(Top photo: Hulk just checked the starting salary for sports science students. Photo by Jake Lewis.)
Not really working out, is it, the old graduate life? Because look at you: you're sat at work reading this on the down-low, alt-tabbing to a spreadsheet your boss asked you to do four days ago whenever he walks by. It doesn't take four days to do a spreadsheet. You know this. Your boss knows this. Nobody even wants the spreadsheet you are pretending to make. Your life is a punchline in a panto adaptation of Nineteen Eighty-Four.
It wasn't supposed to go like this. You were supposed to visit the Guardian Jobs website exactly once – tapping your CV out with arms still sore from hurling your mortarboard into the air – before someone from Apple or Microsoft or some digital ad agency got in touch to be like, "Am I reading this correctly? You're the one who got the 2:2 in Film Studies? If you haven't already been snapped up as the editor of Empire, we want you on board. Can we start you off on £50,000, or is £75,000 more appropriate?"
Thing is, that's usually not the case, is it? Instead, there are three basic, traditional paths out of university:
1) Great success, where you waft into a graduate position and rapidly scale the ranks, wearing suits and having business cards and saying "incentivise" a lot, before spending the equivalent of your uni peers' yearly rent on a series of watches.
2) Going back to the exact life you led pre-university, flopping into it like a comfy sofa, because you've seen the world, haven't you? You've seen the campus at Northampton. You've seen enough of that world they're always banging on about.
3) A life of sort of wriggling mediocrity, striving out of a swamp of entitlement that soon turns into an inner monologue of: 'Please, fucking please. Please let me do an evening shift at this bar, even if it's just a test-shift. Please! I was supposed to be a lawyer!'
Anyway, that last one is how I assume you're currently living, or what you can expect in a couple of months, once you've picked up your degree and lost your entire deposit on your student flat. Here's everything else you can look forward to.
YOU WILL GO AND LIVE BACK AT HOME
Whether it's a six-week stint over the summer holidays or a more floating, free-form situation that basically offers a fixed address for you to sign on from, you will end up back at your parents' house for a bit, and everything will be back-to-front fucked up.
For example: your bedroom is now called the "spare room" and you have to wedge your stuff around an elliptical trainer from that one week your dad tried to fend off a heart attack with exercise. When you wake up with a hangover your mum doesn't preach to you any more, she just makes breakfast by dropping every single pan she owns really loudly on the floor. Everything has changed.
And that's because your parents are tired of you; they're meant to be semi-retired and on a cruise, tying themselves in tanned old sexual knots and entering fun little limbo competitions. You moping around on their sofa and insisting the big shop includes a load of Pot Noodles puts the stoppers on that. Just by existing, you are destroying someone else's dream.
SOMEONE IN YOUR FAMILY WILL TELL YOU WHAT A BIG WASTE OF TIME UNIVERSITY WAS
It's normally an uncle, this one. "You did what?" he's saying. "Theatre Design? What's that?" His favourite film is "any Bond film". His life revolves around smoking, being mad at inflation affecting how much a pint of mild costs and getting into a car so clumsily the whole vehicle shakes.
"Waste of fucking time, that," he's saying. "Should've learnt a trade. Your cousin's a plumber." Your cousin is his son, the one who started those fires when you were six. "Doing well for himself, now," your uncle is saying. "Just bought a van." You do not have a van. "Can't drive to Swansea in a philosophy degree, can you?" He has a point. "CAN YOU? EH?" He's holding your chin now. Six people are holding him back. "CAN'T THINK YOURSELF OUT OF A HEADLOCK, CAN YOU?"
For some reason, there is something about the concept of spending three years completing a degree that really rubs people up the wrong way, and they will kick you with boots made of hindsight for having the temerity – the nerve – for trying to better yourself with knowledge. Much like helicopter parents only want their kids to be lawyers, doctors or doctor-lawyers, so the kind of men who can smoke an entire cigarette in one suck without disturbing the ash want every human alive to plumb or do electrics. "Or drive trucks," your uncle is saying, now he's calmed down outside.
There's not any real way you can deal with this, by the way. Everyone has their journey, and yours just happens to include a three year detour where you got really into at least one daytime TV programme and developed a habit for extremely shitty coke. If you are wondering why satellite outposts of your family don't respect you, just remember: you once wore a toga on a night out.
A FRIEND OF YOUR MUM'S KID WILL GET INTO CAMBRIDGE
"You know Linda," your mum is saying on the phone. "You do know Linda. She used to come over and cut your hair when you were a kid. She fell off that chair at mine and your stepfather's wedding, and you started crying because she wasn't wearing underwear and you were staring right into the eye of the storm."
"Oh yeah," you say. "Linda."
"Well, anyway, that daughter of hers who was always too young for you to really have anything in common with, but who I made you hang out with all the time anyway, just got into Cambridge. She's going to be a doctor, she says – although she could probably be anything she wants. We're going to a party for her, later. Your dad's got his suit on."
"HE'S NOT MY DAD," you scream, slamming the phone down and turning apologetically to your employment advisor.
You didn't get a party for getting into Bangor University, did you? Nobody has ever got a party for getting into Bangor University. Most people don't even know Bangor has a university.
YOU WILL READ A NEWS REPORT ABOUT AVERAGE GRADUATE SALARIES AND THE AVERAGE WILL BE £7,000 MORE THAN YOU CURRENTLY GET PAID
"And bad news for graduates," says Fiona Bruce on the BBC News at Six. "A new study today found the average graduate starting salary is a mere £24,000, which – reminder – is about £7,000 more than you are currently earning."
Seems a little niche, this news, a little targeted. But you can't really stay to argue because you have to catch the bus to that desolate out-of-town shopping complex, where you have to clean out all the puppy shit at a Pets-R-Us. The kind of job that makes you hate puppies. That's your job.
YOU REALISE LITERALLY NOBODY CARES ABOUT YOUR GAP YEAR ANY MORE
Nobody really did at university either, but it was something to talk about during Freshers Week, wasn't it?
Back then, for exactly one week in your first term, your gap year was interesting. You made those mud huts, didn't you? You held those children's hands and just felt so... it was just such a real experience, you know? Like, you go through life and it's all so meaningless, but when you're telling a little boy in pidgin English that he needs to take his diarrhea pills, it's, like, so real? Like, you feel, like, alive?
Nobody cares. Nobody ever cares, but they really don't care now. Take that braid out.
SOMEONE WILL ASK YOU A TRIVIA QUESTION UNRELATED TO YOUR DEGREE AND CLAIM SOME SORT OF VICTORY WHEN YOU CAN'T ANSWER IT
"English Literature, was it? Alright then, smart arse: what's a cantilever? You don't know, do you? Oi, Mel. Mel! Come through here and look at this – he doesn't know what a cantilever is! Three years, pissed up the fucking wall, that!"
Your dad can be a real prick sometimes.
SOMEONE YOU HATED ON YOUR COURSE WILL BREEZE INTO A GRADUATE PROGRAMME
You know the one. Always used to turn up in comedy T-shirts. "KEEP CALM AND MAKE ME A SANDWICH" – that sort of thing. A Breaking Bad/Sonic the Hedgehog crossover T-shirt where Jesse calls Knuckles a "bitch". He sat in front of you that time and just scrolled through doge memes, snickering so hard saliva got all over his iPad. An engineering firm just offered him £45,000-a-year and paid his relocation costs so he could do "something oil" up in Aberdeen.
YOU WILL LOSE TOUCH WITH YOUR UNI BUDDIES
"Friends forever!" you say, posing for one last selfie with the lads before going home for a month to try and make some scratch for your group Magaluf holiday. But sorry, hold on – Darren's dropped out? He's managing a bank in Leicester? And what, Jamie's not coming either? Australia?
And then, like the torn pieces of the terrible dissertation you should have shredded and scattered instead of ever submitting, they fade away. And then you remember: actually, they were terrible anyway. Jamie kept using your house's one good plate as an ashtray. Darren once glued your duvet to the sofa. That big silent one called Gareth kept talking about doing the university café's Big Breakfast Challenge but never actually did it. Fuck them off forever.
BUT YOU'LL FIND PEOPLE YOU DIDN'T KNOW THAT WELL REALLY WANT TO GO OUT FOR REMINISCENT PINTS WITH YOU
He's in town for a thing, he says. Cheeky Nando's? Varsity for the rugby? Few jars? And you are thinking: 'Where do I know this guy from, again?' You're like: 'Is this that guy who tossed off at a party? Is this Tossy Dan?' Because all the friends you thought you made at university have abandoned you, and all that's left now is Tossy Dan, asking to sleep on your sofa.
YOU FINALLY OUTGROW THE IDEA OF TRYING TO KEEP UP WITH CLIQUES
Whatever way you spin it, university was a constant chase after the vapours of coolness in whatever way you could manage it – it's all about grasping onto anyone who vaguely shares a common interest with you and building your fort around them. Remember how you told that guy you DJ'd "a bit" and he actually booked you to play a Thursday night slot and it was so bad security escorted you home? Same.
Every skipped seminar, every River Island T-shirt, every time you read a meaty-looking philosophy book in public, every time you sincerely said "BANTA-MANIA!" – they were all your attempts at being in.
And then you're sent out into the world and you realise: hold on, cliques don't really exist out here in the wastelands of real life. Nobody really cares how good you are at roller derby. Take off your festival wristbands and your "ARCHERY TEAM – LADS ON TOUR '12" top and start being normal.
SOME JEB YOU HATED WILL HAVE A FEATURE WRITTEN ABOUT HIS NEW FOOD VAN
"Cory Davison, 22, graduated from the same university you did, but is doing way better. 'I sort of realised around my second year,' Corey mused. 'Like, people were partying loads, living it up, and I was like: I just want to stay home and make chicken enchiladas as good as I can possibly make them.'"
It was there, at the university you went to – at a graduate investment fair you didn't even know was happening, even though it was held in the quad of your own halls – that Davison secured a £40,000 on-the-spot investment for his food van, enchiLADas.
You read about this the day after you get rejected for the Morrison's nightshift job you used to do in sixth form because you are "overqualified".
YOU'RE GOING TO REALISE WHAT A STATE YOU LOOKED AT YOUR STUDENT BALL, AND AT UNIVERSITY IN GENERAL
Wore Converse with your suit, did you? Fat-knotted black tie borrowed off your dad, was it? Bare shoulders, have we? Curled your hair even though you don't normally curl it, did we? Eyebrow piercing, that was? You looked a state, mate. You looked an absolute fucking state.
Mind you, in a way, this is good: if you can look back at your graduation photo and say, "Yes, I look good and cool," then you are still a child and an idiot. As soon as you can't look back at your university self without flinching, you have officially grown and improved as a person. You are on the journey towards being An Adult. An Adult who doesn't think eyebrow piercings with strange grey-green residue on them are an especially acceptable look.
YOU'LL THINK ABOUT DOING A MASTERS
Don't do a masters unless you have plans to become a corduroy-patch-on-a-musky-fart-smelling-jacket professor. And even then, a masters is just a perfunctory stepping stone towards a PhD. The world will not be any less scary and you will not be any more employable in two years time. You've done all the learning you can possibly do. Put those career development loan applications in the bin.
YOU WILL WALK INTO A STUDENT NIGHT AND IMMEDIATELY FEEL HARROWINGLY OLD
Even if you only finished university yesterday, at least seven new drugs and 100 new trends will have been invented by the time your dad's driven you home. Come September, that amount will have tripled. All of them, the young people, saying things like, "Snapchat!" and, "I'm bringing glue-sniffing back – it's so 90s!"
You'll go to the same nightclub you always used to go to and Steve on the door won't even recognise you. "Steve!" you'll plead. "Steve, come on, mate! You remember me! I helped you when those boys trapped your head in a lift!" And Steve will say, "It's £8 if you haven't got a valid student card," before stamping your hand without any tenderness.
Inside, there are different second-years behind the bar, and the graffiti you did in the toilets has been scrubbed away by time. Did you ever really exist? Were you ever really here? If you die, right now, in this £1-a-pint, girls-get-in-free nightclub, will you have ever have made your mark on this world? And Jesus, is that what 18-year-olds look like now? Because – and you're thinking this from your vantage point as a collapsed old person on the ground, while a lad in a vest dribbles strawpedo residue over your craggy dying face – because fucking hell. Fucking hell.
YOU WILL GET A CLUNK OF DREAD ON A-LEVEL RESULTS DAY, SAFE IN THE KNOWLEDGE THAT YOU WILL NEVER BE THAT YOUNG AND VIVACIOUS AGAIN
God, remember when you were hot stuff? Remember when that seedy local newspaper photographer put one hand in a worn-looking pocket on his body warmer and asked you to hold on to your results paper and leap into the air in delight for him? He's moved on now, to a newer, younger batch. And they all have better grades than you, and they're all going to the number one pick university that turned you down, and they're all doing the degree you secretly always wanted to do, and theyare all going to get jobs before you do.
"Student essentials!" screams every newspaper in September. "Top Ten Kitchen Buys as Your Youngling Flees the Nest!" And you remember those trips to IKEA, and the fact that you bought a fucking ironing board with you in your first year; and you remember being given a student cookbook and a leaflet about safe drug use; and you remember all those blueberry-flavoured condoms they used to hand out, and you weep. You weep for your lost youth. You weep for the rubbery taste of blueberry on your lips.
Get used to this feeling of overwhelming and youth-inspired dread, because it won't wear off for a good six years. In fact, for some of you, it might not wear off ever at all.
YOU'LL SEE SOMEONE ON A LONG TRAIN JOURNEY WEARING A UNIVERSITY HOODIE WITH THEIR UNIVERSITY-ONLY NICKNAME ON THE BACK AND YOU WILL BECOME REPULSED TO THE POINT OF NAUSEA
Nobody calls you "Shebs", Melanie. I don't know why you paid £7.50 extra to have it printed on your hoodie.
YOU WILL NOT READ A BOOK FOR FIVE YEARS
Unless you're paying £27,000 over the course of three years for the privilege of being told to read a book, you will not read a book.
YOU WILL START YOUR FIRST JOB AND YOUR BOSS WILL BE YOUNGER THAN YOU
Doesn't matter what your job is – you could be making coffee or you could be 3D printing parts for F1 engines; you could be doing data entry work or you could be an actual astronaut going to the moon – at some point on your first day you will have to shake the hand of someone two rungs up the career ladder ahead of you who is, inexplicably, about ten years old.
You're like: hold on. You did everything right, didn't you? You graduated yesterday. You're 21 years old. You're as young as it is possible to be while working. But then here's some kid who's like, "Yeah, I just went into work straight after my A-levels, and I still live at home so I've saved loads on my rent. Reckon I'll have a deposit on a house in a year or so."
Their age still ends in "-teen" and they already have a pension. Do not worry about these people, though. They are freaks and their idea of a big weekend is buying a load of trousers from Next.
YOU WILL TRY TO TRADE A TEXTBOOK YOU ONCE PAID £89 FOR SO YOU CAN ATTEMPT TO BUY SOME DINNER
Apparently that Norton Anthology of English Literature you've been using as a doorstop is worth about £3 now, because there's a new edition with exactly one new poem in it.
University text books are kind of like new cars in that drive-them-off-the-lot-and-they-immediately-lose-value way. Only, imagine you drove the car off the lot and straight into a tree, at speed, and both the tree and the car then caught fire, and then the entire car lot caught fire, and the guy who just sold you your car is like, "There is so much damage happening right now! There is so much money on fire right now!" and you're slightly closer to an analogy that aptly explains the market economy of used textbooks.
YOU'LL INSTANTLY REALISE THAT ALL THE FREE TIME YOU WILL EVER HAVE TO TRULY ACHIEVE A CREATIVE ENDEAVOUR IS FOREVER BEHIND YOU
How's your zine going? The one you talked about starting in first year when a shadowy cabal of amateur editors said your stream-of-consciousness film reviews were "extremely unsuitable" for the student paper? Did you ever call that guy about holding a soca night at his club, or did you just lose his number? Did the photography ever happen, or did you just pester your parents for that DSLR for Christmas ("Think of it as an investment in my career!") and then take a load of black-and-white macro images of your own hands and sack it all off for a thousand consecutive nights of FIFA and weed?
Well, the glory days of having the spare time to commit yourself fully to a creative endeavour are pretty much over now. So, you know, enjoy that.
YOU HAVE TO START REGULARLY CHECKING YOUR BANK ACCOUNT BECAUSE YOU DON'T JUST GET LARGE STUDENT LOAN DEPOSITS ANY MORE
"I'll be fine; some mysterious, omnipotent force will almost certainly plunk £3,000 in my account in September and then I can stop eating rice again." – you, in July, right before eating a big bowl of rice.
YOU'LL LEARN THAT HUNGOVER AT WORK <<<<<<<<< HUNGOVER IN A LECTURE
Being hungover in a lecture is fine: you drift in and out of the conversation while being huddled in a massive jumper and occasionally sneaking yourself some Monster Munch, and then you fuck off home and lie on the sofa watching Big Bang Theory repeats until you are fully recuperated. You're such a Sheldon!
Working on a hangover is different: an eight-hour slog, with a commute each way and a burrito in between. And people expect you to do stuff. And they don't have any sympathy for you. And the phone keeps ringing really loudly. There is no greater agony on earth.
YOU REALISE HOW POINTLESS YOUR DEGREE WAS
Unless you're a doctor (and if you are a doctor, what are you doing reading this? Shouldn't you be massaging someone's heart or something?) then your degree was pointless. It was pointless. This is the first thing you realise as soon as you graduate: your degree is a meaningless waste of time.
Want to work in a creative industry? Roll up your art degree and burn it for fuel, because you're going to have to do at least six months of interning anyway. Want to work doing something STEM-y? Enjoy on-the-job graduate training, science nerd. Foreign language expert? The only people who want to hire multi-linguists seem to be banks, and even then they want you to have a complex maths degree and just happen to be good at French.
YOU'RE GOING TO LOSE A GOOD YEAR TO A SHITTY JOB THAT YOU HATE
You're almost certainly going to lose a year of your life to a terrible dead-end job. You're going to assistant manage a Sainsbury's or update the contact details on an old charity database or watch Netflix on the DL while you do some reception work. If you are me, you will lose both your youth and your enthusiasm to a two-hole paper punch/three-prong binder filing system that you have to work with for two-and-a-half years. The final gasps of your salad days will be spent learning how to send a fax.
This is the reality of entry-level administration, a career into which you, a perky young graduate, are doomed. The danger, of course, is falling deeper into the endless admin sea: one half-promotion is like a manacle around your foot, tying you to a lifetime of anodyne paper sorting when you really wanted to be an illustrator. And there's no quick-fix, either, beyond applying for those actual jobs you want and trying not to get stare-into-a-canal-by-yourself sad about it.
You will lose a year to a shitty job. Think of it as a sort of national service for people who know the names of more than one Roman emperor.
EVENTUALLY THINGS WILL COME GOOD AND YOU WILL SUCCEED OVER AT LEAST ONE PERSON YOU HAD A SEMINAR WITH
Bulletproof theory: everyone had a nemesis at university. If you didn't, that means you were someone else's. A crying girl in halls; that guy from your class who ran for Student Union president; the Spanish girl who had ridiculously loud, shrieking orgasms in the room next to you at all hours of the night; anyone who ever, even once, wore a gilet.
Eventually something will come good for you, and when it does the absolute best thing you can do is go on Facebook or LinkedIn and see how shitty your nemesis's life is compared to yours, then flick two clean Vs at the laptop and declare yourself the victor. TAKE THAT, JOHN. PAY THE DEBT OFF ON THAT.
OH, AND YOU'LL BREAK UP WITH YOUR UNIVERSITY BOYFRIEND OR GIRLFRIEND
"Meet my friends," they'll say, joyfully, after you've paid £76 and didn't even get to sit down once just to go to fucking Doncaster, or wherever they lived before you met them. "Meet my hokey hometown friends!" And you'll be met with a vista of rictus smiles and eyes looking in other directions and some girl who always gets fighty on Kopparberg, and you will hear a whisper, faint, on the air, that only you can hear: "This could be your life."
The parents joke about the two of you getting married and the dad is like, "I know some really good jobs around here – office jobs. Then you could get yourself a little starter house, maybe. Grandkids, is it?"
And then that ghostly voice is back again, this time going: "You only fancied them because they were one of six people on the same course as you." You will break up with your university boyfriend or girlfriend. If you haven't already, phone them and do it now.
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