home with your parents. You’re told university is the start of an amazingly successful career that will put you alongside Richard Branson and his England-sized jumbo jets. With this definite fact that will definitely happen no matter what, you live your adolescent life wondering what job will be waiting like gold at the end of a non-existent graduate rainbow. It’s best that I shatter that illusion with a Miley Cyrus-licking sledgehammer now rather than allow you all to wait until graduation day where a piece of paper offers you nothing but dismissal.
For a lot of people, you’re sort of pushed into going to university whether you want to or not. You don’t even stop to think about it or ponder anything else; university will be ‘the best days of your life’. This is a line we’ve been told since we were four years old, clasping a book bag in one hand and fiddling with three fallen teeth in the other – ‘school will be the best days of your life’ and now university has supposedly overtaken those best days and provided us with even better days. I can’t help but feel we’ve all been blanketed by a barrage of lies that is now suffocating us as we wallow in self-pity over the lack of job opportunities.
University definitely starts as one of those amazing experiences that you think is incomparable to anything other than multiple orgasms. You believe that the fact you can cook repulsively strong smelling boiled eggs at three thirty on a Monday morning is the epitome of perfection. You believe that bunking lectures whenever you choose an Eastenders omnibus over a Poetry morning is the start of a rebellion that will fundamentally change the world as we know it. Your beliefs are short-lived.
In my first Creative Writing lecture, I got out my fresh notebooks and Parker pen and stared at the lecturer with beady eyes. In hindsight, we looked like a batch of farm hens waiting to be confined to years and years of constant pressure to produce goodness. But for that one moment, we sat with an abundance of optimism; brimming inside like a pubescent, hormonal mess.
My lecturer began by introducing herself; a pleasant formality that kept me calm and awaiting her next words. What followed was unexpected; a crisp, honest, brutal admission that I should have listened to rather more closely – ‘The Creative Writing course will help you with your writing but offer you nothing more than that. This course will offer you zero jobs.’ Thank you for finally unwrapping that cotton wool.
After three years of giving up a few times, vowing to quit other times and eventually doing everything I was told and then some, I completed the course. There was a short wait until the results were released and finally I knew my gold was waiting somewhere and I only had to find it.
Graduation followed with the rules of no hat throwing and no alcohol; it was as exciting as hovering in a public toilet to find there’s no tissue roll left. I found the whole experience vomit-inducing although the quiet, underlying feeling of success seemed to settle my dishevelled stomach. When you graduate, you have sober beer goggles. They work the same as beer goggles that find you grinding on a balding Asian man in Yates but you’re sober and quite frankly, just stupid. You see the world from a graduate point of view; endless money, endless opportunity, endless everything because you have five letters after your name – the elusive BA Hons.
As time slowly starts to pass, you realise that eight episodes of Come Dine with me doesn’t quite constitute a well-paying job regardless of how many CV’s you’ve sent out. You start to understand how awful it would really be to become one of those middle-aged people wearing denim on denim that sit in the audience of Loose Women as opposed to at an office desk with a deadline.
After you pick up more hours at your current retail job, clock-watching and talking to inanimate objects like broken hangers and tills that refuse to open; you wonder what the point was. Three years of your life seemingly wasted when you could have been earning for your future or gaining that much-respected ‘experience’ that companies drone on about as though it’s as wonderful as Viagra. No matter how you decorate your CV with endless ‘graduate talk’, nothing works. No one cares that you spent twenty one hours straight putting together a portfolio of writing only to spill your coffee over it mid-consciousness. No one cares that you’re in twenty thousand plus worth of debt and a bank balance that screams through the cashpoint at you with three zeros. I sometimes wonder if it would be easier to write an honest covering letter telling ‘future employers’ that I’m struggling with rent bills in an over-priced studio flat in Shepherd’s Bush because it was the only place I found with a flushing toilet and distinct lack of damp. But somehow that takes away that graduate dream we all once shared; that luminous beacon of light that we somehow thought we were following.
The truth is you get a degree so that you don’t have to do a job that everyone can do; you get a degree to become more than the ‘average’. Companies write that the candidate needs experience but I ask you what is more relevant than life experience? After all, experience is the result of time and opportunity but a degree is the definition of skill and dedication.
Six months has passed since I graduated with my fellow writers and I can give you a crisp, honest, brutal admission now; not one of us has a graduate job. This isn’t through laziness or lack of trying; this is the state of England’s job market and small mindedness. The only thing that we can all hope for (undergraduates and graduates alike) is change. Let that be the beacon of light for you to follow.