Thinking Beyond University
Summer has come round again and for me it’s that strange spell between my second and third (final!) year at Warwick. It only seems a minute since I was a fresher – and now I’ve got to start thinking about life after university – where do I see myself, what do I want to do – these are all questions which thankfully don’t need answers just yet, but which will inevitably remain at the back of my mind over the coming months.
Graduation may be a year away (!!) but many opportunities, be they for jobs or further study, require research/application much earlier than that. It’s certainly a daunting prospect – as it is for all university students. Setting out on a 3 (or 4 year) course seems like a long time at the outset, but before you know it, everything has flown by and you’re onto the homeward stretch! It seems stressful to have to balance the pressures of 3rd year with the ‘afterwards’ of university hurtling towards you: stepping into the scary old world.
I think it’s important not to worry too much about what comes next at this point, though this is easier said than done. From what I can gather through speaking to others, it is completely normal to feel unsure and even a little overwhelmed at the prospect of having to make decisions about ‘what next’ after university. This summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about my future and the different options open to me, so have outlined a few of the avenues available below…
Progressing to MA level is a popular choice for many. It can be a chance to delve deeper into your area and develop more specialist skills/knowledge, or alternatively branch out and sidestep into a completely different area, broadening horizons (and therefore possibly employability). It’s worth considering however, that although many institutions have bursaries and scholarships, further education often comes with a financial commitment; and more debt to pay off in the future. Because of this, you need to make sure you are absolutely passionate about your subject of choice. Ask yourself why an MA is right for you and what opportunities it could open up; do you wish to pursue the subject for its own sake, or for specific reasons related to career progression. Would you be interested in progressing to PhD level in the future, for example?
With an undergraduate academic degree soon to be under your belt, if you have clear ideas about what you’d like to move on to, applying for specific training programmes can be a good next step. These can be related or unrelated to your current area. For example, you can move on to legal training and pursue a Law conversion course from pretty much any subject (from Maths to Theatre!). Whilst this isn’t something which interests me personally, it’s a really excellent example of how you can take any number of paths from your first degree. My own plan at the moment is to audition for performing arts conservatoires and train in professional musical theatre or singing. It’s quite a popular choice to pursue this via the postgrad route, albeit a competitive path! I’ve been doing as much as I can this summer to start researching courses and audition requirements, as these can be quite specific to each institution. I think this applies to pretty much anything you might be looking into or applying for: it never hurts to be as clued up as you can; find out what they’re looking for and whether it’s right for you. For any further study or training, find out whether universities or conservatoires have postgraduate open events, as these may be useful to attend.
For many students, especially the many who came to uni fresh from A-Levels, they understandably feel like they need a bit of a break and a step back from everything. It’s normal to be burned out and sometimes taking a year out can be the best choice. It can be an exciting opportunity to travel, whilst getting some much needed headspace to work out exactly where you want to take yourself next. Sometimes a gap year can even just be a chance to get a job unrelated to your degree, such as in retail or hospitality and save money for further study/training. Having taken 2 years out prior to coming to Warwick, I cannot recommend taking a gap year enough, and wouldn’t change my experiences for the world. However, for the sake of balance I would also suggest that gap years aren’t suited to everyone, and that this isn’t a decision to be taken lightly. For some disciplines or work areas, it’s not desirable to step away for too long, and many opportunities come up for graduates fresh from uni! If you do decide to have a gap year, make sure you have a clear plan for what you wish to achieve during that year, so as to make the most of it. With the right mindset and approach, a gap year can be a hugely enriching, transformative experience and give you the assurance that you’ve properly thought through what you’d like to do next.
The other option is to dive straight into the workplace! Many, many students do exactly this. Although I am hoping to move on to an MA/further training, I will also be researching graduate jobs related to my area (drama & theatre) over the coming months. There’s no harm in taking a look at what’s on offer out there – and you never know, you may discover the perfect opportunity for you, without the need for further study!
Good luck – and remember, no matter the sense of panic that may ensue all around you during your final year, don’t feel as if you should have your whole life mapped out. Don’t feel like you should have a ‘master plan’ or know precisely what you want to do. You may wish to pursue all or none of the above options (I’ve almost certainly missed some out!) but with time, you’ll definitely get there, so don’t feel rushed, and, above all, don’t let anything distract from you enjoying your final months at university. Because, whether you go on to more study, or not, there’s nothing quite like the undergrad years!