By Guest Blogger, Emily Brown
I am currently gazing out from the summit of a four-year-long university degree. The view is pretty incredible: opportunities sprawling out as far as the eye can see, as numerous as trees in a forest. But I’ll be honest; I’m getting a little vertigo. It feels like I’m at the edge of a precipice, preparing for a leap into an abyss of job applications – and worse, rejections – with little hope of a soft landing.
As with vertigo, I’m beginning to realise that the trick at this juncture is not to look down. Instead, start by looking back the way you have come. My time at university has been intense, challenging, and stressful, but ultimately the most rewarding experience of my life so far. I’ve reached a number of peaks throughout my climb, and funnily enough, few of them have much relevance to the degree. One of the best things about university is the amount of time you can spend doing other activities.
The first peak on Mount University is the social life. The first years bring one social event after another, but in every room the atmosphere is tinged with a slightly frantic urgency to meet new people, make new friends, and find new flatmates. It feels like you’re on a slope, constantly grappling to keep hold of old friendships and new, all the while struggling across slippery patches of social awkwardness. But once you reach the top of this first peak, and settle in with a solid group of friends, you realise that being approachable, friendly, and inquisitive toward a wide range of people is actually an invaluable skill. This is how you make contacts, find out about opportunities, and develop rewarding professional relationships.
The second peak of university life is sampling and committing to the huge variety of experiences offered by clubs and societies. As a member of a university society (or societies!), you get to take advantage of resources and opportunities which are often unaffordable or out of reach for non-students. You can try new sports, indulge hobbies like film, photography, and literature, learn new languages, and promote your political interests. You can pursue leadership roles on committees, and be involved in shaping the experiences of your fellow students.
But what is undoubtedly a blessing can also be a curse. It’s easy to find yourself overcommitted, and more than anything my involvement with committees and societies has taught me not to bite of more than I can chew. No matter which career your pursuing, time management and organisation are essential. Throwing yourself into clubs and societies will teach you your limits, as well as a host of teamwork and management skills, without very dire consequences, like the real-world risk of being fired.
The third peak of university is juggling your coursework with employers’ increasingly common demands for relevant work experience in your chosen field. This is especially taxing when many of these experiences are unpaid or only minimally recompensed. I was lucky enough to have financial support from my mother, but I know of many students who have taken up part-time voluntary roles in an effort to flesh-out their CVs. But once you’ve finished moping about the undervaluation of undergraduate labour, you realise that these experiences pay a pretty important bonus. In amongst the sprawling abstraction of an arts degree, work experience teaches you what kind of job you might actually want to do. Even if you have a bad time, you’re rewarded with the knowledge that firstly, it is oh so temporary, and secondly, that maybe that kind of work (or working environment) isn’t for you. What’s more, the positive experiences will replenish your motivation to achieve, which a four-year slog at the same subject can sometimes sap.
Turning toward the future, I’m learning to look up and out, and move onwards and upwards. It turns out I’m not on the edge of a cliff after all, but at the foot of an even larger incline. The climb won’t be easy – no upward struggle ever is – but on reflection, I know that I’ve already come a long way. My journey through university has taught me that the more effort I put in, and the more carefully I think about my route, the better the view will get. It’s all a matter of perspective.