Cambridge students' future plans seem to encapsulate the all-or-nothing perfectionist mindsetLOUIS ASHWORTH WITH PERMISSION FOR VARSITY

If you’re not spending the first three hours of your day painstakingly clicking “HERE”, or popping balloons at speed to complete the fifth round of assessments for a consulting company, you should be planning your travels to Taiwan and under no circumstances dreaming of labour. Or at least, these seem to be your two options if you’re graduating in 2024.

When I ask my friends from home about their post-university plans, there’s a big range. One soon-to-be psychology graduate is building an interest in marketing, and is looking casually into possible career choices within the field. Another plans to make the well-paid customer service job they’ve been doing throughout university into full-time work and will look into future options later on. One is hoping to travel until January with money she’s saved up over the years and will then start job-seeking. Another already has a job lined up.

“There is no clear “graduate job” for this cohort”

Across the UK, the statistics show a similar range – 59.6% of 2020/1 graduates were working full time in the UK 15 months after graduation. Within this work, there was a huge range of jobs – 15% were health professionals, 12% in business, HR, or finance, 8% in retail, catering, or waiting work, 4.6% in childcare and education. There is no clear “graduate job” for this cohort.

This isn’t the case for Cambridge finalists though, who seem to be painting a very different picture of their futures. Rather than this broad spread of options, opportunities, and ideas, this year’s finalists seem to fit relatively neatly into two immediate futures: the grad schemers and the gap yearners. Both options seem to encapsulate the all-or-nothing perfectionist mindset many have worked so hard to escape.

Working a 9-5 simply isn’t enough for our grad schemers. Despite widespread recognition that graduate placement roles in the main vocations our finalists seem to be looking towards are absurdly competitive – consulting, finance, law, tech... and journalism (I’m as much of a villain as you lot are) – there are no back-up plans for these goal-seekers. Household names only. After all, you can’t LinkedIn your placement if your dad can’t pronounce the company name (or for some, if your dad doesn’t know the boss).

Most people accept the reality that seven rounds of pre-interviews and thousands of other applications mean that they may be in for some difficulty in getting their dream scheme, but this is often acknowledged in the same way that the likelihood of not getting your firm uni offer was (equally irritatingly) discussed: an inconvenient existential possibility but not particularly something to worry about. Without doubt, this comes from a fear of acknowledging the possibility of “failure”. But it creates an ecosystem where only those who are constantly fighting for the slightest hint of a job offer are presented as working “hard” enough to deserve it.

“It’s not a failure to live at home and work to make money”

Take a good, hard look at a wide variety of employment websites which will show you perfectly normal jobs with companies you haven’t heard of, in areas that aren’t banking. Your life will be perfectly fine even if you aren’t the exceptional shooting star who manages to get the scheme nobody gets. Weave that reality into your conception of your future. It will take some of the pressure off and you’ll be way less annoying at the pub.

It’s this limiting social culture of future plans that I think has led to the extremity of the other socially acceptable option for next year. If you don’t want it all, there only seems to be one other option: the gap year. Having it all…but next year. Rather than rejecting the toxic winning-only culture of the grad schemers outright, many instead avoid the conversation by implying that they, too, will win, but just a bit later. They’re not going to try right now. After all, you can’t lose if you don’t try.

Taking time to rest and recuperate is absolutely essential and not something to be sniffed at. But when I’ve asked people what they plan on doing during this amazing gap year that will solve their burnout and offer a respite from the endless treadmill of success, many have described full-time work. Cambridge finalists have decided that if they’re working in a restaurant or a shop, or even for some in an office that’s not their absolute dream job, this should be considered a “gap” from their regular lives. If you’re working a full-time job for a significant amount of your early post-graduate life, that is not in fact a “gap” from your life. It’s your life for a bit. And that’s absolutely fine! But calling full-time work a “gap” year just because you aren’t making £80k plus benefits or personally solving the environmental crisis is insulting to the almost 5 million people in the UK who work in wholesale and retail – the largest employment industry in the UK – doing as their job what you consider a “rest” from your bigger, better life.


Mountain View

You can’t condemn consultancy if you don’t know what it is

I understand why those who don’t have a specific plan in mind have turned to the noble gap year. It’s the perfect way to avoid the “what next” conversation, and I admire those who are able to acknowledge that they don’t have it figured out. It’s not a failure to live at home and work to make money, rather than to be a shooting star and the future youngest CEO of a multinational company. It’s not a gap. It’s your life for a bit. That’s absolutely fine. Don’t let the grad schemers incite you into calling a perfectly normal plan to leave university and figure things out into an annually-contained implication that you’ll do what they do, just next year.