University is marketed as a place where you’ll study to earn a piece of paper which will give you endless opportunities and strong job prospects. You will often see tag lines like “your future is bright” on marketing material, but the reality is the situation isn’t always as “bright” as these pamphlets might have you believe (for some).
Students work incredibly hard to pass their subjects and juggle casual jobs – which usually only cover their basic needs – while there is no guarantee that this piece of paper alone will give you a lucrative job offer. Keep in mind, degrees can cost anywhere between $20,000 to $60,000+; that’s without considering a masters add-on or extra subjects taken. Your odds of success are also related to the field you choose. Before I continue, I must acknowledge that the graduate employment rate has risen to 72.9 per cent (2018) from 68.1 per cent in 2014. I further stress that I am not saying a university degree is worthless, however there’s more to getting a job than a degree alone.
While you are studying, you have opportunities to volunteer, intern and complete practicums which give you real exposure to your career path and further develop your skills so that you are job-ready by graduation. While this is certainly something to add to your resume, few of these are paid and none guarantee a green card into your dream job. There is the added stress of taking less shifts at work while committed to unpaid hours of experience. This is not to say internships, volunteering and practicums are not valuable to your resume and personal or professional development – because they do make you stand out – but you’re competing with a larger pool of grads with the same credentials than ever before. As many as 46 graduates – and sometimes more – are competing for each graduate job vacancy.
There are nearly twice as many full-time students enrolled in university study as there were in 1996. Universities have become profit-making machines which churn out huge amounts of students with degrees that there are not always enough corresponding jobs for. Areas such as rehabilitation, dentistry and veterinary science are reported to have strong job prospects. However, if you choose areas like creative arts, communications or tourism, it might feel like unless you have contacts with a CEO or more years of experience than your own age, your chances are not as ’bright’ as one might hope.
While Australia currently has the 12th highest cost of living in the world, the pressure is on for students to fight for a full-time job, let alone save for a house deposit in this crazy market. Studying alone is expensive enough; research by Universities Australia in 2013 estimated that the average full-time student spends $602 a year on textbooks. When all you can do is continue working in your less than desirable retail or hospitality job to keep up with the expenses, it’s no wonder that many students are feeling disillusioned by it all. It’s certainly not easy and some students may question whether the suffering is worth it and will pay out in the long term.
Fresh graduates who are struggling to find a job would also naturally question whether the hard work they put in to receive a Bachelor degree was worth it. In terms of mental health, it’s also incredibly disheartening for those who are struggling to find employment see their friends make leaps and strides in their career choice. Some of us can only afford their lunch for the week while others are ready to enter the house market or are travelling the world with their significant other.
Sometimes you can’t help but wonder how Rachael from your course already has her foot in the door and is travelling the world with her Louis Vuitton luggage, while you are trying to make ends meet. It is more pertinent than ever to be disciplined and opportunistic. It’s stressed on us as university students to make important ‘connections’ so that you can have an edge over the rest of the competition. This is why sites like LinkedIn have grown in popularity. It’s a place to show off your academic qualifications and experience to future employers as a way of saying, “Hey! I’m the perfect fit for these jobs!”.
Australian employers also rank drive and commitment, critical thinking, teamwork skills and work experience as the most desirable of skills and attributes. It’s important that you can show that you are a well-rounded candidate with skills beyond the classroom because jobs are changing at a fast pace with the impacts of globalisation and technological development.
I encourage you – if you are a university student or fresh graduate – to go out on a whim and be creative with your application and think outside the box with where the degree can take you. Perhaps think about the less conventional route or other opportunities you could take to give you an edge, but certainly stay true to your passion.