Everybody remembers the horror and confusion of the CAO form. For some students, like myself, it seems an eternity ago that we were asked to do something so horrendously unthinkable as to decide what to do with the next four years of our lives.
After careful deliberation and considerable anxiety amidst frantic efforts to study for the then all-important Leaving Certificate. The fact that we eventually ended up in Trinity suggests that somewhere along the way we managed to make a decision. If not about where we wanted to be in ten years, then at least that we would rather delay the strains of the workplace and avail of cheap alcohol and free, at least for now, “higher education” for the next four years.
A good plan, or so it seemed at the time. Whatever you chose to study, there is and always has been a lot to enjoy in college. My own degree, BESS, really has offered a lot of benefits, both in terms of academia and in offering a great mix of people to learn from and socialize with.
So there I was for the past three years, congratulating myself on picking something so “useful” to study, joining every society I could find and meandering along with fairly decent results without a thought for what it is that happens when you finish up your undergraduate and Trinity’s cobblestones no longer beckon.
Surprise! Being in fourth year is very much like being in sixth year of school. Once again you find yourself in the uncertain position of both having to work harder than you’ve ever worked before and simultaneously deciding where to go from here. On the plus side, now that you (almost) have a degree, options are even more abundant than they were when you left school; on the other hand you’ve got less time than you think to trawl through them.
One of the first choices that springs to mind is just like the one you made aged roughly 17 or 18 – work or more schooling?
When you’re on the verge of finishing up your undergraduate, a sizeable proportion of people have no problem informing you that it doesn’t really matter what you picked anyway because these days you need a Masters to get anywhere. They harp on about higher earning potential and how the recent economic downturn has spurred many to advocate a return to study because, simply put, there just aren’t enough jobs for all the graduates anyway, and by next June there will probably be even less. But it’s not all so disheartening – my brief forays into research on postgraduate life have actually got me thinking that it could be a pretty interesting path to tread. If you enjoyed your undergraduate then postgraduate study can allow you to gain even more specialized knowledge in a particular area and build on the base you’ve gained during your time at Trinity; for those who weren’t as enthralled as they’d hoped by their undergrad, it can give them a chance to try something completely different. The bottom line is that once you have proven yourself capable of critical thinking and hard work, you can really apply to do anything you want. And while it will require commitment and, alas, a fair bit of money, it can open up doors for you in the future and give you a more specific idea of what it is you really want to do.
“Deciding not to do a postgraduate degree was an easy decision. I felt ready and excited to enter the workforce for the first time”
If the thought of even one more year spent in a library fills you with dread, however, there is the alternative that you decided to temporarily forgo when you filled out the CAO in the first place – entry into the grown-up world of work. Although there may be less job prospects on the horizon for Irish graduates these days, they are hardly few and far between. One thing us soon-to-be BESS graduates are swamped by are application forms for graduate programmes. Giant companies like Ernst and Young, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Google and Accenture can’t wait to dip into the talent pool being churned out by Irish universities. And this is true for companies of all disciplines. A lot of people are swayed by promises of a good starting wage and valuable training, while others decide to take it upon themselves to search out the other employment opportunities best suited to their interests, both at home and abroad. Whatever way you look at it, working full-time is going to give you great experience, and after living on a tiny budget for years, the prospect of a real income is likely a big part of what entices graduates directly into the workplace.
So with further education and the workplace both appearing quite inviting it’s no wonder the general atmosphere among fourth years I know is one of puzzlement and indecision. You want to do what’s best for you long-term but you also want to enjoy yourself right now. Deadlines for graduate programs and overseas masters are already looming and requests for transcripts and references are flying. At the same time you discover reading lists that are surely unreasonably long and spend a good portion of your time fielding questions from relatives, potential employers and your peers about what it is you want to ‘do’ with your life. Against this background, it’s no wonder options like disappearing off to Australia or New Zealand for a year and delaying those decisions just a little longer grow ever more attractive.