Everyone has to make big decisions, it’s just a part of life, like eating or breathing, it’s something we all have to do. Some of us are even asked to make big life decisions when we’re still in secondary school, I know I did. Way back when I was a fresh faced 16 year old, ready to tackle my GCSE’s I was asked to choose my A Levels for the next two years. These subjects would ultimately serve as the basis for my university application, seeing as certain degree courses and uni’s demand specific A Levels I had to have at least a small idea of what I wanted to study at uni before choosing my subjects. You have to be pretty certain of what you want to study at uni, or at least be confident that the course you want to study only requires certain grades and not subjects, it’s still a pretty big decision for someone who only just stopped paying kids prices on the train. Fast forward a year and a half and now I’m making one of the biggest choices of my life at the ripe old age of 17, what do I want to do after school? Do I continue with my plan of going to uni for three years, do I take a gap year, or do I not bother with uni at all and look to go straight into work? I chose the first option, the option that I was always led to believe would be the right one, the majority of the teachers were talking about going to uni as the norm, my family all expected me to go, so in the end I went. My problem was I didn’t really know what I wanted to be after uni, a lot of people have a better grasp of this and from a young age always wanted to be something, like a doctor, an accountant, or an architect. Me? The only thing that ever appealed to me was journalism, I’d always wanted to be a sports writer you see, it seemed like the only job out there that truly stood out, something I knew I would enjoy and be good at.
So off I went to study Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies at Cardiff University for three years, graduating last summer. However since then it’s been a difficult few months. After I graduated I went on holiday with my family for a few weeks and when I got home I decided to enjoy my one last ‘proper’ summer holiday and relaxed for a couple of weeks. After that I was straight down the jobcentre with a degree in my hand and a smile, full of hope and excitement, soon I was about to get my first proper job, I might even get to wear a suit everyday, how cool would that be? I could pretend I was James Bond on the train.
Alas, months passed and with those months my smile faded and I began to get frustrated and angry, angry at a lot of different things, but mainly the jobcentre and myself. You know there’s a certain irony in going to a jobcentre every week, struggling to find work yet being sat across from a so called ‘job coach’ brimming with incompetence. Such was my job seeking experience for the first few months, I was told to sign up online and make logs of all my job applications everyday. Which is fair enough really, it makes sure people are actually looking for work and not just taking the jobseekers allowance. What isn’t fair though is going in for your appointment on a Wednesday, feeling good about yourself, thinking you were finally making progress only to have your ‘job coach’ tell you they didn’t think you were trying hard enough. She told me I wasn’t applying for enough relevant jobs and printed out a sheet of paper which showed a load of jobs she’d found by typing in ‘admin’ into a job site search engine. What she failed to realise in her incompetence was that the majority of those jobs were either 25 miles away from where I lived, demanded certain experience I didn’t have, or were simply the same job advertised by numerous different agencies. It’s a good thing I can control my emotions otherwise there would have been a table flipping scene that would’ve been talked about for years. It was the cheek of it, to suggest I wasn’t trying hard enough, as though I was happy going to that place every week, as if I somehow enjoyed receiving benefits and getting email rejections every day. This wasn’t the only reason I was annoyed at the jobcentre, it was because of the complete lack of help I received during the first few months, I knew I had very little work experience, yet this ‘job coach’ didn’t offer to set up a work placement at all, she just kept telling me to go to the local library or volunteer office in a place I had no idea how to get too. It was only after she went on holiday and Still, I wasn’t just annoyed at the jobcentre, I was primarily annoyed at myself, annoyed at the choices I’d made that ultimately put me in this frustrating situation. I was annoyed that I decided to go to university, mainly because my degree seems to carry no value in most job applications. The simple fact is, if I apply for a job – that doesn’t specify the need for a degree – and someone else applies without a degree and with no A Levels, but with previous minimal experience in a similar role, they stand more chance at getting the job. There’s so few journalism jobs around where I live, maybe I should’ve been more aware of that beforehand and chosen a subject with better career prospects, but at the moment it feels like three years of my life were wasted. The problem I had was that I made a choice based on what I was ‘meant’ to do, kids grow up they finish school, then go to university, it’s the norm. I didn’t want to disappoint my family and not go to uni, truth be told I didn’t really know what else to do. In school we were given a talk on what to do after school and – other than uni – they just skimmed over the possibility of a gap year or finding work. We weren’t told about apprenticeships or other work schemes, we were all lead to believe uni was the most obvious path to choose. I remember talking to someone the other year who was stressing over their uni choices and I said, look you don’t have to go to uni you can try an apprenticeship of something. They replied with ‘but I don’t want to be a hairdresser or a plumber’ which really summed up the lack of knowledge our school had given out on this topic. In my (incredibly sceptical) opinion we were forced to believe uni was the only option because it looks good on a school’s record when you have a high percentage of students leaving school and going to uni, they make a big deal about it.
The other bad decision I made – and possibly the one I regret the most – was choosing a course, that wasn’t really about practical journalism, over a more practical course at a different uni. You’re probably thinking why? Why did you do this? Well it was purely because the uni I decided to go to (Cardiff) was seen as a ‘better’ uni. The other uni (University of South Wales, formerly University of Glamorgan) was laughed at and looked down upon, I even remember a teacher in secondary school making a joke about it. I made another decision based on other peoples views, rather than what was best for me. I snubbed a much more hands on course, with better career prospects purely because everyone told me Cardiff was such a good uni.
I guess the point I’m trying to get across is to not be afraid of making an unpopular choice. Don’t be afraid to be different and go against what everyone’s telling you to do, if you want to do something then go ahead and do it. You don’t want to end up making a decision because everyone expects you to do something.
As for the jobcentre, well, I got a new ‘job coach’ and things started to look a little better and I realised just how bad my old coach had been. Within two weeks my new coach had shown to actually take an interest in finding me a job, we went through all my applications and my CV and she said they were fine, the main problem was my experience. So she suggested setting up some work experience and said it should have been done earlier, she knew someone who was looking for a journalist to help her with a project and within a month I was working on a magazine at a local company, unpaid, but still, more progress in a month than in the three before. Things have definitely taken a better turn in the last few months. The woman I worked with on the magazine has told me that if any work pops up that would suit me she’d give me a call, so although I still don’t have a permanent job it’s not all doom and gloom.
If I got the chance to make my big decisions again I think I’d take a gap year, I could travel and maybe find a new passion, or I could’ve found work and enjoyed it, but I’d still have the fallback of uni. If, after my gap year, I realised it was the best thing for me then I’d go to uni and I’d chose the more practical course at the ‘worse’ uni.
As for the here and now, well, I’m still going to pursue journalism, I want to at least make sure my degree is put to good use someday. I may have made some stupid choices in the past, but now I’m going to make sure I make the right choices from here on out.
The main reasons I decided to write this was for anyone else out there in the same boat as me, just to let them know they’re not alone. You will find work! This is also for anyone thinking about making that big decision at the end of their school career. If I could give you any piece of advice it would be this; I know it sounds incredibly cliche, but follow your heart. If you have a clear idea and want to go to university then go, don’t let anyone stop you. Likewise if you’re unsure then don’t feel forced into going just because everyone else is and it seems like the right thing to do. Remember, its your life and no one can tell you how to live it other than yourself.