Last week saw Queen Mary stage its annual East London Higher Education Convention in association with UCAS (the number one source of frustration for sixth formers up and down the country). Thousands of schoolchildren, grins sickeningly stretched across their putridly cheerful faces, waltzed in and around the college grounds oohing and ahing like mindless kittens being flashed with the dull glint of a 99p laser pointer. Then it struck me…
Why was I so bitter?
I’ve completed all my exams. I’ve enjoyed a small holiday (if wallowing in a mountain of pillows gawping at Netflix counts). I’ve had a great time on one two-week work placement, and I have just started a mouth-watering second. I am unequivocally, indisputably, incontrovertibly free.
But perhaps that’s where the problem lies.
I’m free – and I have scant idea of what to do with myself. I spent the previous week reading up on twentieth century economic theory. On the weekend I made jam. There’s no structure – no rhythm – there’s just one day, and then the next.
Though I suppose that’s what life is – not that I would possibly know – having spent three years of my life and £9,870 to find out.
I suppose I’m partly to blame, having only deciding what I’d like to do for a living 17 months ago, with my career of choice (not science) completely contradicting my course of choice (science).
But it was a decision I had to make completely on my own. Careers counselling? Please. Help and advice securing work placements? Um. Well, what about my academic advisor? She doesn’t even know I exist.
Slouching on the sofa with a remote control in one hand and an Irn-Bru in the other, taking calls from your grandmother while keeping one vague eye on Bargain Hunt with Tim Wonnacott, a man who looks as if he’s perpetually midway through chewing a lemon, better prepares you for life than three years at an alleged Russell Group institution.
As far as the institution is concerned, signing yourself onto your course is as good as signing yourself onto the career path which naturally follow, unless you indicate otherwise.
As far as the institution is concerned, your being there is definitely not the result of fifteen years of sociopolitical policy nudging the youth population en mass to sign themselves up to higher education for funsies.
So why was I so bitter?
Envy, mostly. Now that I’m nearing graduation I don’t so much feel like a quirky little blue tit spreading its wings for the first time, as I do a forgettable blob of saliva being spat into a ditch.
I’ve been ejected from the bubble; the same cosy bubble those perky kids will still find themselves floating in when I’ve gone full hack in three or four years.
The insular student lifestyle serves a dangerous precursor to the shock that jolts you awake once you’ve been plucked from it; even to those who consciously choose to cast an outwardly glance.
What are we paying for? If you’re making a contribution at all, then surely it should go towards solid, professional advice and preparation for getting on in a cut-throat careerscape which shakes its rulebook up every six months.
In my experience, at least, the institution has inexcusably failed to fulfil this basic requirement – the only nugget of respite being the hope that same might not be true for everybody else.