This article was written by an external contributor. Freya Marshall Payne suggests why you should take some time out after studying. You can follow her on Twitter here.
This summer I graduated top of my class and moved into a tiny van with my partner to travel Europe.
I know, I know: it sounds like the plot to one of the many films about postgrad malaise situated somewhere awkwardly between Reality Bites and Into the Wild.
But this decision wasn’t about apathy or running away. In fact, it was a calculated decision intended to figure out exactly what my next career steps should be. Stepping back shouldn’t be a setback – and, in fact, when done intentionally and strategically, it can be such an asset.
Third year for me was a whirlwind dominated by two dissertations and the constant discussion of careers. For a long time I’ve been torn between journalism, academia and poetry; despite all the careers advice I sought and all the job listings I looked at, I simply couldn’t do the necessary soul-searching to figure out which career path I wanted to go for while I was still in the university environment.
If you’re a stressed finalist or a recent graduate who hasn’t found their vocation yet, taking time out can help you make more informed career decisions in the future. And it isn’t just me who thinks it’s a good idea: in 2017, the head of UCAS said as much and 42% of those surveyed by a YouGov poll agreed with him. Postgraduate fees are expensive and grad jobs aren’t the be-all-and-end-all, so take the time to forge your own path.
You’ll give yourself much-needed breathing room
It’s easier to figure out what you really want when you aren’t in the middle of other people’s fears and desires. The lack of pressure of final year deadlines overlapping with application deadlines for grad schemes or postgrad degrees also helps. Take the time you need to research and weigh up all your options.
Self-reflection is important for your happiness
The backdrop to all of this is the student mental health crisis. The majority of people at uni experience mental health problems, and I’m sure that a contributing factor is the isolating competition for jobs in an environment where careers are less stable than ever. Graduating doesn’t make people much happier, either. Self care is more important than ever when you graduate. I think that taking the time to figure out what is fulfilling to you might well make you happier in the long term than the slow letdown of finding you jumped for the wrong job just because you were in a hurry.
Taking time out allows you to plan and prepare
Planning for the future once you’ve already graduated means you have a realistic picture of what you can achieve. With your academic experience behind you, you can be a lot more targeted when you go after what you want. You already know your grades, and hopefully your strengths and weaknesses as well; you can set your own timetable, prioritise your applications and remedy any gaps in your skill set.
Develop your CV and skills in new ways
Taking time out doesn’t mean you should slack. In fact, this is the best time to experiment and take on as many different opportunities as you can. You can work on term-time internships you couldn’t have done as a student, do internships abroad or take on a part-time job.
You can travel, start a blog or volunteer/work while you travel – things all made easier by the internet. Since I embarked on my van journey, I landed my first Guardian byline and presented my first paper at an academic conference – but I’ve also done my fair share amount of unglamorous copywriting and translation.
Exploit the skills you have, and pick up new ones. Pick up a language you left behind, or learn how to code.
You can pick up transferable skills in unusual ways
After your break, you’ll be marketing it, so start thinking early about what it’s teaching you. It’s not a gamble: it’s risk-taking, and that’s a seriously transferable skill in my view. It’s also great evidence of self-motivation, a skill most employers will be interested in.
You don’t just gain skills from traditional jobs. Through volunteering, starting your own projects and exploring the world around you – whether travelling the globe or getting to know your hometown again – you’ll be able to pick up experience of such things as team-work, leadership, organisation and time-management in new and challenging settings.