Why it’s OK not to do Anything with your Degree

Posted in Career
on September 10, 2017

Academically, I did pretty well at school. Actually, schoolwork seemed to be the only thing I showed any proficiency in. Therefore, the logical sequence of events was to do well at school – get into sixth form – get into university – get a good job. Right?

There was never any question about me going to university, there were no other options in my mind.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when about 6 months into my degree I decided I didn’t like it. I found it really boring, I missed home, I missed my family, I missed seeing my friends, I just didn’t like my subject anymore.

Stubborn person that I am, I stuck it out for the full 4 years and graduated with a first class bachelor of science with honours. And I got an award. My mum cried and everything.

About a year before the end of my degree, I really started pushing myself to figure out a graduate plan. What would I do when this was over? What job did I want? I should start applying, networking, looking into Masters and PhD courses.

Only I didn’t actually *want* to do any of that, really. I wanted a break. I was sick of reading journal articles, having paperwork all over my flat, staring at computer screens for 8 hours a day. The last thing I wanted was to do more of that after my undergrad.

I half-arsed applied for some funded PhD courses, but I just couldn’t really convince myself that I wanted to do this for another 4 years.

So I did take a break, I went to live in York for a while. I decided to just get any full-time job and start earning some money while I gave myself time to figure out what it was I actually wanted to do, if not what I’d been studying for 4 years.

Well years later and I still don’t really know. I’ve got a more general idea, but there’s still no definite game plan. And people ask me all the time if I feel bad for ‘wasting’ my degree. If I know what I want to do *yet*. Why I didn’t carry on and study further.

So, I suppose, I haven’t done anything with my degree, in the sense that I haven’t got a job in the field I was studying. But, after a few years of beating myself up about it, I’ve decided that’s ok. Here’s why:

 

A degree doesn’t have to lead to a job. There are many reasons why people choose to study further, and it doesn’t have to just be to try and land a particular job. Years ago, if you had an undergraduate degree, the employment world was pretty much your oyster. It’s not so much the case now!

It’s possible to fall out of love with your subject. I found this a bit hard to admit at the time but, yeah, I just wasn’t as interested as I thought I was. There was no one thing I could really hone in on and say that I loved about it.

Maybe you weren’t sure to start with. Particularly if you were the academic type, you might have found you were kind of pushed toward the university route. Some people just weren’t sure what else to do after sixth form or college, so they went to university to buy themselves some time, or get out of the rain, so to speak.

You’re allowed to change your mind. Ok, so maybe you did have the whole thing planned out. Maybe you were going to do your degree, then masters, then the dream job. But, erm, it’s actually ok to change your mind about what you want to do. Shocking, I know.

The world said you had to. I’ve noticed this even in my own super supportive circle of friends and family. Everyone tends to think that university is just what you do if you’re academically-inclined. And, of course, there’s the whole “you have to get a good job and then you’ll be really happy” thing. And obviously the only way to get a good job is to go to uni first. I wish there was a sarcasm font.

What is a good job anyway? When the McDonald’s strike was going on, I saw a lot of social media slating McDonald’s employees for not having a ‘real’ job. Any job is a real job. And whether or not it is a good job is completely subjective. Usually good job = well-paid job in most people’s eyes. You might consider a job good because it allows you to be flexible and spend time with your kids, or because there’s a lot of career progression, or the perks are right for you, or it’s something you’re really passionate about. There is no singular definition of a good job.

You learned stuff. I’m coming round to the idea that no experience is pointless if it teaches you something. Even though I’m not really applying the theoretical knowledge I acquired during my degree, anyone who’s studied further will have a few ahem transferable skills. Time management, working to deadlines, prioritising, social skills, problem-solving, analytical thinking, and so on. You might have got your first proper work experience when you were studying. You might have met a ton of different people, and had a load of different experiences you wouldn’t have been exposed to otherwise. Maybe you joined societies, met your best friends, learned to live independently while you were studying.

All of that helps you grow as a person, and become more well-rounded than you were when you started your degree. Personally, I learned a lot more about myself, what my limits are, what’s important to me when times get stressful, and just how well I can manage on my own.  That’s really valuable to me now, and I build on that self-awareness all the time.

 

Does anyone else get this? This kind of pressure (internal and external!) to prove that you’ve done something useful with your degree, or to explain why you’re working in a different field, and what your ‘plan’ is.

If so, you’re certainly not alone. But it is definitely, absolutely, 100% fine if you’re not where you thought you’d be right now.

I’d love to know if anyone is doing something different to what they thought they’d be doing after graduating. Or maybe you felt pressure to go to university but didn’t! Let me know in the comments, or email me and let’s have a chat!

4 Comments

  • Mary Lane @NewYorkCliche

    I relate to this so much!! I have my degree in theatre arts and it’s been a HUGE struggle for me, for YEARS, to be able to admit I no longer want to pursue acting! I wish I’d read this post back as an undergrad – hope new grads stumble across it – everything you say is so important!

    March 14, 2018 at 21:14 Reply
    • North

      Honestly, for years I’ve really been thinking that there’s something wrong with me because I don’t know exactly what I want to do forever, and because I’ve changed my mind about my degree in some ways. Really, though, I kinda realised a lot of that pressure comes from outside – people constantly asking! Usually they mean well, but still! So I totally get where you’re coming from.
      Thank you for having a read and taking the time to comment x

      March 14, 2018 at 21:43 Reply
  • Amber

    I completely agree university education is not just about getting a job at the end of it, and any experience that teaches you something can only be a good thing. I think because it costs so much to gain a degree, there is more emphasis on how useful it is commercially, rather than what it can do to help you gain new experiences and grow as a person. I didn’t go to university in the end, but definitely felt the pressure to go down that route as I did quite well academically at school and was surrounded by my peers who were all taking that route too. In the end I was the only one in my friendship circle who decided not to go. It’s hard to take a different path when everyone else is going in another direction, but I don’t regret my decision at all. Great post!

    March 17, 2018 at 08:54 Reply
    • North

      Amber I’m so glad you went your own way and didn’t give in to the pressure. Although I wanted to go to university, and I’m overall glad I did, I wish I’d been more prepared in terms of what I wanted to do long term.
      It’s definitely a pressure a lot of people feel, especially if, like you, they’ve done well at school. It’s just kind of assumed that you want to carry on in education.

      Good for you, I totally applaud you for doing your own thing. Thank you so much for reading and leaving a lovely insightful comment x

      March 18, 2018 at 00:48 Reply

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