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Why Does Finally Getting That Degree Mean So Much Anxiety?

I asked my fellow university students why after years of study to get to this point, the idea of graduation fills us all with dread.
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We're meant to be celebrating but it doesn't feel like it. Image via.

In my first year of university, graduation was the very distant light at the end of the tunnel. Now I have got to that end and there's no light—only a deep dark pit into the unknown.

Over the past year I have watched fellow students go from friends to competitors, stressing over limited entry-level job opportunities and the very bleak prospect of beginning their professional lives in crippling debt. It may be a time for celebration, but for a lot of us the thought of graduation conjures up nothing but dread.


I asked some New Zealanders about to graduate their plans (or lack thereof) after study and their top tips for dealing with the crushing anxiety.

Louise, 22
Bachelor of Design

Hi Louise. What are your plans for next year?
Louise: Wow, I actually have no idea. At the moment I am working in retail, which, sounds a bit silly because I'm so socially awkward and anxious, but I have actually found myself be a lot more confident when talking to people because I have to at work, like it's my job.

You did your honours project on mental illness, right? Why?
Yes, I did my design project on it this year. Mental illness is quite a personal topic, I have depression and anxiety, and I have been on medication for them for almost two and a half years now. I also have many friends who have an array of mental health issues. It's pretty close to home.

Does your anxiety affect how you feel about your future?
It's definitely not been helping me out with coming to grips with graduating. You know, "imposter syndrome"? I feel quite often that I'm not good enough, and doubting why I'm doing this degree and how I will get a career out of it, blah blah blah. Self-doubting has knocked me back a lot. Thankfully I just have to text my boyfriend (who will be sitting in the same room as me) saying how crappy I am, and he manages to cheer me up and get me to realise that I am pretty good at what I'm doing.

So, what do you usually do when you feel anxious?
Well, I tend to cry. I'm a big crier.


Bachelor of Design

VICE: Hi Molly, what are you going to do after uni?
Molly: I have no idea what I'm doing and you could say I'm worried.

Now that your studies done, how ready are you for what's coming next?
This whole year has felt weird to me. I think the whole system hasn't really prepared me for this. I feel like school prepared me for university but I don't feel prepared for what's next. I'm constantly going to tutors for feedback but next year I guess I'll be thrown in the deep end. I won't have anyone like that to support me anymore.

Is that what's freaking you out right now?
These days we have a wider range of choices to go into for uni. We can study basically whatever we like, but that doesn't mean that we can end up working wherever we like. I guess it's more the unknown. For me anyway, I have always known exactly what I was doing. From primary school to intermediate, to high school and then to uni. There's always been a plan in place so I'm just worried about not having a plan for next year.

With no plan in place, what usually happens when you feel stressed out?
I wake up really early in the morning or in the middle of the night and just remember worries that I've been having that day. I'm just constantly thinking about it. Sometimes I nervous eat, I don't really handle it all that well. I either pretend it's not happening or freak out about it.

What do you reckon would make life easier in this final year?
I think people need to talk more and just realise that everyone's actually in the same boat as each other in the year group. I think lots of people are too proud to admit that they are worried, struggling or nervous about next year. People want to make out that they are sorted and things are going well. But in reality, everyone is worried about it.


Jack, 22
Bachelor of Commerce

VICE: Hi Jack, what's the big plan for next year?
Jack: Well hopefully I graduate to begin with. Just got a couple of weeks to finish that and then probably head home for the summer and work or try get an internship. Still waiting to hear back from a couple of people so hopefully that works out.

So, do you think studying has set you up for the rest of your life?
Financially, for me yes because I'm a tight-ass. In those kind of respects I'm not too worried but in terms of where I want to go, I don't know what the actual industry is like. But can you ever really be prepared for anything?

So what do you do when you're feeling like everything's getting to you?
I'm an internal worrier. It doesn't usually manifest externally for me. If anything I just kind of procrastinate. I get anxious then I just do something that doesn't help the situation at all I guess. But I don't usually get stressed about uni, it's more other things in life. I definitely like to isolate myself. If there's too much going on externally I find it helpful to just go to a quiet spot to get away from it all.

What could be done to take the pressure off?
That is a tough one. I definitely think it needs to be just talked about more. You can't change how many jobs are available but there is an overall stress on students that needs to be voiced.

Angelo, 20
Bachelor of Engineering

VICE: Hi Angelo, what's the plan after you graduate?
Angelo: Working full time, hopefully in the IT industry. I need to earn a lot of money to pay off my student loan.

So you're all ready for life after uni and making the big bucks?
No. No way. Not at all. The workload at uni has been really really stressful. Since you spend so much time focusing on your uni work you don't have any time leftover to go out and get that real-world experience you need in order to get a job offer. Even though you're good. There's always someone out there better than you. It's really difficult to gain a degree, only to realise it doesn't actually mean you get a job at the end of it.


What do you do when anxiety takes over?
I smack my laptop then I usually smack my desk. I guess you could say I'm a nervous hitter. Never people of course, but sometimes the car steering wheel while I'm driving.

How much of a problem is anxiety for you and your mates?
I think every generation has their own hardships. No matter what generation you are in you probably feel your own forms of pressure or anxiety. Sometimes I think it's good thing when I feel anxious about something or feel pressure. It means I'm really trying or really wanting something. I think it's normal at this time, you can't really escape from it.

Jess, 20
Bachelor of Marketing

VICE: Hi Jess, what is the most nerve-racking thing about leaving university?
Jess: It is the uncertainty of it all. From being at university for three years, I have formed a routine which I am incredibly comfortable with like getting my daily coffee from LaMason, going to class and work and coming home to my seven other flatmates. So I guess having to change everything about my routine is nerve-racking as I have to start over in the 'real-world', which everyone tells you is not as great as it's made out to be.

Is that what stressing you out at the moment?
I think I am naturally quite a stressful person, even though I have almost no reason to be. Throughout my entire university degree, I almost never worked on an assignment the day before it was due, and never ever had to stay up all night doing an assignment. I still experienced anxiety leading up to assignment hand-ins, as at times I couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel.

What is it about graduating that is freaking us all out?
I think anxiety has sky-rocketed due to societal pressures to succeed. Everything is pressurised, we are pressured to go to school, pressured to go to university, pressured to have a job straight out of uni. And sometimes I feel like I am in a never-ending rat race. It's actually very scary if you think about it for too long.

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