For many, the choice to come to University is made to help them find their calling in life. Most of us don’t know what we want to do with our lives and attending University feels like the answer to give us more time and qualifications to pursue an unknown career. You may have friends or siblings that have graduated and already moved into a career they love and that can make the fact that you have no idea what you are going to be doing in the next years even more overwhelming. Alternatively, you may have no examples in your life of University success stories making you feel that University wasn’t the magic fix you’d hoped it would be.
In my second year of University I was faced with this crisis and it hit me hard. My brother had graduated with big plans but was now working full time in a coffee shop and none of my University friends seemed to know where they were going next. I began to feel like I was wasting my time. With my grades slipping and my attendance dropping, I felt as if the only option for me was to drop out of my course altogether.
Feeling this way really impacted my mental health. I stopped doing my weekly food shop in favour of easy frozen comfort foods and began to see University as one big social event rather than an investment in my future. I remember sitting in a lecture, wondering how any of it was going to help me in life.
Deep down, I knew I wanted to get my degree. If nothing else, I wanted something to show for the last two years of my life and I knew that going home wasn’t going to give me the career that I wanted either. It took my friend saying “Stop complaining, if you want to drop out then drop out. If you want to stay, then stay. Talking about this non-stop is not helping anyone” to get my head out of a space that just felt sorry for itself.
I decided I had to do something. I took myself to the Atrium in the University Place building to find leaflets on different careers. Unfortunately, this didn’t help me much either as nothing sparked my passion. This left me feeling even more frustrated. It wasn’t until I started looking into post graduate schemes that something changed.
The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers book, available at the Atrium for free, was the book that changed everything for me. Flicking through the pages, I saw countless opportunities in careers I didn’t even know were possible for a psychology undergraduate. With my degree I could go into so many fields, from a business strategy role at Boston Consulting Group to a marketing role at Google. This book was filled with attainable prospects in fields I assumed were subject exclusive.
The irony of this story is that I found a Mental Health Social Work scheme, something I should have assumed I could do as a psychology undergraduate. It felt like I had finally found my dream job. From here, my entire outlook changed.
Attending lectures and attaining good grades started to feel like stepping stones to my future rather than an obligation. With my new dream in mind, I decided to contact my academic advisor to receive help with my essays. From here, my grades improved dramatically and I started to believe that life after University wasn’t going to be so bleak after all.
This new-found drive didn’t only impact my academic life, but my relationship with the University as a whole. I knew I had to fill up my CV in order to get onto this postgraduate scheme so started looking into volunteer opportunities, something I had always wanted to do but had no reason to. I am now a volunteer with an online mental health service. I also joined the Music Society for similar reasons. My University life looks completely different now than it did a year ago, all because this degree has a new meaning.
The road to finding your purpose at University can look like a daunting one. Taking small steps like looking at a postgraduate scheme book can feel like giant leaps. When you don’t know what opportunities exist, the ignorance can feel like a safety blanket. If you keep your head in the sand, you don’t have to confront your future. The truth is, your future is coming. You won’t be at university forever and life beyond that doesn’t have to be as scary or hopeless as you think.
If you are worried about your future, that is okay. We are all scared to some extent. Looking at a book, contacting your academic advisor, booking a careers meeting is not going to lead you down a lifetime commitment if you’re not ready for that. Peering into a world of possibilities may sound overwhelming, but a peak may be all it takes to change your University experience completely.