Post-University Blues and How to Manage Them
This time last year I had just finished my MA dissertation. I remember that I felt pretty burnt out from the whole experience, especially as we had just gone into another lockdown. After I’d recovered, it was time to start thinking about what I was going to do next, which was pretty daunting and definitely left me with a lot of nerves about the future. If you’re done with university and are feeling the ‘blues’, know that it’s something that a lot of students go through. I thought I’d share some tips on how to manage personal expectations at this time, as well as ways to combat the sadness a little bit.
Firstly, I’d recommend trying not to tarnish your university experience with the sad fact that it’s over. After I finished my BA, I printed all of my favourite pictures and put them in an album while the memories were still fresh, and it’s something I still look through every now and then. Keep up with your friends and arrange meetings when you can too, as they might be feeling similarly to you. When I finished my MA I felt like everyone was very far away, which was technically true, but remember that it’s easy to keep in contact with people nowadays, and there’s no reason to let those friendships fade away. You may find that some of your friends move into jobs or training straight away, so might not have as much time to spend catching up. They're not bad people, so let your friends have some time to settle, but make sure to message to let them know that you'll be there when they're ready. Some friendships might never pick back up again, and that's the sad fact about life. Try not to be bitter, and know that in most cases, friendships drifting part isn't anyone's fault.
Organising your university work is also a good way to put some closure on things, as well as free up your laptop for new work. I tidied everything away into folders and made a copy onto a hard-drive and my Google Drive. It’s a bit different in my case, as I still use some of that work for my PhD, but putting your work to one side can stop you being constantly reminded of it. This was helpful for me in the spring of 2021, as I didn’t know where I was headed, and a PhD seemed unlikely.
As well as giving yourself some time and some grace, be aware that your parents might not understand what you’re going through. A lot of people move home after university while they find a job or prepare for what’s next, and being belittled by family isn’t the most pleasant of experiences. Remember that it’s normal to feel sad about a great experience coming to an end, but try to gain some perspective and enjoy the time with family while you can.
Distractions are a great way to gain a bit of distance, even if you’re not sure what job you want to do or are considering further study. Getting a part-time job will help to fill some of your spare time, and will look good on your CV. Just know that there’s no shame in coming out of university without a place on a graduate scheme or a career in mind! Earning some extra money will help you save up for the future, or continue to pay your rent and bills if you’re still living away from home. I took a job for ten weeks this summer, and it was definitely an experience! I’ve worked in the hospitality industry before as a teenager, so it was nice to start somewhere fresh while still having the experience needed. I live in a tourist-town, so short, seasonal contracts are normal here. Once I’d got everything with my PhD sorted in June, I felt like I was in the right headspace to earn some money and fill in the time before I left in September. Taking on a temporary contact is definitely worth it, and you’ll meet some new people too.
Taking up a new skill or working on something related to a future career is also a great way to feel connected with education while transitioning out of university life. For example, there are lots of free courses available on sites such as Google Classroom and FutureLearn, especially if you’re interested in software and websites. Even if you’re not sure what you want to do in the future, building up skills in different areas will make you more employable, and may even lead to hobbies you enjoy. I decided to take up website building and designing, and while I’m still definitely an amateur, it reignited my passion for writing, as well as giving me the foundations of a skill that I can take to future careers.
You may decide that the best course of action is for you to continue training, either through a graduate scheme or postgraduate qualification. These can start at different times of the year, and can be flexible in terms of time commitment if you want to keep working on the side. A lot of postgraduate certificates take a year (such as teaching) and can be taken as long as you have a degree in something. Doing lots of research into the entry requirements and funding arrangements is essential, especially if a loan is involved, as it’s another financial investment you’ll have to make. Getting a place on a training scheme can really boost your spirits, and it’ll keep you linked to education while opening up new opportunities for you.
Finally, looking for a job can be a tedious process, especially if you haven’t decided what you want to do. It’s worth getting in touch with your university’s career services for advice, as well as making sure your CV and LinkedIn are up to date. There will be some trial and error along the way, but to minimise disappointment, I’d suggest only applying to jobs that you’re actually interested in! Spamming companies with applications when you have no idea what the role actually involves will mean that you’re unlikely to pass the interview stage, effectively wasting your time. Try and be as selective as possible, focusing in on location, salary and hours expected. Moving to a completely new place after university might be just what you need to get you out of that slump, but it’s a big financial commitment, so make sure that it’s what you want.
Overall, there’s no common formula to moving on, but try not to rush into anything right away. Getting a temporary job means that you can leave with no strings attached when something better comes along, and you’ll have time to research and apply to jobs and training that actually interests you. Feeling sad about the end of your course is normal, as it’s likely that your friendship group will spread across the country (or maybe the world) and you won’t get to see your best friends every day.
One thing that I’d also like to mention is that feeling relief that your course has ended is also okay, as all our experiences of university are different. Personally, I felt glad when I finally finished my MA, as I was tired and stressed from my dissertation, and definitely needed a break after completing two degrees in four years. You might not have run out of your last exam celebrating, but being quietly glad that you’ve made it to the end isn’t anything to be ashamed of, and that should be taken as a signal that it’s time to move on to something else.
I want to write more about mental health this year, primarily because I’ve had time to process my enforced nine-month “gap year”, as well as the feelings that came along with it. If you’re heading into a new semester this spring, best of luck for the new term.